Interview with Director Ramiro Rodriguez

The Rodriguez family, first Hispanic family named Pioneer Family of 2018 Swamp Cabbage Festival.

Ramiro Rodriguez, the Hendry- LaBelle Recreation Board Director, and his family were the first Hispanic family to be honored as a Pioneer Family at this past Swamp Cabbage Festival.

 Ramiro Rodriguez moved to LaBelle at an early age and attended the very first Swamp Cabbage Festival: We commuted from Texas with family friends to Immokalee in 1962. It took us almost three days to get here.  “The family moved to LaBelle in 1964, I was 7 years old at the time. I was born in Texas, but even though I was born an American citizen people often assume I am not from American. I am of Hispanic heritage born in America.

When we moved here, my dad had a contract job with Bob Paul Inc., who had an 8,000-acre orange grove on Highway 29. My family planted every single orange tree on that property,” Mr. Rodriguez explains. “Back in the early sixties there weren't’ any people from Mexico living in this area, not one”. There was so much agricultural work in this area people would come down to LaBelle and Immokalee to work. They would write letters and send the letters back to Texas to friends and relatives. All the farm and grove workers were all Americans of Hispanic decent that came from South Texas.   Before you knew it half of Immokalee and LaBelle were filled with people from South Texas. All the farm hands and grove workers were paid in cash. Most of the workers were paid 6 dollars a day. You would either work in the fields or starve to death, because there was no other work,” Mr. Rodriguez says.

Back then you didn’t have the Handy or the Winn-Dixie to purchase food or supplies. There was one store in Immokalee called Fred Barnes that sold hardware and groceries. And one in LaBelle called the Trading Post, now the abandoned old building across from McDonalds.

“I graduated from LaBelle High School in 1976.” Mr. Rodriguez stated. At that time Ramiro Rodriguez was one of five Hispanic students, all American. If you look at the High School graduating class today it is over 60% Hispanic, in Clewiston that number is also 60%, and most of these kids are born and raised in Florida, so they are American citizens. “A lot of times these citizens automatically get the label as “Mexicans” while most of them are born and raised here in the States as American citizens,” Mr. Rodriguez explains.

“To be named as Pioneer Family is an honor, the first Hispanic Pioneer Family to have bestowed this honor, we are really proud. Our family was so honored and proud we had 122 family members participating in that parade! So many Hispanic people are a part of this community, I would love to see a much greater Hispanic representation in the decision making of our City, County and State.”