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The History of Florida and Hispanics in It

The ancestors of Hispanic Americans were present in the country of the United States before it was a nation-state. That heritage broadens from the 16th century in parts of present-day New Mexico and Florida and from the 17th and 18th centuries in parts of Arizona, Texas, and California. However, we read in our admired media about the sudden increase of Hispanic populations across the United States, and we are therefore enticed to conclude that this ethnic dispersal is a new shift. The Hispanic-Americans are one of the oldest and yet one of the most recent groups of American immigrants. Hispanic Americans are one of the fastest-growing population groups in the United States. Yet, Hispanic Americans are many, not one. A number of subgroups differentiate this population, mirroring the speckled and historical experience and relations of Latin America with North, or Anglo America. Most of the Hispanic population is concentrated in California, New York, Florida, and New Jersey. This paper will look at the history of Florida, the history of Hispanics in Florida, and their social diversity. It will also look at Hispanic contribution in Florida in the political arena, social life and economic sector.

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Florida was a Spanish territory for nearly 300 years. The modern United States of America retains a large Hispanic population. Early Spanish exploration in Florida sought to integrate the region into New Spain, the empire based in Mexico. To successfully exploit Florida, Spain first needed to conquer the lands around the Gulf of Mexico and establish an overland trail from the Atlantic coast to Mexico. Conquering that region would secure the northern edge of Spain’s American empire and provide a frontier for further northward expansion. In 1526, a royal contract to explore those Gulf lands was given to Panfilo de Narvaez, a conquistador who had helped sack Cuba and who had been in Veracruz. His contract instructed him to colonize the region from Florida around the Gulf coast to the Rio de Las Palmas. Narvaez’s expedition, which sailed from Spain in June 1527, included five ships, 80 horses, and 600 people, including ten women and African servants. In 1528 Panfilo de Narvaez and 400 men landed in Florida’s Tampa Bay and set out to discover how the region was connected to New Spain (Henderson, p. 30). Narvaez originally had planned to sail along the Gulf coast toward Mexico, but the delays, especially the long voyage from Cuba to Florida, had depleted his supplies. The expedition probably needed fresh water and the horses must have been suffering after being transported below deck for so long. At sea two months, the expedition could go no further. Narvaez, instead, opted to try to find a large harbor on the Gulf coast known to Spanish sailors and navigators, the harbor today called Tampa Bay (Lewis 24). It is important to note that for the whole period in which the Spanish were present in Florida, there was a great connection with Cuba. For that period Florida was economically, militarily, ecclesiastically and politically administered from Cuba.

Some of Narvaez’s men were held captive by the Indians but in September 1528, about 250 men who were still alive boarded five constructed rafts. But none of the rafts ever reached Mexico. Most either were lost at sea or washed ashore; the Spaniards died or were captured by native people. By fall 1532 only four of the 400 men army may have been alive (Henderson, p. 28). In September 1534, they run away from their captors and marched west. Nearly two years later they were found in northwest Mexico by slavers from New Galicia who was raiding native groups and so ended the incredible story of the Narvaez expedition. Narvaez’s expedition was organized at the initiative of Spanish particulars or private individuals and for purely economic purposes. The expedition had an impact on the history of Florida and was organized under the procedure of capitulations.

Jose Marti was the most significant Cuban mythical and political figure of the 19th century. He was devoted to the freedom of Cuba from Spanish rule and was politically dynamic for his whole life. He also found time to be a creative writer and wrote many books and articles concerning liberation. Marti toured widely to Florida, residing for long periods of time in Tampa, Key West, and Jacksonville, so much so that he became an inherent figure for the Cuban communities in Florida. He would speak fluently to audiences of thousands, seeking spiritual, political, military, and financial support for Cuba’s self-government (Henderson, p. 50).

Marti persuaded the diverse Cuban groups in exile, each with a different reason for fighting against Spain, to unite under the banner of the Partido Revolucionario Cuban, the Cuban revolutionary party. His objectives were clear: to instill in Cuba a government chosen by the people and to build a pluralistic society where the majority would rule. His stand against racism and his fear of the increasing role of the United States in Anglo-American politics attracted blacks and whites, rich and poor to his cause. In 1894, Marti organized military expedition to the island. Consisting of three ships, crowded with Cuban rebels, the small fleet sailed from Florida but was detained by the American government, claiming that since it was neutral on the growing political conflict it couldn’t allow hostile activities to emanate from American soil. Undeterred, Marti called for an uprising in Cuba for February 1895, while arranging for another expeditionary force to sail to the island. Reaching Cuba in April of 1895, Marti joined the insurgents, reminding them they were fighting not out of hatred for Spain but of love for Cuba. He also urged them to fight until victory. Rumors have it that a malcontent challenged Marti, telling him that it was easy for him to send young men into battle, especially when he himself would not venture into the battlefield. It was a challenge that Marti accepted, to Cuba’s great loss (Suchlicki, Varona, and Cuban American National Foundation, p. 176).

