Florida Hispanic Heritage Facts

Heritage Facts

Día de la Raza, or Columbus Day is a holiday marking the arrival of navigator Christopher Columbus in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Columbus' voyage was funded by Queen Isabella I of Castile and led to the Spanish colonization of the New World.

Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Ponce de León in 1513. Sometime between April 2 and April 8, Ponce de León waded ashore on the northeast coast of Florida, possibly near present-day St. Augustine. He called the area la Florida, in honor of Pascua florida ("feast of the flowers"), Spain's Eastertime celebration.

Pánfilo de Narváez led a fateful mission into Florida in 1528. Marching northward from the Tampa Bay area, he and his soldiers lost contact with the supply ships. Facing attacks from native tribes and diminishing rations, Narváez and his men built five barges using pine trees to set sail for a Spanish settlement in Mexico. A storm in the Gulf of Mexico destroyed the barges and most men perished, including Narváez. Only four survivors made it to Mexico.

In 1539, Hernando de Soto arrived in the Tampa Bay area to begin an expedition in search of gold and silver. His exploration took him on a long trek through Florida and what is now the southeastern United States. For four years, de Soto's expedition wandered, in hopes of finding the fabled wealth of the Native American people. De Soto and his soldiers camped for five months in the area now known as Tallahassee, celebrating the first Christmas in America. De Soto died near the Mississippi River in 1542. Survivors of his expedition eventually reached Mexico.

In 1559 Tristán de Luna y Arellano led another attempt by Europeans to colonize Florida. He established a settlement at Pensacola Bay, but a series of misfortunes caused his efforts to be abandoned after two years.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés traveled to Florida with his sights set on creating a Spanish settlement. Menéndez arrived in 1565 at a place he called San Augustín (St. Augustine) and established the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States.

In 1566, Menéndez de Avilés and Father Francisco Villareal arrive in present-day Miami to found a Jesuit mission, which was completed in 1567.

Castillo de San MarcosConstruction of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine began on October 2, 1672, which was essentially completed by 1695. The fortification was designed by Ignacio Daza, a Spanish engineer living in Cuba. Castillo de San Marcos is made out of coquina stone (a sedimentary rock composed of seashells and coral) mined from nearby deposits. It is the oldest stone fort in the United States.

In 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in accordance with the Adams-Onís Treaty. Florida was purchased for $5 million.

Joseph Marion Hernández became the first Hispanic-American ever to serve in Congress after his election as a territorial delegate in 1822.

Florida is admitted into the Union as the twenty-seventh state on March 3, 1845.

Cigar FactoryVicente Martinez Ybor opened his cigar factory just outside Tampa in 1886. The forty-acre tract where the factory was located included housing and other amenities for its workers. Thousands of immigrant workers, many of them Cuban, Italian, and Spanish, inhabited the town that came to be known as Ybor City. Cuban independence activist José Martí addressed some of these workers at Ybor's factory, encouraging them to take part in the fight for an independent Cuba.

The port city of Tampa served as the primary staging area during the Spanish-American War in 1898 for U.S. troops on the way to battle in Cuba. Many Floridians supported the Cuban peoples' desire to be free of Spanish colonial rule.

Pan Am Airways began regular flights in 1931 between the cities of Miami and Havana. The duration of the trip was two and a half hours.

On January 1, 1959, the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro culminated in the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista's government. Over 155,000 people fled Cuba from 1959 to 1962, many of them finding exile in Miami.

The Freedom Tower in Miami earned its name because it served as a government reception facility for Cubans fleeing Castro's regime. Hundreds of thousands received services and were documented at this building from 1962 through the early 1970's.

Florida has the third largest population of Hispanics in the nation, with more than 4 million residing in the state. Twenty-three percent of Florida's population is Hispanic.

At least 60% of Hispanics reside in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties.

The majority of Florida's Hispanics trace their heritage to Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Mexico. In addition, the percentage of individuals from Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Dominican Republic is growing.

