Spanish has been spoken in Key Biscayne for decades — with a mixture of accents representing immigrants and visitors from various Spanish-speaking countries.
Today, however, the people speaking Spanish in Key Biscayne are mostly from Argentina.
In fact, the Argentines themselves say that Key Biscayne these days feels like a suburb of Buenos Aires, the cosmopolitan capital city.
“Sounds very Porteño,” says Carlos Roldan, a native of the northern Argentina city of Mendoza who works at Nahuen, one of several Argentine bistros in Key Biscayne. He was referring to the distinctive accent heard in Buenos Aires, a port city on the River Plate.
A new wave of Argentine immigrants — many of them with money and well-paying jobs — is sweeping through South Florida, . And a large number of the new arrivals are buying or renting properties in Key Biscayne, real estate brokers and village officials say.
Key Biscayne Mayor Franklin Caplan says he believes the increase in Argentines in the village is connected to a large condominium project now under construction on the site of the old Sonesta Beach hotel.
“Argentines are buying properties there,” Caplan said.
A recent article in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación noted the renewed interest in Miami by Argentines.
“Miami has again become a magnet for Argentines,” said the article, written by reporter Javier Navia.
According to Navia, the new Argentine expatriates are younger, better educated and with more money than the arrivals in previous migrations. They are drawn to Miami not just because of the beach, the tropical weather and the shopping malls, but the growing art and cultural scene.
“The ocean remains where it was, and, lest anyone have a panic attack, so are the big malls,” wrote Navia. “But every year something interesting happens like Art Basel, the world’s biggest show of contemporary art, or the Ultra Music Festival, the most important in electronic music.”
While the new Argentine immigrants are settling all over South Florida, they are more evident in places like Key Biscayne, an island just off the coast of Miami that is a self-contained community linked to the mainland by the length Rickenbacker Causeway.
What triggered the new Argentine immigration is a matter of wide speculation.
Some Argentine diplomats in Miami say it’s the result of effective property offers by real estate brokers and the availability of investor visa programs under which foreign nationals can invest $500,000 and get a conditional green card.
But the new Argentine immigrants say they are resettling in South Florida because of increasing crime in major urban centers in Argentina as well as growing government restrictions on dollar transactions and withdrawals.
A travel advisory posted on the U.S. State Department’s website, http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1130.html, says violent crime is increasing in certain Buenos Aires neighborhoods and that “express kidnappings” have become more common in some urban areas.
In “express kidnappings, victims are snatched on the streets and then forced at gunpoint to withdraw money from ATMs.
Half a dozen Argentines interviewed in Key Biscayne Thursday cited growing insecurity in Buenos Aires and other cities as one of the chief reasons for moving here. All said they chose Key Biscayne to settle because they considered it safer than the mainland.
Malena Cornejo, an Argentine who lives in Key Biscayne with her family, said the village reminds Argentines of the “countrys” or gated communities in Buenos Aires where security is paramount.
For Cesar Fauve, who moved to Key Biscayne more than a year ago, insecurity along with political and economic concerns are fueling the new exodus.
“It is is in the last year and a half that many Argentines have come here,” Fauve said. “The situation in Argentina is very complex. Freedom of expresión is being curtailed, freedom to get dollars is also being curtailed and there are a lot of robberies and much insecurity.”
Fauve has been living in South Florida for 23 years and has witnessed the different Argentine migrations over the years.
“When I first arrived we were considered ‘special,” he noted, jokingly. “Before people would say ‘Oh, an Argentine!’ with surprise. Now they just say you are just one more Argentine here.”
Roldan, who works at Nahuen, said he arrived in 2005 and chose Key Biscayne because of his job, the beach and the abundance of Argentines.
“It’s impressive,.” Roldan says. “Living here, walking around, going out to get a pizza, the Argentine accent is heard all over.”
Cornejo has been living in Key Biscayne for five years,
“Security is the key factor people come here,” she says. “It is family oriented. The kids are safe, riding their bicycles or going to friends’ homes.”