When you think of places with large Cuban communities outside of Cuba, the first place that probably crosses your mind is Miami. But Cubans migrated to New York City as far back as the late 1890s, during the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, with many laying down roots in Harlem.
And as the New York presence of Cuban writers, poets, and musicians grew, so did their influence on American pop culture. Famed Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes was influenced by Cuban poet Cirilo Villaverde nearly a decade before his time, according to Cuban-American Dr. Mercedes Diaz, an adjunct professor of communication at CUNY Bronx Community College. Harlem and soon the South Bronx flourished as the musical hub of the Cuban community through the mid-20th century as Cuban mambo and salsa found their space in the the jazz era. The Mambo Kings of Harlem and the South Bronx, along with the rise of Cuban singers such as Machito, Celia Cruz, and Graciela Orquesta in NYC, paved the way for many of the modern Latin sounds we hear today.
New York’s Cuban community isn’t as concentrated in these areas of the city as it once was, as many Cuban-born and Cuban-American residents have branched out around the five boroughs and the metro area in search of other opportunities and more affordable housing. But the beauty of Cuban culture has become a permanent staple for New Yorkers and visitors alike, whether it be through music, dance, art, film, food, or drinks. Whether you’re Cuban or not, here are 11 experiences that embody that culture right here in the Big Apple.