A Tour Through Multilingual, Multicultural Florida
By Jodi Mailander Farrell
When Andrew Jackson visited Pensacola to take possession of Florida for the United States in 1821, he and his wife, Rachel, were surprised to find that the state’s inhabitants all spoke Spanish and French, with some speaking four or five languages.
Since then, famous authors have written about Florida in Yiddish (Isaac Bashevis Singer), Spanish (Juan Ramon Jimenez), English (Ernest Hemingway) and Italian (Dario Fo), among other languages.
More than one of four Floridians speak a language other than English in their homes, with Spanish the most common, according to the latest U.S. Census.
Want to catch a conversation in another language and immerse yourself in one of Florida’s many cultures? Try one of these spots around the state for a dash of verbal authenticity.
- Haitian Kreyol: If you’re in Miami, the city’s Little Haiti neighborhood north of downtown is fluent in English, French and Haitian Kreyol. The Little Haiti Cultural Center, in the heart of the Haitian-American community at 212 NE 59th Terrace, features a Caribbean Marketplace and a gallery with rotating art exhibits. Every third Friday, there is free live music from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., with food and dancing, at an event called “Big Night in Little Haiti.”
- Spanish: Yes, Spanish is part of Miami’s DNA, but you can also hear and speak the language in many other places in Florida, which has been linked with Spain since Juan Ponce de León dubbed the land “La Florida” in 1513. In Tampa, the symbolic center of the Latin community is Ybor City, a National Historic Landmark District named for its 1880s founder, Cuban cigar baron Vincente Martinez Ybor. At one point, the Ybor cigar factory was the largest in the world, with more than 4,000 people hand-rolling more than 900,000 cigars a month. Take a bilingual stroll through the neighborhood with one of the many tour companies that offer walking tours in Spanish and English, including Ybor City Tours and Ybor Walking Tours.
- Mikasuki: One of two native languages of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida (the other is Creek), Mikasuki is still spoken today by about 500 Seminoles. You’re most likely to experience the language if you stay overnight in one of the traditional chickees in the rustic camping village at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, 30000 Gator Tail Trail, in Clewiston. The huts sleep up to 14 people and have no electricity or running water. Overnight packages can include Swamp Buggy eco-tours, a snake and alligator show, campfire storytelling and an airboat ride.
- Vietnamese: In the 1970s, thousands of Vietnamese war refugees fled their country, many settling just north of downtown Orlando in what was dubbed Little Vietnam at the time. Today, the neighborhood is officially known as Mills 50 District and dozens of Asian restaurants, shops and markets line a 10-block stretch of Colonial Drive near Mills Avenue, where signs are written in Vietnamese, as well as Chinese, Siamese Thai and Korean. Try a sizzling hot bowl of pho at Pho 88, 730 N. Mills Ave., or one of the five other Vietnamese restaurants here that serve bahn-mi sandwiches on homemade French bread and noodles dishes topped with tender grilled pork.
- Yiddish: Miami Beach’s reputation as a tropical shtetl dates back to the 1950s, when Jewish snowbirds and residents used to gather for open-mic nights in Lummus Park along Ocean Drive in South Beach to perform Yiddish ballads, Jewish shtick and Yiddish poetry readings outdoors. The Jewish Miami Beach Tour explores the impact of the city’s Jewish population over the last 100 years; the tour departs in front of the Jewish Museum of Florida, 301 Washington Ave., on the second Sunday of each month at 11 a.m.
- Italian: Hundreds of thousands of Italian-Americans live throughout Florida, but Jupiter takes the cannoli – literally. The city’s Feast of Little Italy annual celebration occurs every November, with cooking demos, wine seminars, bocce, art and festival rides. Held at Abacoa Town Center, 1200 University Blvd., the festival last year broke the Guinness World Record for the largest cannoli ever made (260 pounds, nearly 8 feet).
- German: In Naples? Stop by Peppers Deli & Butcher, 4165 Corporate Square. Owned and operated by certified master butcher Georg Hörndler and his wife, Heike, from Roth, Germany, the restaurant is a bastion of authentic German cuisine. You can find smoked fish, German potato salad, apple strudel, pickled herring, German pretzels, pork schnitzel and even Christmas stollen.