Florida Vacations

Mexicans, who compose the third-largest national Latino group in Florida, tend to be spread out, largely in rural areas. This is due to the migration patterns in general of Mexicans into Florida, who have largely been from poorer groups than Cubans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, and Colombians. This does not mean that no wealthy Mexicans have migrated to Florida (there is a small and extremely wealthy Mexican enclave in Aventura, in north Miami-Dade), but in general it appears that Mexican migration in Florida has followed family routes or agricultural or semiskilled labor markets.

And unlike migrations from Central America, which have largely settled in urban areas such as Miami, Mexicans have tended to settle in areas such as Hillsborough County (53,000 in the county of 1.1 million), a large county that includes Tampa and rural areas to the east. Mexicans have also migrated for agricultural and service jobs across central-south Florida, and the highest concentrations can be found in rural areas such as Homestead in southern Miami-Dade County (some 43,000 in the county) and rural parts of Palm Beach County (30,000, but perhaps more given the nature of agricultural work). In some rural counties Mexicans represent a large majority or a sizeable plurality of the Latino population: Polk County (more than 25,000 in a county of half a million in 2000, and half of the overall Latino population); Lee County (16,000 out of 42,000 Latinos and 440,000 overall); Hendry County (10,000 out of 14,000 Latinos and a total county population of 36,000); De Soto County (inland from Sarasota on the Gulf Coast, where 7,000 of 8,000 Latinos are Mexican out of a total population of 32,000); Hardee County (south of De Soto, with 7,500 out of close to 10,000 Latinos were Mexican in 2000, out of a total population of 27,000); and Highlands County (6,000 out of 11,000 Latinos in a county of 87,000).

But population figures on Mexicans can be difficult to track in Florida. Unlike Cubans, who are given visas on arrival in the United States, Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, and professional South Americans, who arrive with visas, many Mexicans in Florida remain undocumented. It is likely that the overall population of Mexicans in Florida is higher than the 2005 reported number of 532,000.

Other groups (South and Central Americans primarily, as opposed to Puerto Ricans and Mexicans) tend to be concentrated very heavily in Miami and Broward. For example, over 70 percent of all Colombians (the fourth-largest Latino group statewide) in Florida live in these two counties (57,000 in Broward and 90,000 in Miami-Dade, out of some 235,000 in the state). Sixty-three percent of the statewide Dominican population of about 122,000 lives in Miami-Dade and Broward. This trend holds true for several other groups from South America: Venezuelans (76 percent of the 82,000 statewide population), Peruvians (72 percent of the statewide population of about 78,000), and Argentines (77 percent of the statewide population of 52,000). Central Americans also follow this concentration

in southeast Florida (statewide, 88 percent of 117,000 Nicaraguans, 68 percent of 88,000 Hondurans, and 60 percent of 47,000 Salvadorans live in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties).

But for all this diversity, Florida in many ways is the very opposite of cosmopolitanism. Rather than celebrating diversity and ethnic mixture, Latino identity in Florida is defined principally by national association and by divisive and tense relationships between Cubans and other Latino groups. Given Cubans’ highly privileged immigration status, and their socioeconomically higher status than other groups, especially among those who arrived before Mariel, many Latinos in Florida see Cubans not as their natural allies but as their economic and political enemies.

Politics is about perception, and the very perception that Cubans have turned Miami into a third-world city, as Colorado Republican congressman Tom Tancredo recently claimed, or that racial division and ethnic distrust had turned it into the Beirut of the West, as Puerto Rican mayor of Miami Maurice Ferre once remarked, are telling indicators of Latino identity in Florida.21 The question heavily determined by the accented response where are you from? is one of the most common first questions asked between Spanish speakers in Florida, and its underlying cultural implication writ large on the public stage can lead, as it did in Liberty City, to devastating consequences of racial violence.

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