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Radio: Another Conquest Of Orlando

By Luis Martínez-Fernández | Special to the Sentinel

February 9, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

The first importer of Spanish culture to Florida was Juan Ponce de León; the Tocobago of the Tampa area bid him farewell with a storm of arrows, one of which wounded him mortally.

Years later, Hernando de Soto landed nearby with an army of 600 bearing cultural gifts from Spain; they were sent packing to Georgia, never to set foot on Florida again.

Perhaps Clear Channel Communications Inc. should have heeded the lessons of the early Spanish explorers before switching radio 100.3 FM (WEBG) form an oldies station to one that plays Latin music. Last Wednesday at noon, as Big 100 metamorphosed into La Rumba, some of the station's habitual listeners fired volley upon volley of angry arrows at the station and other media in defense of native culture and against invading conquistadors.

The Hispanic/Latino population of Central Florida -- it is well known -- is large and growing, estimated already to have passed the half-million mark. This accelerated growth has contributed to the geographic and economic expansion of Orlando and neighboring communities. The growing presence of Hispanics also has helped turn Orlando into a more cosmopolitan, culturally rich and diverse environment, trademarks of modern, outward-looking cities.

The Latinization of 100.3 FM is not an isolated episode; it is one of many examples of the response of businesses and other area institutions to a growing Hispanic population with substantial economic power. Orlando has several Spanish-language newspapers, including El Sentinel and El Nuevo Día, and two Spanish-language TV stations, Telemundo and Univisión. Multiple Latino-serving institutions have been established in the region, including an office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, an Ana G. Méndez higher education unit, branches of Banco Popular, the Cooperativa de Seguros Múltiples (insurance), and many other businesses ranging from family-owned bodegas and chain restaurants to leading law, architecture and public-relations firms.

By the same token, so-called mainstream institutions and organizations have come to recognize the Hispanic presence in the region and the cultural richness stemming from Latin America. The Greater Orlando Chamber of Commerce, for example, is dedicating its next three annual summits to Hispanic themes; the University of Central Florida has revamped and expanded its Latin American studies program. Next week, D-MAC in downtown Orlando will present the city's first Latin American film festival. All of these events, as well as the institutions mentioned above -- even La Rumba 100.3 FM -- aim their goals not only at Hispanic consumers and audiences, but also at others interested in Latin American culture: its music, cinema, cuisine, literature and other manifestations.

In our modern, globalized world, cultural change occurs at accelerated paces and is far reaching as never before. It also moves in unexpected ways, in multiple directions, allowing Americans to dress from head to toe with China-made goods; erecting a McDonald's in the heart of Madrid; dotting the Brazilian landscape with Pentecostal churches; allowing our own Mickey Mouse to settle in the suburbs of Paris; and -- why not? -- mushrooming Spanish-language radio stations throughout the state of Florida.

Luis Martínez-Fernández is a historian and director of the Program in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at the University of Central Florida. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

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