ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida is home to millions of people who identify as Hispanic but their landmarks are not Walt Disney World or the Lake Eola bandshell.
Central Florida’s Hispanic community starts their Mondays at the Sedano’s Supermarket on South Orange Blossom Trail, asking for a cafecito before heading to work. The wisest members gather at The Robert Guevara Community Center to rattle dominoes together in a marathon of games as salsa music plays in the background.
The future of the community finds each other at the largest Hispanic Serving Institution in the state: the University of Central Florida, speaking in Spanish as they discuss being some of the first in their families to graduate college and their dreams of reuniting their families.
There are many layers to the Hispanic community -- and many of those layers are found in Central Florida.
From Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the U.S. celebrates the contributions of the Hispanic community during Hispanic Heritage Month.
News 6 intends to highlight the rich heritage found in our own backyard, the culture that was created overseas, thousands of miles away and now is embedded into Central Florida. Somos Central Florida -- We Are Central Florida -- recognizes how history has shaped the heritage here in Florida and the culture that’s creating the future.
As people enjoy mofongo near Disney or stop by a Cuban bakery for pastellitos, sweet pasteries, you are not only enjoying what the Hispanic community has to offer but becoming part of what the community has built -- and it’s safe to call it your own, too.
Orange County alone is the fifth most populous county in the nation with residents who identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Osceola County’s Hispanic population is also exploding, with the rate of Puerto Ricans moving from the island to the mainland increasing each year.
Though Orlando and Kissimmee together make up No. 3 as a boricua or Puerto Rican hot spot, the region’s Hispanic community is not a monolith.
[INTERACTIVE MAP: Puerto Rican population by County]
In Central Florida, the presence of Dominicans and Central Americans continues to rise and according to the Pew Research Center, this is expected to continue over the next decade. The prominence of the Hispanic and Latino community is growing in large part because of the presence already here.
So what does this mean?
The reality is, Florida spoke Spanish before it learned English. Spanish influence in the Sunshine State is undeniable. From the Florida Keys to the Space Coast, Spanish is sprinkled into the state’s identity with names and architecture. Many Latinos fleeing political instability and violence, this familiarity in Florida makes it easier for Latinos to call Central Florida home.
As Latino families settle, they grow roots in the region. The community is getting younger, straddling society in English and Spanish.
America’s largest Latino nonprofit membership organization, the Hispanic Federation, reports a majority of Latino adults are between 18 and 34 years old. Once largely making up the area’s blue-collar workers, the organization predicts as the community becomes more familiar with English and has access to affordable American education, they are on their way to make up at least a sixth of the white-collar workforce.
The next generation of Central Florida’s Hispanic Latino community is different -- and they’re driving change.
Hispanic Federation research reveals they’re more civically engaged, meaning they can change who represents the region and how a county votes. With a younger Hispanic Latino community, county leaders need to invest in educational success and in programs to help this sector of society succeed to fully tap into the economic and earning potential that lies within the next generation that is projected to make up more than a quarter of the local area’s population.
The reality is, Hispanic Latinos are part of the fabric that makes up Central Florida -- and they cannot be ignored.
For more Somos Central Florida stories, check out clickorlando.com/hispanicheritage.