Snapshots of Florida's Hispanic Community
Within Florida's Hispanic community, diversity is increasing.
|Top Nicaraguan Communities|
|Kendale Lakes (Miami-Dade)||3,909|
|Percent of Total Population|
|Community||% of Nicaraguans|
|Acacia Villas (Palm Beach)||20.0|
|Stock Island (Monroe)||10.0|
|Hialeah Gardens (Miami-Dade)||9.7|
Early on a Friday evening, the Centro Comercial Managua in Sweetwater in west Miami-Dade is hopping. Drivers wait for spots to open in the tiny strip center as people dash into the farmacia or stop to pick up something to eat at La Fritanga, the Carne Asada Tortilleria Nica or La Chipiona Nicaraguan Bakery. It is said that every business in the center is owned by Nicaraguans. There's a public middle school and a park named for Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío down the road.
"Little Managua" isn't picturesque, but it is industrious. Sweetwater, across from Florida International University's main campus, lies west of Miami along famed Calle Ocho, Southwest 8th Street, the heart of Little Havana.
At 24%, according to the 2010 Census, Sweetwater has the highest percentage of Nicaraguans of any city or community in Florida.
The 32-year-old Nicaraguan-owned Los Ranchos Steakhouse, the first of what's grown into a four-restaurant operation offering predominantly Nicaraguan cuisine but also dishes catering to Cuban and other tastes, is another gathering spot. Its Sweetwater location bears witness to Miami-Dade diversity. Los Ranchos is catty-corner to a Salvadoran-owned restaurant, next door to an Indian grocer and just down from an Italian restaurant. At a table, Deborah Centeno, a relative of Los Ranchos' owners, outlines the popular history of Nicaraguan migration to Florida. The great wave, which included her parents, who own La Chipiona bakery, came with the fall of the Anastasio Somoza Debayle regime in 1979 and the rise of the Sandinista regime and Contra war. The immigrants chose Sweetwater, Fontainebleau next door and Little Havana because two area Catholic churches helped early refugees who then helped those who followed.
As with their Cuban predecessors, the first arrivals came from Nicaragua's upper classes, bringing what resources they could, says Barry University sociology professor Lisa Konczal, who has researched and written on Nicaraguans in Florida. They were followed by lower-class Nicaraguans seeking a better life outside the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti. The earlier Cuban migration meant schools were ready to handle the influx of Nicaraguans, but Nicaraguans didn't enjoy the same access to citizenship that Cubans had and had a harder time progressing in U.S. society. Overall, though, Nicaraguans have been upwardly mobile in succeeding generations. Because it's very difficult for a Nicaraguan to get a U.S. visa, immigration has fallen off, Konczal says.
Later this month, Centeno, who came to Florida in 1985 at age 27 with an economics degree from the university in Managua, will try to become the only Nicaraguan-American on a city commission dominated by Cubans, who make up the largest single group in Sweetwater at 48%.
"I'm not looking for the Nica's share," she says. "I'm working for all American citizens, also for all the people. We realize the only way to help people is to be inside."