The various Latin American and Hispanic cultures living, breathing, and working in close proximity of one another create an atmosphere entirely distinct from the rest of the United States. The term Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably in American English to describe race. The origin of the term Hispanic derives from its connection to Hispania - the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula. A Latino is an individual who identifies with his or her Latin American country such as Mexico, Cuba, or Venezuela, but the term Hispanic is used to identify the modern day Portugal, Andorra, Spain, Gibraltar and other pre-Roman ancestors.

    On the surface, there are no striking differences separating a Latino from a Hispanic - other than distinctive accents and vocal expressions. In all actuality, the similarity is no more significant than that of the relationship between Australia and New Zealand, Russia and Lithuania, or Canada and the United States.

    Many Hispanics and Latinos have established roots in South Florida. In the last hundred years, the population in South Florida has undergone quite the transformation. At the end of the 19th century, Key West was the most populous city in Florida and a mecca of Latin culture.

    The turning point came when Henry Flagler brought the railroad south through Miami and down into Key West. Flagler's intention was to take advantage of the southern most deep-water port in the United States; however, he inadvertently built Miami by bringing those in Key West north.

    Flagler's railroad connected the Eastern Atlantic, planting families through growth in an otherwise sand invested swamp. In the wake of Flagler's hotel and railroad development, he built schools and hospitals, which garnered him, the eternal title of Father of Miami.

    Today, Miami's diverse Hispanic and Latino population make it a hotbed of culture - lingering in the air like the stalwart elements of humidity. You need only stroll down Calle Ocho in March during the annual event in Little Havana, named after the street where it takes place, to take part in a raucous celebration of Hispanics and Latinos of all stripe - from sunrise to sunset, they feast on peaceful demonstrations of pride and culture. With what began as a way of separating one culture from another, grew into a source of great pride leading people to identify themselves as a part to a much bigger whole.

    As we move forward from one day to the next, it is important to remember that we all have ancestry that can be traced to another country. The different countries each of our ancestors came from have helped define American society. Whether you're Hispanic, Latino or other, who you are today, is a direct result of where your ancestors came from, for all Americans share one common bond - their citizenship. That citizenship connects people of all shapes and sizes in a multi-faceted mosaic uniting one and all on a common front - laid out like a giant patch-work quilt.

    Ian Lawrence Campbell is a college student in the Miami area. He is currently pursuing a degree in psychology. http://the-iron-cross.blogspot.com/

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