Miami the Big Havanna

| by Jason | 31 Comments » | North America, Reflections, United States

After 11 of months of traveling in Latin America, I felt a considerable amount of stress relief coming back to the United States, my home.  I always seek my comfort zone for relaxation, peace and ease of life.  That’s absolutely a contradiction to the fact that I do seek out travel, adventure and off the beaten path places.  The truth is, I will only seek them out with Aracely leading the way.   She is the outgoing, social, friendly, non fearing leader when it comes to exploring new cultural environments.  After having been through the experience of visiting a new place, I am always grateful for it, but it’s not something I would have done on my own.

Pictures of Convenience Stores

Jason Ordering His Favorite Coffee and Hoagie at Wawa

No Longer a Tourist

When we returned back to the United States, I enjoyed walking around without a tourist beacon on my head.  I felt confident speaking to strangers in my native language and I knew how to go about getting anything.   I was back in Maple Shade, New Jersey, where I spent my entire life growing up.   The only thing I feared was running into some old high school friends at the local Wawa and having to explain my bizarre new lifestyle of running a travel blog.  I would be faced with the questions, “Didn’t you go to college?  Didn’t you work in New York City?”

Pictures of Fried Banana Chips

Isle End Cap of Chifles Plantain Chips

Visiting Miami

I am now in the Miami suburbs visiting with Aracely’s family for a few weeks and the comfort zone is lost.  I figured traveling in the United States would be easy.  All roads are paved and clearly marked, I have my own car, I know if I am in an unsafe area and I speak English.  Have you ever lived in Miami?  A vacation visit to South Beach doesn’t qualify.  That’s like only seeing Time Square in NYC; it’s not the true atmosphere of a place.

The realization began immediately while grocery shopping in Publix.

Some background information first.  Aracely was born in Ecuador and speaks fluent Spanish.

As we went through the check out the store employee began to speak to me in Spanish.  With a curious look on my face, I turned to Aracely.  Aracely and her conversed for a few seconds and I picked up a few words.  This discussion was about my lack of Spanish language skills.   The lady wanted to know why I didn’t speak Spanish.  “Because I am in the United States!” I defensively screamed in my head.  Instead, I sheepishly uttered, “Yo hablo Espanol un poco.”  She smiled and said something about that being good.
Did I mention that I also bought some Cusquena Beer from Peru while in Publix?   I was ecstatic to see a wide selection of beers from Central and South America.  We don’t get this in Maple Shade, New Jersey.

Pictures of Beers Around the World in Publix Supermarket

The Latin Beer Selection in Miami Supermarkets

A Tourist Again

It’s been several weeks now that I have been in Miami visiting since we returned from South America.  That same feeling of stress I had while traveling is back again.  We are back on the road in foreign lands, or so it seems.  I stand out, I don’t know where things are and I don’t speak the language.  Miami is truly an extension of Latin America.

All over the United States, especially in large cities, immigrants cluster into small areas as sort of a safe haven during their transition into a new culture.  I admittedly, would do the same thing, seeking out a comfort zone.   Miami is unique in that it’s not a small area.  The entire Miami/Dade Country has become Latino dominated.

Spanish Language in Publix Supermarkets

Spanish Language in Publix Supermarkets

My Political Disclosure

I am not bitter about English not being the dominate language here.  All of us in the United States, less the Native American Indian, who also didn’t speak English, are here as a result of someone in their family line immigrating to the United States.  And guess what?  They probably didn’t speak English when they got here.  English was taught to their children and from that point on English was the dominate language in that family.  This is how it works amongst all of Aracely’s family and how it will work in Miami.  We so often forget the past.

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Tags: Florida, Miami, North America, USA

Written by Jason

Co-founder of Jason has been traveling, writing, taking photos and creating adventure videos since 2024, when he departed on his first year long travel backpacking journey. Jason is a full-time blogger and social marketing guru trying to find the way. Visit my website

31 Responses to “Miami the Big Havanna”

  1. Kelly says:

    Such an awesome post! I can see how Miami could make you feel this way, at least in certain parts. I laughed out loud when you were talking about Aracely and the employee laughing at your lack of Spanish skills.

    And, awesome! You found a place to buy S. Am beers in America!!

    • Jason says:

      Thanks for the comment Kelly. I remember that moment happening so vividly where they were wondering why I didn’t speak Spanish. I felt like the outsider and in my head I kept thinking to myself, “wait a second, I am from this country!” It was funny. I laugh now, because I still need to learn Spanish.

  2. Camels & Chocolate says:

    I love Miami, but I totally agree with your observations: It might as well not even be the US!

  3. Andi says:

    My fave Cuban restaurant is in Miami. Great post!!!

  4. Nancie says:

    Sometimes the department store here in Daejeon will have Canadian beer. I’m not that much of a beer lover, but I will buy it just because it’s from Canada. Now, if I went back to Canada I would buy Japanese beer if I found it in a store, but not Korean beer. Korean beer is okay, but not that great.

    Enjoy Miami!

  5. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World says:

    Wonderful post. I feel the same way about visiting some cities here in the South Bay. Such a strong Asian immigrant influence… went to a restaurant and the menu was in Chinese and nobody spoke English. And it was made worse that I’m of a Chinese descent but I don’t speak any Chinese words…

  6. Stephen says:

    What’s a hoagie? Just kidding. When I left Pennsylvania for university, people didn’t know what hoagies were. It’s great to travel, but it also feels really good to be at home, where it’s comfortable. I agree with your attitude towards language. It’s only a language, and if anyone is bitter, thats their own problem. They need to get over it. Linguistic, ethnic, and many other kinds of diversity is what makes the US an interesting and great place.

