CARY — Although you can’t legally buy a Cuban cigar in this country, it turns out you can buy one that’s “Cuban rolled.”
Circle City Cigar, a startup producer of cigars made in the Cuban tradition, was selling them for $5 or $7 each – depending on the size – on South Academy Street in downtown Cary on Saturday at the Ritmo Latino Festival.
Ileana Platon and Gladis Herrera, two Cuban natives, started their business in Pittsboro this year to take advantage of the skills Herrera acquired during a quarter-century of hand-rolling cigars at a factory in Cuba. They began selling cigars in April out of Ed’s Auto Collision, a body shop in Pittsboro owned by Platon’s husband.
Circle City buys tobacco leaves from the Dominican Republic, where they use tobacco seed imported from Cuba, Platon said. Because North Carolina tobacco, alas, just won’t do.
“The quality is different,” Herrera said in Spanish as Platon interpreted. “The Cuban tobacco is stronger.”
“Cuban cigars are the best in the world,” Platon added. “It’s a good way to put our culture out there. … Everybody knows our food. Everybody knows our drinks. Do you know what a Cuban cigar tastes like?”
Putting Hispanic culture out there is what the Ritmo Latino Festival is all about. Saturday marked the 10th year of the festival, which has been sponsored from the beginning by Diamante Inc., a Cary nonprofit organization focused on preserving and promoting Hispanic culture.
Ritmo Latino means Latin rhythms, and those were a nearly nonstop feature of the festival. In addition to a dozen bands, there were folkloric dance groups that told stories through dance and song, working a tradition that goes back centuries.
“These folkloric groups were the newspapers of the time,” said David Flores, president of Diamante.
Louis Ramos of Raleigh is a percussionist with Bomba Boriqua, a Triangle folkloric group that plays bomba, a musical style that originated in Puerto Rico.
“We’re keeping the tradition,” Ramos said. “We have a lot of salsa bands in the area, but … people are always asking, is there a bomba group around?”
Robert Hughes, 64, a salesman who lives in Durham, came to the festival alone – his wife was out of town – primarily to take some salsa lessons so he could up his game.
“What’s not to like?” he said. “The movement. The music. The sensuality. The sexuality. Poetry in motion. It’s a lot different than what I learned in the juke joints.”
Raymond Rivera and his wife, Karen, are avid festival-goers. But the Knightdale couple were especially attracted by Ritmo Latino’s Hispanic flavor. Raymond’s parents were born in Puerto Rico.
“There’s not a lot of this type of activity in this area,” said Raymond, 58, who’s retired. “Whenever there is one, we come to try and meet people with the same ethnic background.”
And, he added, “it’s good to taste Mexican food and Cuban food and other foods.”