February 1, 2023

La Florida

Snapshots of Florida's Hispanic Community

Within Florida's Hispanic community, diversity is increasing.

Mike Vogel | 4/30/2013

Next page: Puerto Ricans in Florida



Top Puerto Rican Communities
Total Numbers
Community Puerto Ricans
Orlando (Orange) 26,777
Tampa (Hillsborough) 23,456
Poinciana (Osceola/Polk) 19,060
Jacksonville (Duval) 18,960
Kissimmee (Osceola) 18,799
Percent of Total Population
Community % of Puerto Ricans
Meadow Woods (Orange) 39.3%
Buenaventura Lakes (Osceola) 39.2
Azalea Park (Orange) 37.0
Poinciana (Osceola/Polk) 36.5
Kissimmee (Osceola) 31.0
Florida 4.5
U.S. 1.5

The abridged version of Samí Haiman-Marerro's life: Born in New York of Puerto Rican heritage, she was taken by her family to the island at age 8 and raised on a coffee farm in the mountains in Ciales. "I went to a rural school and had a very wholesome upbringing," she says. After earning her master's degree in communications from the University of Puerto Rico in 1993, she moved back to New York, built a career in publishing and one day went to visit her sister in Orlando. "I couldn't believe what she had paid for her beautiful home," Haiman-Marerro says. She and her husband, Scott, moved to Orlando in 2004, where they have a daughter, a son, a house in east Orange County and a marketing firm, Urbander.

Educated, relocated from New York, a business owner, living in east Orange — Haiman-Marerro typifies the recent Puerto Rican experience in central Florida.

While the influx of Puerto Ricans has drawn the most commentary for its effect on Florida politics as it shifts the famously purple state decidedly toward the Democrat blue, the migration is a phenomenon by itself. "The growth of Florida's Puerto Rican population has been spectacular, from slightly more than 2% of all U.S. Puerto Ricans in 1960 to more than 18% in 2010," Hispanic migration expert and Florida International University professor Jorge Duany wrote in a paper last year.

The Census says 847,550 Puerto Ricans call Florida home, making them second only to Cubans among Hispanics here. The "Puerto Ricanization" of Florida, as Duany terms it, is part of the growing diversification of the Hispanic population in the United States and Florida. University of Florida professor Philip J. Williams, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, says Puerto Ricans could be close to eclipsing Cubans as the state's largest Hispanic group by the 2020 Census. Orlando has a higher percentage of Puerto Ricans than New York. Six of the top 10 county destinations for Puerto Rican immigrants are in Florida. Puerto Ricans dominate the central Florida Hispanic population — 48% of Hispanics in Orange, 60% in Osceola — the way Cubans do in south Florida. (Miami-Dade has the second-highest number of Puerto Ricans among Florida counties, but they comprise only 4% of the overall county population and only 6% of the Hispanic population.)

Puerto Rico is small, densely populated, with economic troubles and high crime. Orlando represents a new beginning, especially for those from island families that aren't prominent in society and business. "What they see in Orlando is the opportunity," says Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a University of Central Florida history professor who has researched immigration to Florida and, though himself Cuban, has taught in Puerto Rico.

While Florida has plenty of blue-collar and service- worker Puerto Ricans, Puerto Ricans in Florida are different from the earlier waves to New York and elsewhere — a burbs-over-barrios phenomenon. They are more educated. Puerto Rican writers talk of the brain drain from there. Compared to earlier island emigrants, they have higher incomes and live in the suburbs. Florida Puerto Ricans' median income in the 2010 Census was $41,198, well above their New York median of $33,436, though below Florida's median income overall, let alone the median income of non-Hispanic Florida whites. Puerto Rican-based businesses have followed  them.

Haiman-Marrero's Urbander is a family affair with Scott as creative director and her sister as head of account services. With more than one in four consumers in Orange and nearly half of Osceola consumers identifying themselves as Hispanic, she has a growing market: "My specialty is the Hispanic segment and how to engage and reach the Hispanic consumer in a culturally relevant way," she says.

Next page: Mexicans in Florida

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