Latino Studies Miami
Dario Moreno
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0086


Miami is an important US city on the Atlantic coast, in the southeast region of the country. The city of Miami proper is only the forty-second most populous city in the United States, with a population of less than 414,000. Its population understates the city’s true size and importance; Miami is the administrative and financial capital of Miami-Dade County. The county, as of the 2010 US Census, had a population of 2,496,435, making it the most populous county in Florida and the seventh most populous in the United States. Miami-Dade’s Hispanics make up 64.3 percent of the city’s population, making Miami one of the largest Hispanic-majority cities in the country. Miami is a center of international trade, culture, commerce, finance, tourism, media, entertainment, and the arts, and its diverse Hispanic population supports its role as the US “gateway to Latin America.” Downtown Miami and South Florida are home to the largest concentration of international banks in the United States, as well as many large national and international companies. Miami-Dade County is situated between two national parks (the Everglades and Biscayne), and it is this natural tropical scenery along with the restaurants and nightclubs on South Beach that attract tourists from around the globe. The county’s large Cuban American population (835,173) dominates local politics, and the county currently sends one Cuban American US senator and three US congressmen to Washington, DC. The state delegation is made up of nine Cuban American state representatives and three Cuban American state senators. The mayors both of the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County are Cuban American, as is the majority of the county commission and the school board. The political clout of Cubans has given the city yet another nickname: the capital of “El Exilo.”


Miami is a new city, founded in 1896, and consequently it should have a relatively short history. But as Carr 2012 points out, modern Miami history does not take into account most of the 11,000 years of human occupation of the site. In fact, the Miami area is a rich archaeological site that was attractive to Native Americans because of its abundance of natural resources. The mouth of the Miami River has been a site of trade and commerce for over a millennium. In George 2013, local historian Paul George reminds us that the 4.5-mile-long river was a working river long before Europeans came to the area. George argues that the history of the river and the city are intertwined, and the river remains a vital economic asset to the region. The first historical settlers in what is modern Miami were black Bahamians; these settlers worked either as agricultural laborers in Lemon City and Cutler or wreakers salvaging the shipwrecks along the Florida reef in Coconut Grove (Dunn 1997). In 1896, foreign-born blacks composed 40 percent of the black population, making Miami the largest foreign-born black city in the United States aside from New York. Shell-Weiss 2009 provides a strong social history of these black migrants from the Caribbean. The book also details the history of Hispanic migrants from the Caribbean and Latin America.

  • Carr, Robert S. Digging Miami. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813042060.001.0001

    This book dispels the conventional wisdom that Miami history is only a hundred years old. The author traces the 11,000 years of human habitation in the Miami area, from the time of its first inhabitants through the arrival of European settlers and up to the early 20th century.

  • Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. Florida History and Culture. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

    A detailed history of blacks in the city, from the earliest settlement to the late 20th century. The book deals with civil rights and the struggle for equality and offers a strong discussion of race relations among blacks, non-Latin whites, and Hispanics during a period of rapid demographic change.

  • George, Paul S. Along the Miami River. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2013.

    Local Miami historian Paul George argues that the Miami River has been central to the story of Miami for thousands of years, with Native Americans having used the 4.5-mile-long river as the local expressway. Today it remains a busy, working river, with trade exceeding four billion dollars annually, and the river has played a central role in the revitalization of downtown Miami.

  • Shell-Weiss, Melanie. Coming to Miami: A Social History. Sunbelt Studies. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

    The author offers an analytical social history that focuses on three major themes: black and Hispanic immigration from the Caribbean, race relations and civil rights, and the emergence of a labor movement. Within this organizational structure, the author pays close attention to the links among migration, race, class, and gender.

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