Miami Cubans sharing culture through ‘cafecito’ campaign

Miami HeraldJuly 8, 2013 

A cup of Cuban coffee sits at the counter of a Little Havana restaurant. RICHARD PATTERSON / MIAMI HERALD FILE

The sight of a group of people crowded around a café window, sharing a pot of sweetened espresso from tiny cups and making mid-afternoon small talk, has been a Miami hallmark for decades.

But the culture surrounding Cuban coffee recently has migrated to the halls of social media — thanks largely to JennyLee Molina, 31, who has used the Internet to lead an effort to make 3:05 p.m. the official time of the cafecito break in Miami.

Ever since Molina, a Cuban-American public relations representative, launched the 3:05 Cafecito campaign, young people from Miami have been snapping pictures of their afternoon coffee and sending them out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — always at 3:05 p.m. on the nose.

The trend reflects a local pride distinctive of Miami-born young people of Cuban descent: they want to celebrate a custom that stretches back over generations and across 90 miles of ocean, but they want to do it while standing firmly in the 21st century and within the 305 area code.

It all started when Molina stopped for her usual after-lunch cafecito at a Cuban restaurant in Miami Beach last year.

“I was with a friend of mine, and I asked him what time it was,” Molina said. “When he told me it was 3:05, I thought, perfect!"

So Molina tweeted a picture of her coffee with the hashtag #305cafecito. Others soon began to follow her lead.

“It started catching on,” Molina said. “It became a social media conversation.”

Molina created pages on Facebook and Twitter dedicated to the cause. Soon she realized that, for many, the idea of sharing a cafecito with friends over the Internet was more than just a fun trend: it reflected a real love for Miami.

She noticed, for example, that people from Miami living elsewhere were joining in, expressing their longing for the city and its customs.

AWAY FROM HOME

One of these people was Nicolás Antonio Jiménez, a Cuban American from Miami who was living in Wisconsin last winter. One day in December, Jiménez tweeted a picture of a cup of coffee resting on a ledge against a bright-white, snowy background. The cup was emblazoned with a Cuban flag inside an outline of the island.

“My parents and my grandparents always said that when a Cuban leaves Miami, he suddenly becomes more Cuban than the palm trees,” Jiménez said.

He realized the truth of this statement when he enrolled in University of Missouri in 2005. He developed a passion for coffee and cigars, and started a student group advocating for democracy and human rights in Cuba.

After college, Jiménez moved to Wisconsin where he picked up on Molina’s cafecito campaign and started regularly contributing his own pictures, taking them a few minutes ahead of time to make sure he could post them at 3:05 p.m.

To Jiménez, the trend reflected a double displacement: his parents’ from Cuba and his own from Miami.

“It certainly has connotations of exile,” Jiménez said. “It’s not just the custom itself, but the effort to preserve the custom outside of its natural environment, its country of origin.”

Jiménez has since returned to Miami, where he edits Cigar Snob magazine and continues to post pictures of his cafecito on social media.

SYMBOLIC NOD

In April, Molina’s campaign took a big step toward becoming official: the city of Miami gave the movement a symbolic nod, releasing a statement signed by Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff formally declaring 3:05 p.m. the hour of the cafecito.

The movement “celebrates the iconic ventanita of a Cuban restaurant, honoring the little window for Cuban coffee or sugar-cane juice that is the original and historical gathering place for Cuban social networking,” the statement read. Sugar-cane juice is more commonly known as guarapo.

Molina was pleased, if not surprised, that the movement gained so much steam.

“When we bring together Cuban culture and 305 pride, the community is very responsive,” Molina said. “This has all been very organic.”

PET PROJECT

The movement has occurred independently of her work in PR. Rather, it has been a pet project driven by her personal enjoyment.

“That’s why it’s been so successful — because it’s been fun,” Molina said.

Above all, 3:05 Cafecito has given Cuban Americans from Miami a chance to rally around an identity that is distinctively theirs: born between two worlds and proud of it.

In the words of Elena Santayana, a 35-year-old jewelry designer and enthusiastic promoter of 3:05 Cafecito: “It gives me a place in the world where I know who I am.”

For Santayana, the cafecito is certainly about Cuba, but that’s not the end of it.

“We’re not the exile generation. Our parents are the ones who were exiled. And what are our chances of going back to live in Cuba? It’s probably not going to happen,” Santayana said.

“So this helps define us. We’re not Cuban, and we’re not American. We are Miami Cubans.”

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