Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Florida's Hispanic Population

» A middle-school Venezuelan-born studentin Coral Springs complains that speaking in Spanish gives him a headache. The oldest Cuban-born brother in a Miami family talks about how his younger siblings speak Spanish with an American accent. Yet, Hispanic parents in Miami say their Americanized kids suddenly boost their Spanish skills and mores when they fall for someone from a more recently arrived Latino family -- reverse acculturation.

Experts are mixed about how well the standard melting-pot paradigm applies to Hispanics. The Pew Hispanic Center says Hispanics follow the path of earlier immigrant groups, with English use dominant by the third generation. A high of 61% of Hispanics in the first generation say they speak Spanish better than English; of the third generation, only around 2% report that their Spanish is better.

However, there are indications that Hispanics have greater sticking power in culture and language than prior immigrant groups. Some 95% of Hispanics believe it's important for future Hispanic generation members to be able to speak Spanish (the U.S., after all, is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico); a similarly high share, however, believe English is necessary to succeed.

Market research firm Nielsen, in a 2012 report on the growth of the Hispanic market, says Hispanics are "the largest immigrant group to exhibit significant culture sustainability and are not disappearing into the American melting pot." Says Nielsen: "Borderless social networking, unprecedented exchange of goods, technology as a facilitator for cultural exchange, retro acculturation and new culture generation combine to enable Hispanic culture in the U.S. to be sustainable."

» To state the obvious: Miami is a Latin city, and south Florida is a heavily Hispanic area, as are some rural counties. Parts of central Florida have a lot of Puerto Ricans. The rest of the state just has a minority of Hispanics, often times living in pockets.

» Without Hispanics, Florida's population growth from 2000 to 2012 falls to 9.6%, rather than 17.6%.

» Hispanics make up 13.9% of active registered voters in Florida -- 476,000 are registered Republicans and 645,000 are Democrats. Republicans saw a 7% increase in Hispanics registering for the GOP in Florida from the 2008 to 2012 general elections, but Democrats posted a 26% gain, according to Florida election records. Hispanics expressing no party affiliation increased 38%. Hispanics account for 11% of registered GOP voters, 13.5% of registered Democrats and 20% of no-party affiliation voters.

» Snapshots of Florida's Hispanic Community

Profiles of different groups include a look at Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Nicaraguans.

» A quarter of a million Florida public school students fall into the "English language learner" designation -- foreign-born or from a household where English isn't spoken -- a number that has increased 27.8% over the last decade, according to the state Department of Education. Most of them -- 77% -- are Hispanic. Roughly one in four Hispanic students falls under the English language learner umbrella.

» Florida's fastest-growing Hispanic nationality, percentage-wise, is one of the smallest, Uruguayans, up 259% from 2000. The slowest grower is the largest: Cubans, up 46%.

» Class is important. "An upper-middle class Argentinian will have more in common with an upper, middle-class Colombian or Mexican than an upper, middle-class Mexican will have with a lower-class Mexican," says Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a University of Central Florida history professor who has researched immigration to Florida.

Buying Power in Florida
(in billions of dollars)
Hispanic Total (all consumers)
1990 $19.7 $226.8
2000 47.3 407.5
2010 104.8 665.1
2012 212.8 727.6
Source: Selig Center For Economic Growth, University of Georgia, Terry College of Business

» The Hispanic-ization of Florida isn't just a topic for armchair demographers. Hispanic buying power in Florida boomed to $212.8 billion in 2012, up 980% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. That number doesn't include tourist spending, notes center director Jeffrey Humphreys. Hispanics account for 29% of consumer buying power in Florida, according to Selig research. Not only are Hispanics the fastest-growing consumer segment in Florida, says University of Florida's Philip J. Williams, but they also comprise a young segment. Navigating the Hispanic market requires expertise in knowing who comprises the market -- working-class Guatemalans or South American elites -- and knowledge of cultural and language nuances that vary from Hispanic nationality to nationality and recognition that different nationalities and generations are at different stages of assimilation and acculturation. Even Hispanic-owned businesses have to navigate. Navarro Discount Pharmacy, a Miami Hispanic chain expanding into Tampa and Orlando, targets Mexicans at a Homestead store with a large selection of chili peppers, Mexican beers and Jarritos soft drinks while targeting Puerto Ricans and Venezuelans in Pembroke Pines with different brand-name products.

» Time of arrival affects outlook. An older Cuban has vivid memories of fear, reprisals, seizure of property, killings and the threat of death. A young Cuban immigrant has no such memories, and his parents may have no memory, of Cuba without Castro and socialism but might have very strong memories of the "Special Period," the hardships and economic depression in Cuba during the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

» Take Miami-Dade out of the equation -- both Hispanics and non-Hispanics -- and Florida's Hispanic population drops to just under 16%, below the national level of 16.4%. Subtract Broward as well, and Florida looks like Connecticut or Illinois.

» For a state commemorating the 500th year since a Spanish explorer came ashore, Florida has few Spaniards. Only about 48,815 in the 2010 Census in Florida described themselves as of Spanish ancestry -- about three-tenths of 1% of Florida's population. Spain places 14th on the list of source countries and territories of Hispanic Floridians. They are widely spread out.