As an essayist, Marti wrote descriptive pieces about life in the United States. As a poet, he was one of the founders of modernism, the modernist movement in Spanish letters. As a man, he sacrificed family, wealth, and comfort to give his heart and soul to the liberation of Cuba (Media Projects Incorporated, p. 50).

The communities in Florida gave him fervent support and ultimately became the backbone of the liberty movement. Regrettably, instead of remaining in hiding, supporting the movement from overseas, Marti decided to unite with the first activists to land on the island in 1985 and was later killed at a very early age. Following his death, Florida remained comparatively remote and underdeveloped until the 1920s, when a series of land booms fueled the development and attracted settlers. The state’s climate helped the development of fruit and vegetable growing and attracted tourists and, increasingly, retires from elsewhere in the United States. By the 1890s Florida was ranked fourth in terms of popularity. Today, Marti is the only Cuban patriot who is admired and respected by Cubans on the island and in the United States (Henderson, p. 262)

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Florida is one of the nation’s most populous swing states. It is where the Democrats are positioned to make some solemn long-term gains. The country’s most ethnically multifaceted state seems to be in steady demographic flux. Immigration from the south and migration from the north both compel growth in the state. Enormous new waves of Hispanic immigration in Florida have left the long-dominant Cuban Americans a marginality of the statewide Hispanic vote.

Joseph Hernandez served in congress from 1822 to1823. He was the first delegate selected to represent Florida after the creation of the Florida territory in 1822. Another recent addition to the Hispanics in Congress is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American elected in a 1989 special election to the seat vacated by the late Representative Claude Pepper. Ros-Lehtinen, a former Florida state senator, thus became the first Cuban-American woman ever in Congress and the only Republican and woman in the Congressional Hispanic (Henderson, p. 46).

Florida has a long history of Hispanic settlement. While people of Mexican origin are a sizable element, Cubans constitute the largest Hispanic community. Cuban immigration to Florida began in the 19th century and peaked after the 1959 revolution that collapsed Fulgencio Battista’s government and brought Fidel Castro to power. According to the 2000 U.S. census, Florida’s 2.7 million Hispanics made up nearly 17% of the state’s population, the 17th highest proportion of Hispanics in the country. In the same census, Cubans totaled 31% of the Hispanic population, Puerto Ricans 18%, and Mexicans and Mexican Americans 14% (Daugherty and Kammeyer, p. 146).

The Hispanic population in Florida is younger and lives in more difficult circumstances than other ethnic groups; far from getting better, things seem to get only worse (Schultz, p. 430). They are subjected to a great number of problems including a high rate of unemployment, poor housing, limited medical services, and low educational levels. With this families have to fight back with stresses that more often than not lead to even superior problems. Smaller and smaller numbers of the most dynamic jobs and sophisticated skills are available to other Americans. For children, sufferings also involve dealing with dualities and disagreements coming up from their bi-cultural experience.

The expansion of the population of the Hispanic foundations stands out as one of the most dramatic demographic events to occur in Florida during the 1970s. A very high percentage of Hispanic dwell in urban areas. Every Hispanic group comes from a separate geographical area and, of course, different social and cultural settings. Incredible cultural mixture differentiates Hispanic ethnic groups from one another and conditions as well as the way each group fights and becomes accustomed to life in Florida.

The Cuban presence in Florida has greatly influenced patterns of socializing, dancing, and entertainment. Cubans have been behind the initiation of major events that have stimulated international tourism and brought economic benefits to Florida, such as the Miami Film Festival and the Miami Grand Prix. Cuban cuisine has not only flourished in south Florida but also has been taken to new heights, in contrast to the island, where scarcity is threatening its mere existence. Hundreds of Cuban restaurants cater to a wide multi-cultural; clientele that avidly delights in Cuban coffee and sandwiches, as well as in more elaborate dishes from roast pork to chicken and rice (Daugherty and Kammeyer, p. 147).

As their status changed from Cuban refugees to the permanent United States of American citizens, Cubans’ involvement in local, state, and national politics dramatically altered the political picture of Florida. During the 1960s and 1970s, Cubans’ political interest was primarily monopolized by their involvement in political organizations instilled with a strong anti-Castro position and aimed at recovering the Cuban homeland. As their stay was prolonged and years passed by. Their interest in local politics, especially among members of the younger generations, started to grow. There are ten Cuban-American serving in the Florida legislature and a Cuban-American congresswoman serving at the federal level. Despite the fact that many Cubans who settled in Florida came from a very liberal background, as far as advanced social legislation is concerned, the trajectory of the Democratic Party during the last 40 years has alienated them (Suchlicki, Varona, and Cuban American National Foundation, p. 63).