    • Jason says:

      Wawa Shorti is one of my favorite hoagies. In my town where I grew up, the Wawa has always been the place to go, yes it’s a very small town. As kids we loitered there, as high schoolers we got our late night food fix and as adults we walk there to get our coffee. It does feel good to be back home.

  7. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    Great post! It’s like that somewhat in San Diego also. There are a lot of people who live and work here (most likely not legally) and can’t speak English, yet they get by fine.

    I can’t remember exactly where this was, but somebody was telling me they received pesos back as change at a store in SD. I think SD will someday be a part of Mexico. ;)

  8. Kyle Morgan says:

    Great post Jason. You mentioned that travel had changed your perspective and your lifestyle, some of the many great things that travel can do for a person. How do you think you would perceive that part of Miami if you had never traveled? Never left New Jersey? Never met your wife?

    I think we would have a lot less ‘political/immigration/discrimination/ going on in the US if more citizens traveled. The US is built on the diversity of immigrants.

    • Jason says:

      You are 100% correct in your assumption. My perceptions would be completely different altogether if I had not met Aracely and if I had never traveled like we did. So yes, that is where travel can teach greater understanding of cultures and global issues, ultimately opening your eyes to other points of views. Our opinions may not change, but at least we learn and experience somewhat, both sides of some very important issues.

  9. Caz Makepeace says:

    Great post. It’s awesome to be a traveller in your own country and feel a little lost. It keeps you on your toes. I love Miami. I wish I had more time to explore it.

  10. Andrea says:

    I went to university in Miami and lived there for four years. While I loved the cultural experience and Cuban food, I really felt like an outsider much of the time. I remember working in restaurants during school and having people come in who weren’t tourist but barely spoke English. At least I picked up some words here and there; should be helpful when I try to learn some Spanish for our travels in South America. Great post!

    • Jason says:

      You are right Andrea, I do feel like an outsider and that is why I feel like a tourist again. It’s okay though, because the United States is a melting pot with pockets of culture concentration and that’s what makes it so great. As I said, I tend to flock to where I am comfortable, so this is just another challenge for me.

  11. Audrey says:

    Each time we visit the States now, we find ourselves in melting pot pockets like this. Miami is definitely on one extreme in terms of how prominent the Latin culture is, but we’ve found small neighborhoods in Scranton, PA and Vienna, VA. Travel has really made me appreciate the diversity of the United States. I used to get the same tourist feeling as you when I’d go grocery shopping in Chinatown in San Francisco. I stood out completely & was one of the only people around who spoke English. It could be uncomfortable at times.

    You make a really strong point in that if you had not met Aracely and learned about her Ecuadoran background and traveled through Latin America you wouldn’t have known about this part of America. Just shows how meeting the right person or taking a trip can change your perspective and world.

    • Jason says:

      It absolutely does Audrey.

      I also pay more attention now to varying cultures. I am always thinking, what food can I get on that side of town? Lol. It always comes down to food right? Just kidding.

  12. Abi says:

    Nice to read a balanced discussion about languages in the United States! I had the awkward experience of struggling to be understood in Miami, when the waitress I was talking to said “You really don’t speak English well. Where are you from?”
    I couldn’t think of a way of saying “England” that didn’t sound rude…So in the end I opted for “Wales,” banking on the notion that noone ever knows where that is…

  13. Earl says:

    Some of my family has now moved to southern Florida and I remember visiting them for the first time and finding it fascinating that I had trouble finding an English radio station or that staff in shops and restaurants automatically assume I spoke Spanish. And now I thoroughly enjoy visiting this area as it allows me to practice the Spanish I learned while living in Mexico and to maintain some of the connection I feel to Latin America in general. It is this very diversity in the US that I miss more than anything during my travels overseas. And I’d imagine that the more time you spend there yourself, just like with traveling, the more comfortable you will be with these now foreign surroundings.

    • Jason says:

      Earl, you touch on something that Aracely and I discussed with each other after returning back to the USA. It is diverse. More diverse than any other country we visited in Latin America. It’s hard to notice when you live in it everyday. But, once you leave and come back, it sort of stands out. It’s a great thing.

  14. Matt | YearAroundTheWorld says:

    I used to work in Miami, but lived north in Ft. Lauderdale. It always felt like I was leaving the US, but I loved it!

    • Jason says:

      I hope to love it too. So far, I really hate the terrible traffic and over development, but I think the beaches and warm weather will make up for that.

  15. Scott @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    I feel your pain. Christy, my girlfrined, is much more fluent in spanish that I am. She is also the one who is eager to go see other places. Without her I would never have seen some of the countries that I have visited. Great wawa reference. I haven’t been to one of those since I lived in NJ. Great story I can really identify with it.

  16. Christy -- Technosyncratic says:

    We arrived in Miami a few days ago and seriously just had the EXACT SAME conversation about how prevalent Spanish is here! We lived in San Diego for two years and it doesn’t even compare. There are so many signs here in Miami that are only en espanol, and when I got my hair trimmed I had to rely on hand gestures to communicate. :) Who needs international travel when there are so many cultures right here in the U.S.?

    • Scott @ Ordinary Traveler says:

      That is so true. We live in San Diego now and everyone thinks that we all must know spanish just because we are so close to mexico, but it’s just not the case. Aside from all the taco shops and mexican super markets there is almost no mexican influence. Maybe I need to live in Miami for a while so I can finally grasp the language.

    • Jason says:

      I always wondered if San Diego, being so close to the border, was similar with the Spanish language. Well now i know, that I should learn Spanish in Miami.

  17. Alicia says:

    What a fantastic, and insightful post.. It sounds like you have had so many great adventures , plus many lessons learned. I can totally relate to some of it, though many of these are things I haven’t yet encountered.

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