Florida has the third largest Latin American population in the United States. Approximately 23% of its inhabitants are of Latin descent. From these inhabitants, Florida inherited history, culture, cuisine, especially Cuban, Puerto Rican and Caribbean.
In addition to the Spanish language, especially widespread in Miami, Hispanics have made significant contributions to business, science, politics and education, and have been very important to the state’s economic development. Approximately 40% of Miami residents have Spanish as their predominant language, and, according to the 2010 American census, 35% of the population is of Cuban origin. It is no coincidence that Miami is known as the “Capital of Latin America”.
In fact, Hispanic influence dates back more than 500 years, as soon as the Spaniards arrived and started to establish the first settlements. Centuries after the arrival of Ponce de Leon and other Spanish explorers, the state of Florida definitely lives up to this heritage.
In Central Florida you also find a strong Latin influence. From restaurants, museums, to theme parks. The Mexican pavilion at the Epcot Center, for example, delights us with the country’s typical cuisine, drinks, rich handicrafts and Mariachis music. Still in Orlando, in mid-March, there is the Puerto Rican Festival, a family event with lots of salsa, merengue and hip hop.
However, it is in Miami, the second largest city in Florida, that we find the greatest influence of Latin culture, especially Cuban since the late 1960s. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, massive Cubans left their homeland seeking shelter in Miami. In the 1970s, the same happened with Haitians and Nicaraguans. Some people joke that living in Miami is almost like living in the United States.
The western part of the city is known as La Little Havana (La Pequeña Habana / Little Havana) or “Calle Ocho” (Eight Street). This neighborhood is a great place to visit and experience Cuban-American culture: the colorful streets are full of shops and restaurants with some of the most incredible and authentic flavors of Cuban cuisine, as well as museums and theaters. And the best festivals also take place here, among them the Calle Ocho Festival, which, in 10 days of festivities, features beauty contests, sporting events, cuisine, live salsa concerts, merengue, Caribbean music and culminates in a party that runs through 23 blocks.
Because it is so influenced by Latin culture, Miami has a warm and passionate people. There people greet each other and spend themselves with a kiss and are not embarrassed to show affection. But avoid talking about politics, especially if you are a sympathizer of communism: you may not feel welcome since many inhabitants of the city have come as refugees from this type of regime. Likewise, don’t be upset if someone comes to you first in Spanish: many people, despite living in the city for more than 30 years, do not speak English. In fact, Miami’s unofficial language is “Spanglish”: a hybrid of English and Spanish that some residents use, exchanging, in the same sentence, the two languages. In addition, many put the Spanish accent in English words such as the word “market” (market in Portuguese) in “marqueta” (instead of market in Spanish), or US mail (mail from the United States) in “usmail” (all together). And don’t be shy when ordering a “café con leche” or its smaller version, a “cortadito”.
Miami is the perfect example of what is expected of a nation founded by immigrants: it is a city with new people arriving all the time, refreshing, open minded and with great diversity, which rewards those who want to work and contribute to its development
For these reasons, Brazilians usually feel at home in Florida. And speaking of Brazilians in Florida, this is a subject that we will talk about soon!