U.S Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates more than 266,000 Hispanic businesses operating in Florida, ranking the Sunshine State third behind California and Texas.

Goods produced in Florida account for 23% of all U.S. exports to Latin American and the Caribbean - higher than any other state.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of all Florida-origin exports go to the Latin America/Caribbean region.

In 2013, over 6.3 million travelers visited Florida from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Florida Place Names

Altamonte Springs, Seminole County -- Altamonte is Spanish for "high hill".

Anna Maria Island, Manatee County -- Ponce de Leon was said to have named the island for the queen of King Charles II, the sponsor of his expedition. Pronunciation is often disputed, most prefer Anna Mar-EE-a, but the old timers like Anna Mar-EYE-a.

Boca Ciega, Pinellas County -- Named for Boca Ciega Bay, Boca Ciega literally means Blind Mouth in Spanish. This may have been a reference to what it looked like at the entrance of the river.

Boca Raton, Palm Beach County -- The Spanish "Boca de Ratones" means rat's mouth, a term used by seamen to describe a hidden rock which a ship's cable might rub against.

Cape Canaveral, Brevard County -- Canaveral is the Spanish word for "a place of reeds or cane."

Colombia County (1832) -- Named after Christopher Columbus.

DeSoto County (1887) -- Named after Hernando de Soto, Spanish explorer.

Escambia County (1821) -- Escambia River is derived from the Spanish word for "barter" or "exchange."

Fernandina Beach, Nassau County -- Fernandina was the early name of Cuba. Fernandina claims to be the oldest city in the United States.

Hernando County (1843) -- (was Benton, 1844-1850) Named after Hernando de Soto, Spanish explorer.

Islamorada, Monroe County -- It is Spanish for "purple island."

Key West, Monroe County -- It is the westernmost island extending from the Florida peninsula. Key West was originally called Cayo Hueso (Bone Island) by the early Spanish explorers because they found large quantities of human bones there.

Largo, Pinellas County -- Largo is the Spanish word for "big" or "long." Lake Largo is nearby.

Leon County (1824) -- Juan Ponce de Leon, first European to reach Florida.

Madeira Beach, Pinellas County -- Madeira Beach is named for Portugal's wine producing island, Madeira, located just off the coast of Africa. The word means "wood."

Panama City, Bay County -- George West, the original developer of the town, named it Panama City because it is in a direct line between Chicago and Panama City, Panama.

Ponte Vedra, St. Johns County -- This is named for the city in Spain.

Punta Gorda, Charlotte County -- The Spanish words for "wide point" or "fat point" refer to the arm of land jutting into Charlotte Bay near the city of Punta Gorda.

St. Augustine, St. Johns County -- The oldest continuously inhabited city in the United State, St. Augustine was named by its founder, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, for St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo.

Santa Rosa County (1842) -- Rosa de Viterbo, Roman Catholic Saint.

Valparaiso, Okaloosa County -- This name was taken from the city in Indiana, which in turn was named for the famous Chilean port. The word is Spanish for "valley of paradise."

Florida's International Trade Highlights

Trade with the Americas

Latin America:

  • Florida is known as the Gateway to Latin America and that distinction brings opportunities for international trade along with improvements in transportation infrastructure, as well as job creation.
  • The state is a major transshipment and distribution base for goods moving between Latin America, the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
  • South America is the most critical component of the state's export base—accounting for 49% of the state's exports in 2013. Imports from South America accounted for 27% of the state's imports globally.
  • This model of two-way trade supports and sustains the state's economic growth.
  • As evidence of the state's long-time position as a global hub, 13 of Florida's top 20 trade partners are located in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Florida accounts for:
    • 28% of total U.S. trade with Latin America and the Caribbean.
    • 25% of total U.S. trade with South America.
    • 37% of total trade with Central America.
    • 37% with the Caribbean.
    • 33% of all U.S. merchandise exports to Latin America and the Caribbean and
    • 23% of all merchandise imports from the region.
  • Trade with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean surpassed $97.2 billion in 2013, growing 107% since 2000.
  • With $21 billion in two-way trade, Brazil has remained the state's largest trade partner for decades, with trade growing by 105% since 2000.
  • Florida's trade with Colombia reached $10 billion in 2013, a growth of 205% since 2000. Colombia has ranked as Florida's second-largest two-way trade partner since 2009.

