Ybor City near Tampa and its cigar factories are a part of the Hispanic history in Florida.
TALLAHASSEE – Fact: It was in 1886 when Vicente Martinez Ybor opened his cigar factory right outside Tampa, eventually employing thousands of workers who came here from Cuba and Spain, in a town that came to be known as Ybor City.
Fact: It was the port city of Tampa that served as the primary staging area during the Spanish-American War in 1898 for U.S. troops on the way to fight in Cuba, in defense of the Cuban peoples’ desire to be free of Spanish colonial rule.
Fact: Today, Florida is home to the third largest Hispanic population in the county, nearly four million residents, or 20 percent of the Sunshine State’s population.
Fact: The U.S Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has estimated there are more than 266,000 Hispanic-owned businesses operating in Florida, putting this state behind only California and Texas in that regard.
What these and other facts about the state’s history demonstrate is there are a lot of reasons to celebrate Florida’s Hispanic heritage – something the state is in the process of doing right now.
Hispanic Heritage Month is about more than just Florida’s history. Several Latin American nations celebrate the anniversaries of their independence during Hispanic Heritage Month.
For Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, that celebration of independence arrived on Sept. 15. The independence date in Mexico was Sept. 16, while for the people of Chile, it was on Tuesday.
In 1974, President Gerald Ford issued a Presidential Proclamation extending Hispanic Heritage Week into a month-long celebration, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, and that has continued to this day.
Since this month-long celebration is as much about history as it is about ethnicity, Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott are once again inviting students in kindergarten through 12th grades to participate in the Hispanic Heritage Month art and essay contests. The prize for those who enter and win is a four-year college scholarship. The contests focus on the theme of “Celebrating Florida’s Heritage.”
The governor and first lady are also inviting students, parents, teachers and principals to submit nominations for the Hispanic Heritage Month Excellence in Education Award, which is given to full-time Hispanic educators in Florida’s elementary, middle or high schools.
Three winners will be chosen, including an elementary teacher who covers grades K-5, one middle school teacher covering grades 6-8, and one high school teacher covering grades 9-12. The winners will each receive a check for $1,500.
It is, the governor said, a way to recognize the vital contributions these educators are making to the state’s classrooms.
“Florida’s history is written, in part, by strong Hispanic leaders who have helped make our state the best place to live in the nation,” the governor said. “The 2012 Hispanic Heritage Month Contests will help students appreciate the endless contributions of Hispanic culture on everyday life in Florida.”
The Student Contests include an Art Contest for Florida students in grades K-3, with two winners to be selected; and an Essay Contest for students in grades 4 through 12, with three winners chosen – including one elementary student in grades 4-5, one middle-school student in grades 6-8, and one high school student in grades 9-12.
The winners will get a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.
Log on to www.FloridaHispanicHeritage.com to download complete guidelines and entry forms.
“The essay and art contests will enrich the learning experience in our classrooms,” Ann Scott said. “It’s important that Florida’s students have an opportunity to learn Florida’s history, and the many role models provided by Florida’s Hispanic community.”
Applications can also be mailed to Attention: Hispanic Heritage Month, 111 N. Gadsden St., Suite 100, Tallahassee, FL, 32301.
All entries must be received by the Foundation by 5 p.m. on Sept. 28.

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