After fleeing the shores of Cuba late one January night, Roberto Ramos and his brother ventured off to the United States with nothing but dreams of opportunity and a precious collection of artwork. Fast forward two decades later, he serves as President of the Cubaocho Art & Research Center in Miami, Florida, and is one of the world’s leading experts on the history of Cuban culture. Here’s what happened when we hit the streets of Little Havana to hear more about his exciting story.
RR: In January 1992, I escaped from Cuba in a small boat to the USA in search of freedom. After three days adrift without food or water in the straits of Florida, the U.S. Coast Guard saved my life and I entered the Land of Freedom. They read the Miranda Rights to me — I cried with excitement and joy because for the first time in my life I had rights. However, when they said they’d have to sink the boat, I refused and explained that I had a small collection of art on my boat. Then they looked surprised, never having seen a castaway, who, at the same time, was an art collector. They saved my life and the artworks.
I started working on recovering the history of my country that the communist government had erased for more than fifty years, burning books and censoring the freest expression that the human being has: the arts. This beautiful mission has taken me 30 years — recovering books, magazines, newspapers, and artwork — and all my research has been written in my book, Great Masters of Cuban Art. 1800-1958. I think it is very selfish to keep the largest library on Cuba’s history private. Hence, I decided to open a place that gives access to the public and thus contributes to the community as a free museum for students.
RR: I am very proud of having created this place and pleasing the tastes of artists, as well as art lovers. I’m always surprised by the public’s interpretations and the interest of many artists to perform. In Cubaocho, the arts come together.
RR: What I like the most about Little Havana is its culture and history. It is a place where several generations live and where you can see the only domino park in the world. My favorite thing about this place is its people — they’re both original and authentic.
RR: One cool fact about the area is that every last Friday of the month, we come together to celebrate like a big family with what it is called “Cultural Friday” — music, art, food and more for everybody to enjoy.
RR: Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite American icons for his ideas and work toward the abolition of slavery. Also, I admire Mary Cassatt for the beauty and legacy of her artwork.
To catch up on our exciting cross-country journey and get to know other American icons like Roberto Ramos, visit macys.com/americanicons