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 Hispanic Heritage Month

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, we celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Central and South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Spain.

Hispanic Heritage Week was established under President Lyndon Johnson, and President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month-long celebration beginning September 15. This date is in honor of five countries whose independence anniversary date is September 15:  Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua; Mexico achieved independence on September 16, and Chile on September 18. While there are many Hispanic Americans who have contributed to the richness of our history, we have highlighted a few from Palm Beach County and Florida.

Caridad Asensio (1931-2011)
Caridad Asensio was born in central Cuba along with two sisters. She moved to New York City after Fidel Castro came to power, and became a social worker and health educator. In 1979 she met Constance Berry, a teacher at Hagen Road Elementary School. In 1992, they founded the Caridad Center, which became the largest free clinic in Florida. Asensio and Berry founded the Migrant Association of South Florida in 1989. In 2005/2006 Asensio was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame for her efforts to improve the lives of migrant workers and their families. Her name “Caridad” actually means “charity” in Spanish. Asensio also received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, the Common Cause Annual Public Service Award, and others. Asensio had two children, Alina Ripoll and Manuel Asensio-Garcia. The work Asensio provided will continuously impact Palm Beach County, and be a positive influence in the lives of those who utilize the resources she helped bring to the community.




Rosemary Barkett (1939-)
Rosemary Barkett, U.S. Circuit Judge, was born in Mexico to Syrian parents. When her parents tried to follow family members from Syria to the United States in the 1920s, they were stopped in Mexico by immigration quotas. While in Mexico, they had fifteen children, six of whom survived. Barkett became a U.S. citizen in 1958. She and her siblings saw their parents as high achievers in adjusting twice to entirely new cultures.

Barkett entered a religious teaching order at seventeen, where she taught elementary and junior high school for seven years before graduating from Spring Hill College, a Jesuit school in Alabama. When she felt unable to help others from within the convent as she wanted, Barkett enrolled in the University of Florida Law School. After she graduated in 1970, she spent nine years as a trial lawyer with Joe Farish in West Palm Beach, earning a reputation as a caring but tough litigator.

Florida governor Bob Graham appointed Barkett to the Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit (1979-1984); the Fourth District Court of Appeals (1984-85); and the Florida Supreme Court, where she was the first woman associate justice (1985-1992) and the first woman chief justice (1992-94). As a U.S. senator, Graham suggested Barkett for a life-tenure appointment in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Barkett’s appointment in 1994.

While Barkett’s work on the bench was sometimes opposed as being too liberal, many of her peers saw her as a champion of individual constitutional rights. Barkett has received seven honorary degrees. Other honors have been presented by the Association of Trial Lawyers, the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, and Latin Business and Professional Women. Barkett was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986.

Carlos Cabrera



Originally from Chicago, Carlos Cabrera moved to West Palm Beach in 1969 with his family. In 1989 he joined the West Palm Beach Fire Department. Cabrera moved up the ranks, being promoted to Lieutenant of EMS in 2002, Operations Captain in 2004, Battalion Chief in 2006, and Assistant Fire Chief 2009. He graduated from the Palm Beach Community College Paramedic Program, State of Florida Paramedic, and has an Associate of Science Degree in Emergency Medical Services from Palm Beach Community College (2009). Cabrera was the first Hispanic to serve as Fire Chief of the City of West Palm Beach, appointed by Mayor Jeri Muoio in September 2011.


Alfonso Fanjul Sr. (1909-1980)




Alfonso Fanjul Sr. was born in Havana, Cuba, and graduated from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. His family owned the Czarnikow-Rionda Company in New York and the Cuban Trading Company in Cuba, and with his marriage in 1936 to Lillian Rosa Gomez-Mena (1918-1992), formed an alliance with her family’s business. The combined holdings included ten sugar mills, three alcohol distilleries, and real estate throughout Cuba.

