Let’s Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

September 23, 2021

      We join in the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, a month that recognizes the contributions of the more than 60 million Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos, Mestizos, Native Americans, Afro-Latinos and all Latin American immigrants who contribute to the social, economic and spiritual fabric of the United States of America.

The 2020 Census shows that Latinos in the United States represent 18.5% of the population. White Anglos continue to be the nation’s largest racial ethnic group, representing 57.8% of the total population, but there are now 5 million fewer Anglos than a decade ago, indicating a reduction in the total population of this group for the first time in a decade.

The state of Florida remains the third most populous in the country with 21.5 million inhabitants, the first is California with 39.5 million, the second is Texas with 29.1 million and the fourth is New York with 20.2 million residents.

Demographic changes in Florida during the last decade:

  1. Population growth from 18.8 million in 2010 to 21.5 million in 2020.
  2. The total population grew by 2,736,877 or 14%.
  3. The Hispanic population is now 18.7% of the total, making it the largest minority group in the state. Anglos represent 61.6%, African Americans 12.4% and Asians 6%.
  4. Census data indicate that the metropolitan area that experienced one of the fastest growth rates in the country was in Central Florida, where Lake, Sumter and Marion counties experienced exponential growth.
  5. As Florida continues to be one of the fastest growing states in the country, Florida’s delegation in the House of Representatives will grow from 27 to 28 members.

Brief Summary of the Hispanic Presence in the U.S.

During the conquest of the New World, the Spaniards made incursions into the native territory north of the new colonies established in Mexico and south of the continent. The conquistador Ponce De Leon arrived in 1513 to what he called Florida. A decade later, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca explored the entire southwestern territory for almost a decade. In 1542 he published the results of his exploratory travels in “Relación de 1542”, which was the first description of the topography of the north and its native or Amerindian inhabitants.

The Spanish took a long time to establish themselves due to strong indigenous resistance, and continued to explore both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The conquistador Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River region, and concentrated the establishment of Spanish colonies in what are now Texas and New Mexico, but not before facing rebellions from the Pueblo Indians.

In 1565 in Florida they founded St. Augustine after displacing French Protestant settlers from the region, making it the first fully established North American colony. At the end of the 13th century the Spanish finally managed to establish themselves in California, building the military presidios of San Diego (1769), Monterey (1770) and San Francisco (1770).

As a result of the independence of the Spanish colonies to the south of the continent, the territories to the north were reconfigured. Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1821 and ceded the remaining territories to the new Republic of Mexico, which extended as far north as Oregon and west to Texas.

In 1803 the U.S. bought the Louisiana territory from France, and for fear of further expansion Spain populated Texas with Anglo-Saxon Catholic settlers to ensure loyalty to the crown, this produced strong cultural and linguistic tensions between the Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon settlers. In 1829 Mexico abolished slavery and prohibited Anglo-Saxon migration to its territory, also blocking trade with the United States.

In 1835-1836 the battle of the Alamo took place, where the Mexicans defeated the Anglo-Saxons. Shortly after, the advance of the Mexican troops was stopped and the rebellion was exterminated in the battle of San Jacinto and the Anglo-Saxon colonists declared their independence from the Mexican government.

In 1845 Texas was accepted as part of the United States of America, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the new country and a series of hostilities began between the two nations that triggered the Mexican-American War. In 1848 the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty was signed, ending the war and annexing all Mexican territory north of the Rio Grande, including California to the northwest for a payment of 15 million dollars.

Puerto Rican and Cuban Migration to Florida.

The relationship between the United States, Puerto Rico and Cuba was always closely linked; at the end of the 19th century tobacco, sugar and coffee flooded the U.S. market in the form of contraband. The Puerto Rican and Cuban intellectual elite used New York as a center of operations to plan the independence of both islands, although this does not necessarily mean that they had a positive opinion of the United States, as the writings of José Martí show.

In 1880, when slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico, a working class overpopulated the cities, and this prompted the first wave of migration to the U.S. In 1898 Puerto Rico became a U.S. possession and U.S. companies took over the tobacco, coffee and sugar industries, generating great unemployment and driving a great wave of migration, mainly to New York. In 1917 the Jones Act granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and this allowed the growth of Puerto Rican communities in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Harlem.

