The Miami Herald
Mon, March 15, 2010

Thousands move to the beat and chow down at Calle Ocho festival


The sound of salsa music and the smell of sizzling street food were inescapable Sunday at the Calle Ocho street festival in Miami's Little Havana.

The city celebrated its Latin culture as thousands of people filled the streets at the 32nd annual event. Organizers at the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana bill the fest as "the biggest Latin street party in the world.''

Hundreds of food vendors lined the streets, grilling meat skewers called pinchos and sweet corn and mozzarella arepas.

Felix Richard stood in front of his restaurant, Con Tutto Pizza a la Pala & Grill. His grill filled the air with the aroma of charcoal and sizzling Uruguayan chorizos.

"We're here contributing to the party and to the food so that the people feel good,'' he said. "The best Carnaval in the world is Calle Ocho -- Miami's party.''

Music blared from nine stages, with more than 50 acts performing. Big names included Sean Paul, Flo Rida, Roberto Torres and Carlos Manuel. But perhaps biggest of all was Carnaval King Armando Christian Pérez, the native Miamian rapper better known as Pitbull.

As trumpets blasted and maracas shook, Alina Limon, 20, moved her hips and spun to the music.

"I feel like I'm home,'' said Limon, who is Mexican. She was visiting Miami from South Carolina for spring break.

As they danced in the streets, revelers sported their countries' flags in every way imaginable: tied around the neck like a cape, on T-shirts or even as dresses.

Scarlet Corea, 22, wore a dress made of shiny blue and white fabric. Printed in the center was the Nicaraguan seal. She had her grandmother make the dress for her specifically to wear to Calle Ocho.

"I wanted to represent my country,'' said Corea, whose heavy blue and sliver makeup matched her outfit.

Looking over the crowd of flag-toting partygoers, she said: "I love the pride. Everybody gets to show off where they're from.''

"Everyone in the melting pot is in the streets,'' said Alena Marenco, who was at the festival with her two children. She has attended the festival since she was a little girl.

"Nowhere else can you find this.''

Marenco was one of hundreds who waited in snaking lines for free samples of Palmolive dish soap, Sunny Delight fruit drinks and Fabuloso cleaning products.

Though the giveaways were a big draw, an older crowd was more engrossed in dominoes and card games at Domino Park.

Shelley Mitchell, an attorney who lives near the park, turned the black-and-white pieces over and shuffled them loudly around the table.

For Mitchell, Calle Ocho was just another day to go out and play dominoes.

"I love it,'' she said, without looking up from her game. "It's a sense of community.''

Miami's party wouldn't be complete without cigars. First-time festivalgoers Debralee and Hector Suro stopped by the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co., 1528 SW Eighth St., to pick up some stogies.

Debralee Suro held the dark leaves to her nose.

"These are nice,'' she said.

Peter Bello sold the couple a pair of cigars, while smoking a stubby one himself. His company has been in Miami since 1970, but opened in Cuba in 1896, he said.

"Cigars are part of the Cuban tradition,'' he said. "It goes well with Cuban coffee.''