The family’s investments grew steadily until Fidel Castro seized power—and their assets—in 1959; Fanjul and his family sought political asylum in New York. The next year he and his partners purchased 4,000 acres in Pahokee. By barge they brought sections of three small sugar mills from Louisiana and reassembled them into the Osceola mill. In 1961, they began sugar production as the Osceola Farms Company.

Fanjul’s oldest son, Alfonso "Alfy" Fanjul Jr. (1937- ) helped his father to manage the early development of the company, including building the mill and preparing the soil. They were joined in the late 1960s by Jose "Pepe" Fanjul (1944- ). The youngest sons, Alexander L. Fanjul (1950- ) and Andres B. Fanjul (1958- ), became active in the business in the 1970s and 80s, when additional land was purchased and more mills were put into production. In the 1990s, Fanjul’s four sons became U.S. citizens, and his eldest observed, the next generation to control the company will be “as American as apple pie.”

Alfonso Fanjul Sr. was director of the Florida Sugar Cane League and the Florida Sugar Marketing and Terminal Association, a founder of Biscayne College, and a trustee of Palm Beach Day School. The Fanjuls’ only daughter, Lian “Lillian” Fanjul Azqueta, focused on community service, and was co-founder and executive director of New Hope Charities in Pahokee. The family and its businesses have also supported Take Stock in Children, Good Samaritan Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, United Way, and the University of Miami.

Bernardo de Gálvez (1746-1785)


Bernardo de Gálvez was born to Matías and Josepha Madrid y Gallardo de Gálvez on in Macharaviaya, Málaga, a province of Spain. He married Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan. He pursued a career in the military as was family tradition. Gálvez first served as lieutenant in 1762 during Spain’s war with Portugal. He was promoted to captain, and led a military force in New Spain against the Apache. In 1772, he traveled to France where he spent the next three years learning the culture. In 1775, he returned to Spain and was wounded in a failed military attack, which led to his promotion to lieutenant colonel. He was then appointed governor of Louisiana in 1777. As governor, Gálvez helped American patriots and after Spain officially joined the war against Great Britain on June 21, 1779, he led the Spanish forces. He famously led a joint land-sea attack on the British capital of West Florida, Pensacola. He also helped negotiate the treaty that ended the war. In April 1783, he returned to Spain with his wife and two small children. Starting in October 1784, he was governor of Cuba, but only lasted for a short time as his father passed away; he took over as viceroy of New Spain in 1785. For this position he and his family moved to Mexico City, where he became beloved by the people for his ability to guide them through tough times.  Gálvez is remembered as a great military hero, especially for his actions on behalf of the Americans during their Revolution.


Justice Jorge Labarga (1952-)

Jorge Labarga was born in 1952 in Havana, Cuba. He came to America with his family at age eleven, settling in Pahokee, Florida. In 1972, he graduated from Forest Hill High School, West Palm Beach. He then received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida (1976) and graduated from University of Florida Law School (1979). That year, he became an assistant public defender in the Public Defender’s Office in West Palm Beach. He married Zulma R. Labarga.

In 1982, Labarga became an assistant attorney at the State Attorney’s Office. Five years later he joined the practice of Cone, Wagner, Nugent, Roth, Romano & Ericksen, P.A., where he specialized in personal injury. He continued to specialize in this area and expanded into criminal defense when he founded the firm of Roth, Duncan & Labarga P.A. in 1992, based West Palm Beach.

In 1996, Governor Lawton Chiles appointed Labarga to the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, where he served until December 2008, when Governor Charlie Christ appointed him to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. After only two weeks, Governor Christ appointed him to the Florida Supreme Court, on January 1, 2009. Labarga was the eighty-fourth justice since Florida became a state in 1845.

Frank Lopez (?-?)


Frank Lopez, also known to the pioneers as “Mexico Frank,” arrived in the Lake Worth area in the summer of 1874. He worked at various odd jobs for the pioneers for three years. During the winter of 1877, Frank outfitted his small boat and sailed south, never to return. He might be the first Hispanic known by name to live in what became Palm Beach County.