Free Trade Agreements

  • Free Trade Agreements have proven to be one of the best ways to open up foreign markets to U.S. trade.
  • The U.S. has implemented trade agreements with several of Florida's key trading partners.
  • Prior to the global economic downturn, these agreements were beginning to show positive results in the state's two-way trade and continue to offer promising examples of what free-trade agreements can mean to Florida.
  • Current agreements with the most significance for Florida include NAFTA, CAFTA-DR, Chile, Colombia, Panama, and Peru.


  • Signed in 1994, the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the world's largest free-trade area, is now 20 years old.
  • In 2013, Florida's trade with its NAFTA partners, Mexico and Canada, totaled $5.8 billion, a 189% increase over the $2 billion in 2000.
  • More than $4 billion of the $5.8 billion in total was trade with Mexico.
  • The vast majority of U.S. trade among NAFTA partners moves by land.
  • As shippers seek to avoid the congestion and delays of overland truck movements waterborne trade between Mexico and Florida's Gulf ports is increasing.

CAFTA-DR (Dominican Republic-Central America FTA)

  • The U.S. signed the DR-CAFTA Agreement with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic in 2005; but the effects of its implementation have been slow, not only because of the complexities of the agreement, but also because of the effects on the region's apparel trade by the elimination of World Trade Organization quotas.
  • Florida trade with the six countries of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) reached $25 billion in 2013, an increase of 48.5% since it was implemented by the U.S. in 2005.


  • Florida’s two-way trade with Chile has grown by nearly $5.4 billion or 254% since implementation in 2004.
  • With a 11.7% increase in 2012 and another 2.3% in 2013, Chile's two-way trade with Florida stands at $7.5 billion. The country ranks in fifth position among the state's trading partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.


  • Colombia has been Florida's second largest two-way trade partner since 2009.
  • As of 2013, two-way trade between Florida and Colombia reached $10 billion and has grown by 156% since 2000.
  • The passage of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement in May 2012 is expected to support an additional $345 million in annual Florida-origin exports to Colombia.


  • Panama is Florida's 22nd largest two-way trade partner as of 2013 with $2.3 billion in trade and growth of 194% since 2000.
  • Florida can expect to see exports to Panama increase by roughly $125 million per year due to the implementation of the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement.
  • Over the next few years we will be able to expand our existing relationships and forge new ones with the opening of the Panama Canal's larger locks.
  • The opening will provide expanded commodity flows from Southeast Asia, offering new global opportunities through Florida's sea and air gateways.


  • Florida’s two-way trade with Peru has expanded by 120% since the free trade agreement was implemented in 2009, rising by $3.0 billion.
  • As of 2013, Peru is Florida's 8th largest two-way trade partner with $5.4 billion in trade and growth of 417% since 2000.

Florida's Ties to Spain

  • Florida has a deep, historic relationship with Spain that is as strong as ever. Cultural and business connections continue to attract Spanish companies to locate operations in our state.
  • Florida provides a home to over 470 Spanish companies covering a range of industry sectors. The size and breadth of Spanish investment in Florida demonstrates what an attractive business destination Florida has become for Spanish business.
  • Examples of Spanish companies in Florida include: Telefónica, Indra, Mapfre, Grupo Eulen, Grupo Julia, ACS-Dragados, FCC, OHL, Iecisa, Areas, and several well-known banks such as Banco Popular, Banco Sabadell, Banco Santander, and BBVA.
  • Spain is also Florida's 39th largest trade partner as of 2013 with $674.3 million in two-way merchandise trade.