For many displaced Cubans and their children who found themselves in Florida in the late 60's and in the 1970's, there was one tradition that always brings sweet and fond memories to me. It was spending Sundays at "El Farito." "El Farito" is Spanish for the little lighthouse and was the term used by us, our families and friends, to describe the beach and the adjacent park at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. For us of which the ocean runs through our veins, it is nearly impossible to place us far from the ocean.
During the first wave of Cuban Refugees, many Cubans were sent to places like Indiana, Nebraska, Chicago, and other similar locations through the United States. In the end, the warm weather and the beach and its relatively short distance from their homeland brought them to Miami.For many of us, the beach was mandatory. It would be something criminal to have the beach so close to you for you to ignore it. While I have memories of being brought as a child to Miami Beach which was God's waiting room at the time, it was Sundays at El Farito which one could count on as clock work. Be it January and 40 degrees or 90 degrees in August, every Sunday, myself, my family, and the family's friends and their children, and those without children would bring other people's children whose parents had to work, so they could enjoy their Sabbath as it was intended; among family and friends at the beach.
It was the obligation of each family to prepare delicious meals and salads and bring them to the beach (typically the women would do this). The men would BBQ steaks (skirt steak), chicken, or prepare sweet ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches on warm Cuban bread. Folks would bring cafe con leche in the big thermos.
The days at El Farito would involve the traditional softball game with approximately 20 people per side (forget the 9 player rule). Everyone played from us 5-8 year old, to those in their 50's.These games would result in lop-sided scores, but who cares, it was fun. And it was worthy of a party when the little ones, me included, got their first hit.Then we'd spend time on the beach. The shadow of El Farito always watching over us. It was here that us kids first saw a topless lady on the beach. Of course we came running to the camp which was of course in the shade, me perhaps 6 years old, yelling to our parents, "Hay una mujer con las tetas 'pa fuera." All the men like children, with us included of course, would then run to get a look. My mom's memory of this occasion was telling the group, "Por lo meno, el no va salir maricon."
Besides my first exposure to live breasts, this haven was a place where we felt safe and shared bonds. Where artists in our group would paint the sea grasses and landscapes, and it was that one day where all would escape their daily routines, work and school, to enjoy this paradise we have in South Florida.It was here that while diving for shells, I came face to face with a barracuda. I don't think I ever swam so fast. It was here that anyone was free to join our group. As new friends were made, they were invited to join us at El Farito.
It was at this park where I fell out of a tree; when we were able to climb them. It was here that the kids (the boys) would go on adventure hikes through the mangroves and walk along the beach to the old Crandon Park Zoo and sneak in and spend an afternoon there; only to be punished later that day when the parents found out that we had disappeared.There were no worries for us kids at El Farito. We were required to stay at the park until the sunset which meant it was time to go. It was here that I learned the importance of watching the sunset and thanking God for his daily creation. (And yes, there is a section of the park where you have a view of the sunset).
As with all things, the group started to dwindle, and after many years, the annual Sundays at El Farito ended. Hurricane Andrew re-landscaped the park. The lighthouse which was brown in those days was restored to its 1840 look and was painted. The shade is pretty much gone.From time to time I return there to photograph El Farito. A large photo I took in B&W hangs in my office in Fort Lauderdale. I've taken my son there so he could enjoy the beach.I always return here because the memories are always warm and happy. I suggest everyone pay a visit to this paradise someday and maybe you'll hear the voices of many generations laughing in the waves.
Here's my photo and essay for the day.