Luciano “Lou” Martinez (1948-2003)


Luciano Martinez was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved to Miami when he was twelve. He came to Palm Beach County after earning a degree in social work from Florida International University. 

In 1977 Martinez founded the Hispanic Human Resources Council Inc. in West Palm Beach. He ran unsuccessfully for the school board and twice for the county commission in the 1980s. Martinez united Cuban-American factions in 1996 by merging competing organizations into the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County, which grew to 500 members by 2007.

While Martinez encouraged Hispanics to maintain their traditional cultures, he helped them adapt to their new home by facilitating quality daycare, early education through Head Start, and home ownership through Su Casa. He helped children further through the Child Advocacy Board of Palm Beach County and the Governor’s Conference on Children and Youth. Martinez served many sectors of the community through his leadership of organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Forum Club, and the board of directors of JFK Hospital.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce established the Luciano Martinez Triunfo (triumph) Scholarship Fund in his memory, and Rep. Clay Shaw recorded a tribute to Martinez in the Congressional Record. “He really was the face and voice of the Hispanic community,” said former West Palm Beach Mayor Nancy Graham.

Robert “Bob” Martinez (1934-)


Robert Martinez was born in Tampa, Florida. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Tampa and then a master’s degree in labor and industrial relations from the University of Illinois. He married Mary Jane Marino in 1954. He taught for a bit and then opened Café Sevilla in Tampa. In 1979, he was elected Mayor of Tampa and held the position for seven years. During his term as mayor he built one of the first wastes to energy convertors in America, and gained a lot of land that would become new additions to Tampa. In 1986, he resigned as mayor and ran for governor. He took office as governor on January 6, 1987, and became the fortieth governor of Florida,  and the first of Spanish descent since the colonial period. He was only the second republican to be elected governor in Florida since the end of Reconstruction in 1877. During Martinez’s time as governor he notably implemented a lot of environmental improvement policies. The most groundbreaking of these was Preservation 2000, the largest environmental land acquisition program in America. His service as governor ended in 1991, when he was appointed director of the Offices of National Drug Control Policy (nicknamed “Drug Czar”) by President George H.W. Bush. He served in this position until 1993. Later he became a political advisor for various corporations and very involved with numerous nonprofit groups local to Tampa.


Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (1519-1574)

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was born in Avilés in Asturias to parents of minor noble rank. At age 14 he ran away and became a successful privateer. In 1549 King Charles V asked him to remove French pirates from the waters north of Spain. Early on he married Maria de Solis and she was left with three daughters as he was on the seas. In between 1549 and 1562 he had a successful career overseeing trade between Spain and its colonies in the New World. He was also a favorite with the Spanish monarchy and numerous times in this period he accompanied Prince Phillip (later Phillip II) on his travels over seas. However, he made many enemies in other parts of the government and the courts, which led to his being arrested in 1563 and put in prison for twenty months. Avilés wrote to the king to plead his innocence and he was finally released. After his release he learned of the shipwreck of his son Juan, who was missing off the coast of Florida, near the Bermudas. He immediately went to the king to ask for permission to search for his son. The king agreed on the condition Avilés drive the French from Florida. The king had just learned that the Huguenots had established the base of Fort Carolina inside the mouth of what is now the St. Johns River. These actions by the French angered the king because the Spanish had already claimed the area. Avilés got the charter (or asiento) in 1565 and set sail in the summer of that year. He landed about two months later and established the fort of St. Augustine. He took control of Fort Caroline quickly after. Alvilés remained in Florida until 1567 however; he returned to Spain and mainly resided there until he died in Santander, Spain, while preparing fleet to fight pirates. Although, he looked he never located his son. Overall, accounts and letters from his contemporaries point to a devout, honest man who was loyal to king and country.

Judge Nancy Perez (1953-)



Nancy Perez was one of eleven children of Puerto Rican migrant farm workers. She was born near Buffalo, New York, because her mother was picking strawberries and cherries there. Nancy picked tomatoes in New Jersey at the age of eleven. Then her father decided his children would move beyond migrant farming with education, and relocated the family to the Fort Myers area. The children no longer missed school to pick crops, and most of them graduated from high school, four from college. 

