MIAMI — Although 26 year-old Jaydelin Ortiz was born and raised in Miami, she broke down in tears describing why she was in front of the emblematic Café Versailles with hundreds of others celebrating the death of Fidel Castro.
"I grew up hearing stories about Cuba. I feel 100 percent Cuban," Ortiz said. Her grandmother spent 9 years as a political prisoner when Ortiz's mother was a young child. Although Ortiz's mother and grandmother were not present at what felt like a celebration for a Superbowl victory, she made sure she commemorated for them.
Since late Saturday night, when news of Castro's death began to spread, jubilant Cuban Americans poured onto the streets of the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami honking horns, banging pots, and chanting "Viva Cuba libre."
Other chants like "Death to Raul Castro" and calls for a free Venezuela could be often heard as well. Some Venezuelans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans and others in the Latino community were also present to show solidarity with Cuban Americans.
People, including children, waved Cuban flags of all sizes. Police closed several blocks of 8th street, known as "Calle Ocho" — probably the country's most well-known Cuban-American block — to make room for the crowds that included entire families.
Cuban exile Saidy Barinaga, who came to the U.S. in 1960, was present with her children and grandchildren. "It's a very memorable day for Cubans in Miami and everywhere in the world," she said, saying "it's an end of an era."
Ernesto Morales, 30, fled the island when he was 13 years old. He was taking part in the celebrations with his wife, cousins, and friends, and he was not mincing words about how he felt.
"Right now, I'm waiting for his brother to die," he said, referring to Fidel's brother, Raul Castro. When Morales heard the news of Castro's death on Saturday night, he immediately thought of his grandfather, who passed away 6 months ago at the age of 93. He would have been very satisfied with the news, said his grandson.
The energy among the crowd was noticeable. Although most of the people didn't seem to think this would bring much political change to Cuba, they saw it as an end of an era.
Some described it as "justice" for a person who was responsible for the incarceration and death of Cubans for simply opposing his 1959 communist revolution. And while most people were excited, there were also tears of nostalgia and sadness from some who said their relatives did not live long enough to witness this historic moment.
Much has changed between the two countries in the half century since Castro came to power. In the last several years the Obama administration has taken historic steps and eased relations between the two countries. The countries have opened embassies and President Obama went to Cuba.
But while many Cuban Americans have welcomed the easing of travel and other changes, the reaction to Castro's death was more visceral, focusing on the displacement and exile of many families.
Raquel Radillo, who was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. as a child, was emotional describing why she decided to join the crowds in Little Havana. "My parents died. My parents could not see this," she said.
Like many Cuban-Americans, she feels her parents missed out on moment that would have been gratifying for them after suffering so much under a dictatorship that left them without a country.
"I feel he raped our country and it will never be what it used to be," she said.