September 19, 2014

La Florida

Snapshots of Florida's Hispanic Community

Within Florida's Hispanic community, diversity is increasing.

Mike Vogel | 4/30/2013

MEXICANS

Top Mexican Communities
Total Numbers
Community Mexicans
Jacksonville (Duval) 14,198
Immokalee (Collier) 11,983
Tampa (Hillsborough) 9,312
Homestead City (Miami-Dade) 7,898
Lehigh Acres (Lee) 7,464
Percent of Total Population
Community % of Mexicans
Fellsmere (Indian River) 79.0%
Zolfo Springs (Hardee) 70.0
Dover (Hillsborough) 61.0
Naples Manor (Collier) 59.0
Bowling Green (Hardee) 59.0
Florida 3.3
U.S. 10.3

Like his two brothers and many Mexicans before him, Daniel Naranjo came to Fellsmere to pick Indian River County's famous fruit. Born in Mexico, he came from California to Florida, married, had a son in Lee County and arrived in Fellsmere. He's done a lot of jobs: Worked in the groves, was a crew leader, packed fruit and drove a truck. For years now, he's been a plumber for a large Orlando contractor.

Through it all, he stuck to Fellsmere. He and his wife put down roots, raising their son and two daughters there. He has company. Fellsmere has the highest percentage of Mexican-Americans in Florida — 79% of the city population.

Florida's Hispanic population diverges from national averages noticeably when it comes to Mexicans, says University of Florida professor Philip J. Williams, director of the Center for Latin American Studies. Nationally, 10% of Americans are of Mexican origin; in Florida, only 3% are. In terms of just the Hispanic population, 63% of Hispanics nationally are of Mexican origin; in Florida, just 15% are. But their relative share is growing as is the share of Central and South Americans, Williams says.

The Mexican story in Florida historically was one of agricultural work with the major population clusters in rural agricultural areas such as LaBelle, Arcadia and Homestead. However, Mexicans have followed Naranjo's track, going from agriculture into construction. Landscaping is also a sector heavy with Mexicans. There is a trend of upper-income Mexicans hedging their bets on Mexico's future by acquiring second or third homes in Florida, opening businesses here and buying their way to permanent U.S. residency through the government's EB-5 visa investment program. And, of course, not all Mexicans in Florida pick fruit or pull the trigger on a nail gun. Gabriel Abaroa Jr., president and CEO of the Latin Recording Academy, the Latin Grammys, is of Mexican heritage and lives in Miami, as do broadcast journalists Jorge Ramos and California-born Maria Elena Salinas.

But the trajectory for many Florida Mexicans tracks more closely to Naranjo's.

Naranjo, 46, for a time served on the Fellsmere City Council. He worries about crowding in his kids' schools, but otherwise doesn't make any complaints. "I feel comfortable here," he says.

Next page: Nicaraguans in Florida

Tags: La Florida, Hispanics in Florida

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