With an excellent academic record, Nancy received scholarships that put her through Edison Community College and Florida State University, where she received her B.S. in business and accounting in 1975. She went on to law school for many reasons, she said later, including the treatment of migrant workers that she had seen first-hand. For four years, she worked for the Migrant Farmworkers Division of Georgia Legal Services before becoming a supervisor for the Association of Migrant Associations, semi-governmental organization in Tallahassee. After passing The Florida Bar in 1983, Judge Perez worked as an assistant public defender in West Palm Beach. She began serving on the Bench in 1991. Judge Perez is the first Hispanic American judge in Palm Beach County.


Juan Ponce de León (1474-1521)

Juan Ponce de León y Figueroa was born in Santervás de Campos in western Spain. As a teenager he was a squire for Don Pedro Núñez de Guzmán during the Reconquista, war to recapture several Spanish kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors.

After to end of the Reconquista (1492) Ponce left Cadiz, Spain, on September 25, 1493, as a member of Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World. The small armada of ships arrived in the Caribbean in November 1493.

Ponce de Leon was present when Columbus sighted Dominica, Martinique, Maria Galante, Guadeloupe, Montserrat (named for a mountain near Barcelona), Santa Maria de la Antigua, Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, Jamaica, and San Juan Bautista (Boriquén; Puerto Rico) and when Columbus landed on Puerto Rico.

During the Indian Wars on Española, Ponce de Leon distinguished himself and was rewarded with governorship of eastern part of the island. He became a successful farmer, a rare occupation for a Castilian at the time. Grew yucca which was ground into a flour for bread which kept well for the voyages to Europe.

Juan Ponce was not a greedy slave trader or gold hunter; he was primarily a farmer who earned great respect and supplied most of the explorers who stopped at Española heading to different points west or returning to Europe. He was noted for his fair treatment of Indians and Europeans, a remarkable feat giving the barbarity of that period and he earned the confidence and support of Governor Oviedo and King Ferdinand. Ponce was later named governor of San Juan Bautista and he established first European colony on the island near present day San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Between 1506 and 1513, Diego Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, sued the crown to retain all the entitlements bestowed on his father. Diego won which caused problems for Ponce when Diego arrived in the Indies.

Ponce was forced it give up the governorship of Puerto Rico to Diego Columbus because the king was unable to keep this from happening. Though Ponce did retain the office of military captain for the island. Ferdinand suggested that Ponce should explore the region to the north.

King granted Ponce the governorship of Biminis that included Florida and the Bahamas. This also helped the king to limit the power of the Columbus family in the New World and allowed Ponce to escape Puerto Rico, which was becoming an island prison under Diego.

At his own expense, Ponce outfitted three ships with a total of 65 people including two free Africans, two Indian slaves, one white slave, and one woman. The group set sail on March 3, 1513, from Puerto Rico.

The explorers landed on Sunday, April 3, 1513, and named what they thought was an island La Florida for the Pascua Florida, or feast of flowers celebrated at Easter. Sailing south along the east coast, Ponce made another significant discovery—the Gulf Stream which would later speed treasure ships to Spain.

He continued south past Miami Beach, west through the Florida Keys, and north to the barrier islands near Fort Myers. In this area Ponce encountered the Calusa Indians. There was a small skirmish and afterwards, Ponce sailed away. He backtracked and visited the Dry Tortugas and returned through the Keys and the Bahamas to San Juan Bautista, arriving on October 19, 1513.

Upon his return to Spain, Juan Ponce was knighted—the first New World conquistador so honored.

This was the first authorized exploration of this region. There were two types of exploration, authorized, that is approval from the Castilian and Spanish crowns and unauthorized, unapproved.

Florida had been visited before by unauthorized visits. Europeans looking for slaves. After 1494, slavers had visited the Bahamas Islands to capture slaves.

