Incroyables Florides

Heston - Jackson.jpg

Florida is an act of the imagination, I'm not saying anything new. Only California rivals it. But the western state looks solid (falsely, we know) while Florida seems to be floating. Which it is, damn wet here. Still, Florida has historical depth: la Florida profunda.

It was the Bush/Gore Election Day and I was standing in the voting line with my neighbors in our small beach town. I struck a conversation with one I didn't know, a lady of retirement age who I learned had been a teacher. And, unlike most of us in line, she was a native Floridian. In fact, she said proudly, she was a sixth-generation Floridian. Her I-forget-how-many-greats grandfather was governor of Florida. "He fought with Andrew Jackson in the Seminole Wars", she said, "and in the Battle of New Orleans. Which we won."

"I know", I said.

"How do you know?", she asked me incredulously. She already knew I was Cuban, like so many Miamians.

"I learned it in high school."

In truth, though the battle was taught in my American History class, it was the movie with Charlton Heston as Jackson and a toupeed Yul Brynner as Jean Lafitte I remembered. Somehow our chat landed on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings' black descendants, whom she swept aside saying DNA tests had proven the ones who claimed this were no such thing. I thought the results showed the opposite, but before I could riposte, she clinched her case: "He would have never done that to his wife."

How little you know men, or people for that matter, I thought but did not say. No point. She was as convinced of that as she was about voting for George W. Bush. She stepped out of line for a moment and I noticed a neighbor from my own building a few places behind me. "I just met someone who's a sixth-generation Floridian and descended from a governor of Florida." "I am too", he said to my surprise. "Twelve generations ago."

My neighbor was Cuban-American and he said his ancestor had also been governor of Cuba; both the island and the peninsula had been Spanish territories. When the lady returned to the line I introduced her to my neighbor. "Your ancestor of six generations was Governor of Florida. Well, his, twelve generations ago, was Governor of Florida. Isn't that something?"

She looked puzzled. This just couldn't be. "He governed Florida for the Spanish Crown", I said, to explain what she could not understand. She muttered something like, that doesn't count, I couldn't hear her clearly. And she did not speak another word to me as we waited, our votes and some local shenanigans about to change the course of history.