It’s a journey that takes you back to Cuba before Fidel Castro rose to power, when the island was a must-stop for tourists and was the Caribbean’s crown jewel.

“Everybody talked about how wonderful and beautiful Cuba was," said Emilio Callejas. "But there wasn’t anything to celebrate, the culture, the art and food.”

Now there is. Callejas co-founded Cuba Nostalgia, a festival that will be celebrating pre-Castro Cuba.

Beginning Friday and running through Sunday, Cuba’s Independence Day, the event is expected to attract 40,000 people.  Most of the attendees will be second and third generation Cuban-Americans who have never visited the island, but have heard all the stories passed down by their parents and grandparents.

“I was always curious about my heritage that my parents instilled in me,” said Henry Gomez, a first generation Cuban-American born in Philadelphia and raised in Miami.  “It's in the name, ‘Nostalgia,' there’s something magical and amazingly alluring about Cuba, that everyone who’s been there, visited or never been, carries in their blood.”

The festival commemorates the 400th anniversary of Cuba’s patron saint, La Caridad del Cobre, Our Lady of Charity.  Dozens of artists will compete to create the best rendition of the saint known as the beacon of hope for thousands of Cubans who brave the Florida straits in search of freedom. Pope Benedict XVI recently visited Cuba in March in honor of the celebration.

Visitors who attend Cuba Nostalgia at the Fair Expo Center travel back in time as they take pictures in front of a mock-up of El Malecón, Havana’s famous sea wall, and a replica storefront of El Encanto, a landmark department store that was destroyed in a bomb explosion during the revolution.

“The people reminisce over a Cuba that disappeared when they stand over a 30 x 50 foot floor map of the city of Havana and cry over where they lived when they see it on the map,” said Callejas.

All things Cuban will be on sale, such as Guayaberas, (the traditional Cuban dress shirt), old vinyl records, Cuban movies from the 50s, stamps and postcards.  Bacardi Rum will be selling mojitos and Cuba Libres (Rum and Coke) in celebration of their 150th anniversary.

“We’ll also be roasting a lechón (pork) on a Caja China (Cuban barbeque) and serve Cuban sandwiches, croquetas and Materva and Ironbeer soft drinks,“ Callejas said.

Renowned Cuban pianist and composer, Enrique Chia, will move the generation of exiles in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with romantic boleros of a golden era.

Many authors and even bloggers who write about Cuba will exhibit their works and there will be guest speakers talking about Cuba’s politics and its future.

“I became involved with Babalu Blog after attending my first Cuba Nostalgia festival,” said Gomez, a former managing editor and now contributing writer for Babalu, a blog about Cuba.

“It’s very painful for a lot of people not to be able to go there. Cuba is more than just the land – there’s the people and the culture that make Cuba and a good chunk is here in Miami,” Gomez said. “It’s a way to come together and celebrate that Cuba survives despite 53 years of dictatorship.“

Cristina Puig is a freelance writer based in Miami.


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