Las Casas made a statement that in 1511 Castilians had visited the land that became known and La Florida and it appears that it is the first documentation of enslavement of Indians by Europeans from any part of what is now the United States. Additionally to this written record a portion of Florida had been mapped by Andres de Morales de Sevilla who labeled it Isla de Beimeni. This map was added to some of Peter Martyr’s Opera, first published in 1511 and is the first map printed in Castilla that shows any discoveries in the New World.

The idea that Ponce’s primary purpose was to search for the Fountain of Youth is not correct. He was looking for the land of Bimini. Searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth was a secondary mission.

In February 1521, the newly titled Don Juan returned to establish a colony. With two ships and less than 100 people, they settled near Charlotte Harbor. Four months later, Calusa Indians attacked the small colony, killing or wounding many colonists. Don Juan Ponce de León y Figueroa sailed for Cuba where he died of wounds sustained in battle. Some of the survivors of the fail colony sailed to Mexico to join Hernán Cortez.

It would be forty-four years before Spain successfully established a permanent presence on the peninsula.

Valentin Rodriguez Jr.


A native of Palm Beach County, Valentin Rodriguez Jr. has a bachelor of arts degree in political science and government from Harvard University (1991) and a doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of Miami School of Law (1994). He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1995 and in 1997 opened his own law practice, Valentin Rodriguez, P.A. The firm has completed over 100 jury trials in civil and criminal cases. Rodriguez served as mayor of the Town of Lake Clarke Shores in 2013-2014

Jorge Ramos (1958-)
Jorge Ramos was born in Mexico City. In his youth he played soccer and ran track competitively but had to stop due to a back injury. He lived in Mexico until age twenty-four when he had a disagreement with the television network he was reporting for, over the censorship of his work. In 1983 he moved to California and waited tables for around a year until he was hired by KMEX- Channel 14 in Los Angeles, which was an affiliate station of what in now Univisión. He moved to Miami, Florida in 1986 and soon after his arrival he became an anchor for Noticiero Univisión, making him one of the youngest national news anchors in America. He is broadcast in over thirteen Latin American countries and has won seven Emmy Awards for his journalism. He only reports on Spanish news networks but has appeared on English talk shows.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (1952-)




Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana, Cuba, to Enrique Emilio and Amanda Adato Ros. When she was eight, in 1960, her family moved to Miami in the midst of the revolution and the rise of Fidel Castro. She received her A.A. degree from Miami-Dade County Community College (1972); bachelor’s degree (1975) and master's degree (1987) from Florida International University; and a doctorate in education from the University of Miami (2004). Ros-Lehtinen founded the Eastern Academy, an elementary school in Hialeah, where she taught and served as principal for ten years. Then, in 1982, she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and in 1986, the Florida Senate, the first Hispanic woman to serve in either governmental body. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1989, after a tough race, and retained in 2012. She met her husband Dexter Lehtinen, while both served in Florida’s legislative branch. She is the chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and is on the House Committee on Rules.




Marco Rubio (1971-)
Marco Rubio was born in Miami, Forida, where parents had fled from Cuba in 1956 after Fidel Castro gained power. When Rubio wea eight, his family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. His father worked mainly as a bartender, while his mother held jobs as a housekeeper and retail clerk. The family moved back to Miami in the 1980s and he graduated from South Miami Senior High School in 1989. Rubio attended Tarkio College in Missouri and Santa Fe Community College briefly before graduating from the University of Florida in 1993 with a bachelor of science degree. In 1996, he graduated from the University of Miami Law School cum laude. Then in 1998, he married Jeanette Dousdebes and began his political career by sitting on the West Miami City Commission. He was then elected to the Florida House of Representatives, which he served on from 2000-2008. During his term he was Majority Whip, Majority Leader, and Speaker of the House. Rubio was elected in 2009 to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. Throughout his senate term he served on various legislative committees and was outspoken on the need for economic and immigration reform. In 2015, Rubio entered the presindetial race as a Republican candidate.

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