This is dedicated to all of those who have been forecasting the demise of the importance of the Cuban American vote in Florida politics. They have been doing so, in some cases for more than a decade.
The 2010 population figures released by the Census Bureau appear, at first glance, to give them support. The growth and new diversity of Hispanics in the state is indisputable. They come from Puerto Rico, from Mexico, from Venezuela, from Colombia and from different countries in Central America.
According to the 2010 Census, Hispanics now make up almost 1 in 4 Floridians, up from 1 in 6 a decade ago. Florida now has 4.2 million Hispanics. More than a million have Cuban roots – 380,000 of them came to the state in the last decade. Puerto Ricans dominate the I-4 corridor from Tampa to Daytona Beach, passing through Orlando – 365,000 of them came to the area in the last 10 years. Almost 800,000 Puerto Ricans live in the state.
New Hispanics residents keep coming to Florida. More than half a million Central and South Americans came to Florida in the last 10 years. They came fleeing Hugo Chávez, in Venezuela; or the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. As they have throughout the country, Mexicans also have come to the state by the tens if not hundreds of thousands. They have settled in the south and central parts of the state.
Much of the growth is due to instability in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Colombia. The recession has hit Puerto Rico particularly hard. Violence is the scourge in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The state is more diverse than ever before. It has the fourth largest Hispanic population in the country, yet it is the only one where those of Mexican-origin are not pre-eminent. New York is also diverse, but incredibly does not have the percentage of Hispanics that Florida does.
The growth in the state’s population will give Florida two new Congressional seats by 2012 and two more votes in the Electoral College.
So far Cuban-Americans dominate politics in the state. All but two of the state’s legislators are Cuban-American; one is of Colombian origin, another comes from Spain. All three U.S. members of Congress and one Senator are of Cuban origin.
Demographers and political analysts say that parity in Hispanic gains between the I-4 corridor and South Florida has political importance as it could lead to at least one new Latino-majority congressional district in the center of the state and possibly another in the south.
The demise of the Cuban-American vote has been greatly exaggerated. But maybe it is time to see the birth of a new political Hispanic vote in the state; and in what direction it will go.
Guillermo is a veteran newsman with experience in print and broadcast journalism in South Florida and throughout Latin America. He won the Inter American Press Association’s Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary on Latin America.