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The political involvement of Hispanic is as diverse and multifaceted as the people themselves. Disparities in forms, objectives, and techniques of political involvement replicate different historical experiences, country of origin, generational differences, spatial scattering, socio-economic class, educational level, femininity differences. To address Hispanic politics as being as nonspecific as marginal politics is to deal only with simplifications, negative stereotypes, and imprecise information (Kanellos, Padilla and Fabragat, p. 83). For each Hispanic sub-group, there is a widespread assortment of political activities. Hispanic politics thus mirrors national politics with additional dimensions of national origin and historical variance. For Hispanics, involvement and experience in politics have not been generally found in the electoral arena but somewhat in grassroots community organizations, labor organizing, legal protest, and resistance activities. Using the widest historical and spatial perspective of Hispanic political activity, scholars argue for including the time period from 17th century to 1990 (Hero, p. 62). They have delineated four major historical periods, these are 1846-1915 (politics of struggle), 1915-1945 (politics of adjustment), 1945-1965 (politics of social change), and 1965-1972 (politics of remonstration).

In 2006, the Hispanics went to the polls in significant numbers to fight for their rights. They went to punish the party that told them that their culture and their contributions were unwelcome in Florida. They succeed in punishing this party. In spite of their desire to earn political power, they have made very little progress in achieving it. Media and academic attention have been rising in favor of the Hispanic groups although these groups have simply not been able to translate their numbers into political power. For several years, the political power of the non-Cuban Hispanic voter in Florida has remained miserly, people have been waiting patiently, but it has yet to show up in reality (Bhatia, p. 670). However, Florida voters are debatably more stylish and occupied than on preceding generations, and the state is a preferred stomping ground of candidates from both parties, and not just for campaigning for votes, but also for dollars. “In addition to giving Florida more political power in Washington, the growth in the Hispanic population also promises to affect politics, public education, the labor force and the economy” (Anon. 1)

During the Civil, War Hispanics were divided according to their races, as well as ethnic groups. The major Hispanic groups were Cubans and Puerto Rican, although Cubans constituted the biggest population. Not surprisingly, Florida’s Hispanic population was drawn into the conflict from its early days. During two long periods as a Spanish colony the peninsula’s Latin community laid down very deep roots and, in time, was augmented by immigrants from Cuba, Mexico, and Spain itself. Significant numbers of ethnic Minorcans signed on with volunteer companies. Soon every Florida Civil War military unit had at least one member with a Hispanic name on its muster roll, and these soldiers often distinguished themselves on battlefields in the east and the West. Others stepped forward to help defend Florida itself from continuing Yankee threats, Volunteer Coast Guard companies formed to help shield Tampa Bay’s long, vulnerable coastline, and counted Hispanics among its members (Anon. 20).

At the end of the War, the decision to span the nation with a railroad seemed sensible. The work was very difficult so American businessmen hired immigrant laborers to lay the tracks to connect the east with the west. Farming became easy since products could be transported to the markets inconvenient means which were not available before. Just like farming, Manufacturing was made easier especially for the Cubans living in Key West. This was made even easier by the opening of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal was built by the United States in 1914 and cutting across the Isthmus of Panama was highly recognized in relation to engineering works.

The idea of building a railroad from the Florida mainland to Key West had been discussed since territorial days. In fact, the legislature had charted several firms during the 19th century to construct such a route, but lack of funds or engineering knowledge thwarted each attempt. Nevertheless, establishing rail service to Key West tantalized Flagler because of the latter’s proximity to Cuba, Caribbean markets, Mexico, South America, and most importantly the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal is just about 51 miles. The Suez Canal is a constricted synthetic waterway that links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea; it is about 118 miles long. Although both Panama Canal and Suez Canal have clearly impacted the world, the Suez Canal can be said to have had a superior impact. The Suez Canal conveys in a bigger number of boats each year than Panama, and it is free from locks, and water-filled hollows.

The impact that Hispanics, specifically Cubans, have had in south Florida is noticeable in all areas of life and manifested in all aspects of culture, economy, politics, education, religion, sports, the media, among others. The most obvious contribution has been in the economic sector. Cubans and the local economy have developed an idyllic relationship, the product of a perfect match. South Florida’s unique economy of the 1950s caused by a diminishing tourist trade was the ideal site for economic development by the determined Cubans. South Florida had the potential for economic growth, and many of the Cubans had the business acumen, entrepreneurial skills, as well as contacts with and knowledge of American businesses. Furthermore, Cubans brought contacts and connections with businessmen and government officials from central and South America and the Caribbean. In 1989, there were estimated to be over 25, 000 Hispanic-owned businesses in South Florida. Many of them are small family-run businesses. However, in many cases, they have developed interdependence which integrates the enslaved economy (Suchlicki, Varona, and Cuban American National Foundation 210). Cubans have greatly contributed to the development of banking in Florida. By 1984 there were over 400 Cuban bank vice-presidents and many high-level bank executives. There were also a considerable number of insurance and real estate firms owned by Cubans.

