A controversial ballot proposal to declare English the official language of Florida has stirred deep resentment among Hispanics in a state where they wield significant clout in business and politics.
Voters in Florida as well as Arizona and Colorado will decide on Nov. 8 whether to elevate English to official status, empowering their state legislatures to pass laws to enforce the measures.Proponents acknowledge that the campaign is aimed largely at the fast-growing Hispanic population, who they say are clinging to Spanish and resisting assimilation into American society.
But leaders of Florida's 1.5 million Hispanics, dominated by Miami's influential Cuban exile community, accuse official English organizers of bigotry and say the referendum is an affront to their culture.
"If I were to tell you white is the official race of the U.S., it would mean that black or brown was not acceptable. This is the same kind of intolerance," said Osvaldo Soto, a Cuban-American attorney and a leader of English Plus, a group opposed to the measure.
Soto said the official English initiative reflects a backlash against the successes of Florida's Cuban community, which has built economic and political power unmatched in the history of Latin immigration into the United States.
Since the first waves of Cubans fled the communist takeover of their homeland 30 years ago, Hispanics have grown to comprise more than half of Miami's population.