Florida is one of the most diverse states in the nation and its history of immigration provides visitors and residents alike with many attractions that reflect this story.
I have spent many decades teaching in Tampa’s historic Ybor City, which may have an image of being the place where thousands of Cubans made the community the center of the American cigar industry. In reality, Ybor City is “a paella of peoples” – many of the cigar factories were owned by Spaniards (Asturia in particular), the stores by Jews from New York, the cigar boxes and art work by Germans, and Italians (mainly Sicilian) who first came to Florida to be farmers but became business owners in Ybor City.
The Ybor City State Museum in Centennial Park, where a statue honoring Florida’s immigrants is located, is located in the old Ferlita Bakery and shows the history of the many peoples. Next door are transplanted cigar workers’ houses which do a beautiful job of reflecting the daily lives of some many of Tampa’s ancestors.
Ybor City Is Still Tampa’s Main Entertainment District
The park is surrounded by simple, but historic structures, one of them a sports museum in the childhood home of Spanish-American baseball Hall of Famer Al Ramon Lopez who managed the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox to league pennants. A short walk away is Seventh Avenue with its Italian Club, Spanish Club and the Columbia Restaurant, the largest Spanish restaurant in the nation.
One of my favorite short trips from Tampa is to the Greek sponge docks of Tarpon Springs where Greek restaurants and pastry shops prevail. Tarpon Springs was an early winter retreat of the Victorian rich when Greeks from New York brought in divers from the Aegean to launch the sponge industry.
The Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs Attracts Hungry Crowds
A visit to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the bayou with its museum, and the delightful downtown area with its antique shops should be part of a Tarpon Springs excursion.
Most Florida visitors know that Saint Augustine is a great symbol of Spanish Florida with its reconstructed and renovated St. George Historic District, the fort, and “oldest everythings.”
St. Augustine’s Minorcans Celebrate A Long Florida History
Most people don’t know that when Florida obtained the city in 1819-21, most of the Spanish population fled to Cuba or Spain. The oldest continuous population of the city and probably the oldest continuous European population in this nation are the Minorcans, who are Catholic but spoke both Spanish and Manorqui Catalan. There are still many Minorcan festivals in the area and Minorcan food items dot the menus of many restaurants.
Miami is Florida’s giant immigrant melting pot. Most South Florida visitors rightfully want to visit Little Havana along Calle Ocho for its restaurants and shops and colorful art work. I was a college student at the University of Miami when the first waves of Cubans poured into Miami, starting an immigration that made Miami the Southern gateway for people from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Miami’s Little Havana Is A Colorful Visit
There are now tours of Little Haiti and dozens of annual cultural festivals that reflect Dade County’s unique diversity.
Not Japan or Hawaii But Florida At Morikami
If you are visiting Southeast Florida you might want to visit the beautiful Morikami Museum outside Boca Raton. It is a tribute to the Japanese farmers of the Yamato Colony that once populated the region.