In the 1830s Florida imported large volumes of Tobacco from Cuba which largely boasted the economy. This importation contributed to Florida’s increased profits and was later established as a major Havana cigar tobacco-growing, manufacturing, and retail state. The century 1890s to 1990s can be recognized as one of successive boom-bust processes. These were initially in Florida itself, in Gadsden country (the 1890s-1970s), the Tampa Bay area (1890s-1990s), and Miami (1960S-1990S). Then, as the growing and manufacturing that had come from Cuba once again moved offshore, they were transplanted to the Caribbean and Central America as part of wider processes of regionalization and globalization, controlled mainly from the United States and for the lucrative U.S. market. If Cigar tobacco growing was short-lived around the Tampa area, it was to remain in northern Florida up until the 1970s (Suchlicki, Varona, and Cuban American National Foundation, p. 207).

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The economic growth of the area, and the continued development of the crucial foreign sector, is now intertwined with the cultural constitution of the area. The retention of the Hispanic culture and especially of the Cuban sub-culture has proven to be a magnet to the immigration of Anglo Americas into the area. Hispanics have created a market which, as has been the case in some sectors, geographic areas and time periods, has been self-supportive to some identifiable degree does not mean, of course, that the benefits derived from its operation have only reached the members of the Hispanic community.

As seen above, Hispanics are one of the largest ethnic communities constituting the population of the United States. They have resided in the U.S since the 16th century and their number continues to increase. Most, but not all Hispanics speak Spanish and most, not all Spanish speaking people are Hispanics. This is a community that has been denied its rights since its existence. They continue to live in the United States even though they have been discriminated against in terms of good jobs, education, and social amenities such as hospitals. For the Hispanics living in Florida, most of their time is dedicated in searching for ways of looking after their families. The children have been discriminated against education as compared to white Americans. They, together with the black Americans, continue to suffer in a land that is not theirs. Even though Hispanics share a universal language, their olden times are entrenched all through the Americans and the Liberian peninsula. Hispanic symbolizes a combination of a number of ethnic backgrounds, as well as European, American, Indian, and African.

All through history, Hispanic Americans have contributed to the furthermost of Florida. From the most ancient settlers in the new world to the most modern arrivals in search of better opportunities and freedoms, Hispanics continue to add Florida’s inimitable culture. More than 2.7 million Hispanics live in Florida, and encompass approximately 17% of the total population (Bhatia, p. 60). As comparatively young and swiftly growing population, Hispanics are hovering to make their mark on Florida for generations to come. Through, their determinations, dedication to faith and supportive families, Hispanics have the capability of having a noteworthy impact on society. I think Hispanics had contributed to a significant development in Florida. They immigration there has not only improved Florida’s social life, but also its economic status. Hispanics are hardworking people with business acumen and have shown their potential in Florida. Hispanics have formed a market economy which, has been self-supportive to some particular degree but does not signify, of course, that the benefits resulting from its operation have only being attainable to the members of the Hispanic community. In a real sense, Florida has benefited more from these activities than the Hispanics themselves.

Works Cited

  1. Anon. “Florida has more Hispanics than blacks, census shows”. The New York Times, 2001
  2. Bhatia, Tej K. The handbook of bilingualism Volume 15 of Blackwell handbooks in linguistics. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008
  3. Daugherty, G. Helen and Kammeyer, Kenneth C. An introduction to population. New York: Guilford Press, 1995
  4. Henderson, Ann L. Spanish pathways in Florida, 1492-1992. Sarasota: Pineapple Press Inc, 1991
  5. Hero, Rodney E. Latinos and the U.S. political system: two-tiered pluralism. New York: Temple University Press, 1992
  6. Kanellos, Nicolas, Padilla, Felix M. and Fabragat, Esteva C. Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Sociology, Volume 3. New York: Arte Publico Press, 1994
  7. Lewis, Daniel. Dance in Hispanic cultures, Volume 3 Choreography and Dance, Vol 3, Part 4. New York: Routledge, 1994
  8. Media Projects Incorporated. Student Almanac of Hispanic American History: From the California Gold Rush to today, 1849-present Volume 2 of Student Almanac of Hispanic American History, Media Projects Incorporated. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004
  9. Schultz, Jeffrey D. Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics: Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. The American political landscape series, Volume 2 of Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000
  10. Suchlicki, Jaime, Varona, de Leyvua Adolfo, and Cuban American National Foundation. Cuban exiles in Florida: their presence and contributions. New York: Transaction Publishers, 1991

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