Exploring the Latino Metropolis: A Brief Urban Cultural History of US Latinos

The Historical Background of Latinos in Miami

The state of Florida had originally been a Spanish colony after Juan Ponce de León and his ship had arrived on the coast of Florida in 1513, thus establishing its presence as a Spanish-speaking area early on in history (Díaz).The migration of Cubans to Florida came in three waves. The first wave of Cubans and Puerto Ricans that had immigrated to Florida, particularly the Tampa Bay area, was as a result of two main situations. Many of the new immigrants then were fleeing the Spanish colonialism, which will last until late 1890s. The other reason was that Florida had developed into a cigar industry, so a large amount of Cuban tobacco workers had migrated to find work in the states (Bergad 1). A Puerto Rican and Cuban community had already been established in Florida as a result of the economic and political connections between the Hispanic Caribbean and US that had formed because of the growing sugar imports from those islands early in the 19th century. Since Florida was one of the first principal states where the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities had emerged, it formed as the foundation for Cuban presence and immigration to the states (Bergad 36-37).

However, the second wave of Cubans in the 1960s migrated to Florida for different reasons than the previous generation had. The Puerto Rican immigrants came to the United States this time mainly for socioeconomic reasons, just like Dominicans in the post-1980 Dominican migration, but unlike their ancestors, the 1960s Cuban migrants were mostly political refugees (Bergad 39). These political refugees had settled in South Florida as a result of the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary win in 1959 (Bergad 89). Since this new group of Cubans was not the typical economic migrants, they were better educated and wealthier than the previous groups of immigrants from Europe and Puerto Rico. “Between 1961 and 1970 some 290,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, and in the next decade, another 265,000 crossed the Florida Straits” (Bergad 39), which established Cubans as one of the largest Latino subgroup in Florida. By the end of the 1980s, 26% of the population in Miami was Hispanic, 70% of them were of Cuban origin, and 8% of that Latino population was Puerto Rican (Bergad 89).

Because of the established Latino community in southern states, places such as Florida and Georgia emerged as new poles of attraction for newly arrived Mexicans (Bergad 45). The Mexicans had a tendency to settle in places where there were high labor demand and where Hispanics had only been “marginally important prior to their arrival” (Bergad 68). Florida, was one out of the two states that had served as an exception to this theory. In 1980s, Mexicans had only made up 9% of the 80,000 Hispanics in Florida, a statistic that would change over the coming years.


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