This weekend I took a trip to St. Augustine with the USF chapter of the National Political Science Honor Society. This year is the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida. Our faculty advisor, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and über Florida political analyst Dr. Susan MacManus, chose America’s oldest city as the destination for our annual chapter trip. St. Augustine was not an arbitrary choice. Dr. MacManus intended for us to recognize the connection between Florida’s Spanish history and the increasing importance of the Latino vote in the Sunshine State as well as nation wide. We weren’t twenty minutes in to our first history lesson at the Spanish Military Hospital when I was reminded that Dr. MacManus is, in fact, brilliant.
Oranges. I love oranges. I love them in the morning; I think they’re just great. I love them as a snack and on my license plate. State flower? The orange blossom. Top crop in Florida? Oranges. In fact, 62% of oranges produced in America come from our beloved state. Now, I’m sure that many will not be surprised to hear this, but my head nearly exploded when I learned that oranges are not native to Florida.
The Spanish provided us with our cash crop, our claim to fame, the tasty elixir we offer tourists upon their arrival at our state welcome centers. Oranges, much like most Americans, are an import. And not just any import, an import from Spanish speakers with a Latin culture. This is the history of Florida…from day one.
The 2012 presidential elections saw Latinos make up a healthy 17% of the electorate in Florida, up from 14% in 2008. As evidenced by the republican party’s recent softening on immigration policy, it’s pretty much universally agreed that this trend will continue. From a purely political standpoint, it may be an effective messaging strategy for both parties to acknowledge that Latin culture is inherently American.
American history is an amalgam of Indian, Spanish, British, Dutch, and a litany of other national and cultural histories. Most Americans acknowledge this, and those that do not risk doing so at their peril. The the most common arguments against progressive immigration policies such as pathways to citizenship are economic. Many are fearful of workforce competition in an ailing job market. Another concern is that immigrants will receive government benefits to which they are not entitled. The values based arguments often involve the language barrier or a failure to assimilate in to American culture. As a values-based argument, celebration of Latin culture as distinctly American could be a strategy for cultivating support for progressive immigration policies.
The first Europeans to come to the Americas were not English speakers…they were Vikings. The first Europeans to settle in America were Spanish. Ponce de Leon’s expedition set sail from Cuba, a land that contributes greatly to the present day culture of South Florida. American cities from Sarasota to San Francisco bear Spanish names. This is the real America. All Americans share a kinship with Hispanic peoples and Spanish speakers. Any effort to garner the Latino vote while not alienating white voters must stand on this principle.
The concept of “the other” underlies apprehension regarding immigration. Many fear a dilution of American culture is the inevitable result of welcoming Latino immigrants. This fear can be turned on its head by highlighting Spanish contributions to American culture. These contributions are not small. Just ask an orange farmer.
Oranges! Undoubtably, a large portion of the $1.2 billion in Florida oranges sold every year are plucked from their branches by undocumented immigrants. Spanish speakers continue to nurture an industry so crucial to Florida’s economy, history, and culture that the state put the golden orb on our license plates. These people are not draining our economy, they are bolstering it. They are not diluting American culture, they are enriching it. They are not aliens, they are Floridians. They are Americans.