In the early 1920’s the “Harlem Riots” (1926) were caused by more than 2,000 unemployed Puerto Ricans and Jews demanding housing and employment rights. In those years, the Puerto Rican League arose, which worked for the revaluation of the values of Borinquén, which was the name the native Tainos used to call the island and which means “Land of the Most High or of the Great Lord” until Christopher Columbus renamed it San Juan Bautista. Among the Puerto Rican communities, a “Boricua” identity developed, closely linked to the island’s peasant culture.

After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and the rise of Fidel Castro to power in 1959, the first great wave of Cuban emigrants to Florida took place. These were mainly upper class and highly educated, and they managed to establish a very economically prosperous and ideologically conservative community that has been highly influential in U.S. politics.

A second migratory wave known as “Los Marielitos”, so called because they arrived aboard the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980, these were of the lower economic class, mestizos and with less education, due to their large numbers they had to be housed in camps where they remained for years while social programs were created to integrate them back into U.S. society.

In 1990, during the Great Depression, a third wave of migration known as “balseros” took place, where thousands of poverty-driven migrants risked their lives in unsafe boats crossing the 90 miles of sea that separate Cuba from Florida and joined the “Marielitos” and the entrepreneurial migrants from Key West and Tampa who established the first cigar factories transferred from Cuba at the end of the 19th century.

The Hispanic influence is strongly felt in the United States, from social and cultural aspects, such as gastronomy, art, music, sports, education, science, religion, politics and economy, for the sake of brevity we will refer to the last two aspects.

Hispanic Influence in Politics.

The 2020 Census clearly indicates the continued growth of the Hispanic community, this will have an impact on how congressional districts will be reconfigured through 2030, but more immediately it will have a major impact on the House and Senate elections in 2022.

For the first time there are 47 Latinos in the U.S. Congress. There are 4 Senators of Hispanic origin and 43 in the House of Representatives, including the 3 territorial commissioners. In states such as California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, no candidate can be elected governor without the support of Latino voters, as is the case with the mayors of large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Miami.

In the last presidential election, the influence of the Latino vote was very clear. According to Nathalie Rayes, president of the Latino Victory Project:

“During the 2020 presidential election, 16.6 million Latinos cast their vote, representing a 30.9% increase over 2016.”

 Latino Influence in the Economy.

The economic contribution is undeniable. If U.S. Latinos were an independent nation, they would have the seventh largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world, at $2.13 trillion, according to a report by the Latino Donor Collaborative. This is a higher GDP than India, Brazil and Italy.

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, in 2020 alone, the purchasing power of U.S. Latinos will exceed $1.7 trillion. That’s why Ana Valdez of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce told NCBC in an interview:

“We are very pleased to have statistical proof that demonstrates what Latinos living in the United States have always known to be true: we are a hard-working, productive community that is essential to the economic growth of American society.”

This means that Latinos are driving the growth of the U.S. workforce and the U.S. economy. This is contrary to the anti-immigrant and Anglo media rhetoric that tries to create the narrative that Hispanic immigration is detrimental to the United States.

Despite the fact that since 1986 the Immigration and Control Act has further restricted Hispanic migration to the United States, Latino communities have fought for the preservation of their language and cultural heritage, a reflection of this are the bilingual educational programs in counties such as Orange County in California or Miami-Dade where since 1998 these programs have been made official in all elementary and high school curriculum.

Even in the midst of these great advances, Latino youth have higher rates of poverty, incarceration, and educational opportunity and health disparities than their Anglo counterparts.

As we organize our community to fight and overcome these major challenges, we note that the Hispanic community is growing much faster than the overall population; we are a younger population with 35% under the age of 18.

We now represent 18.5% of the U.S. population, but we could reach 30% by 2060. These are reasons to celebrate with joy our Hispanic cultural heritage, and to look with optimism to the future of our Latino community in the United States of America.

A contribution of  Mission Talk Inc., Editorial Team.