Hassmerry Zapata smiled as she gestured toward the stage, salsa music playing and a Christmas tree lit before Friday night’s concert began.
“I don’t even know who’s playing,” she said, explaining that she simply drove down from Coconut Creek with son, daughter and daughter’s friend because she knew there’s an event in the plaza next to Domino Park, in the heart of Little Havana, on the last Friday every month. She came for the first time in July, when she first moved to South Florida from New York.
On Friday, she thought she was going to the same thing, not caring about who put the show on.
“I can be that way or this way, it’s still fun,” she said.
The politics and bad blood underscoring the origins of Friday night’s party took a back seat to music, food and art as a large crowd filled the plaza and part of 15th Avenue on the other side of Calle Ocho for the inaugural “Little Havana Fridays,” an event organized by Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo.
Carollo, who is engaged in a bitter feud with the owners of nearby nightclub Ball & Chain, pulled permits to stage his party for the same night as the longstanding monthly gathering Viernes Culturales, which had operated without permits for years. Organizers behind Viernes Culturales, including one of Ball & Chain’s co-owners, cried foul. Carollo dismissed the anger as “a bunch of baloney,” arguing that he would stage a bigger and better event that would benefit all nearby businesses.
About 1,500 people gathered for the event, despite a light rain early on. On-air talent from América TeVé, one of the event’s sponsors, and a roster of performers that included Noelia and Mari Trini entertained the crowd. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez joined Carollo and Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes to salute Little Havana.
“We are going to bring back pride and joy to Little Havana,” said Carollo, who was met with cheers.
Later on, Mr. 305 took the stage. Although some expected him to perform, many were still excited enough just to hear the rapper speak lovingly of the neighborhood and all of Miami.
“Without Miami, without Little Havana, there would be no Pitbull,” he said.
Pitbull and the politicians unveiled a gift for Little Havana — a neighborhood flag, which features a rooster standing in the front of the U.S. and Cuban flags, which are bordered by many flags from Latin American countries to represent the area’s diverse Spanish-speaking population. The flag, designed by Cuban-born artist Luis Miguel Rodríguez, debuted earlier in the day at a separate community event.
Miami police had considered closing a stretch of Calle Ocho to accommodate a big crowd Friday, an option discussed during a meeting with Carollo on Thursday to look at the logistics of the event. The state, which maintains Southwest Eighth Street, did not issue permits for any such closure, and traffic continued to flow throughout the event. Typically, it takes more than a week to secure a permit for a state road closure.
Across the street from the plaza and the stage, people perused art and munched on food from neighborhood eateries. The locally owned businesses were thankful for the opportunity to sell their wares.
“We have so much local talent,” said Edin Gutierrez, a Cuban-born painter.