How many of you knew that Juan Ponce de León first landed on the east coast of the United States on April 2-3, 1513? How many of you knew that it was he and his crew who first called the large peninsula on which they landed La Florida, giving props to the Easter season and the beautiful landscape surrounding them.
So if you do your math correctly, that would mean today is the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León’s landing. The state of Florida is celebrating this anniversary in style, with commemorations and celebrations throughout the state, throughout the year 2013.
What’s that? The Viva Florida 500? A new NASCAR race?
Perhaps you live in Florida but haven’t heard much about the Viva Florida anniversary? Don’t be surprised — the program has been considered by some a marketing ploy for Florida tourism, by others a celebration of Spanish imperialism. So not much has been seen or said in the media for some reason. No commemorative license plates, like what Louisiana and Virginia did for their milestones. Also, publicity funding has been limited for these events. I did see a new Welcome to Florida sign on I-10 coming in from Alabama, complete with a small Viva Florida logo in the middle and someone applied the letters “La” in front of the word Florida.
When my sons and I visited the Museum of Florida history last year, the docent who gave our family a tour was very enthusiastic about this spring’s Viva Florida celebrations, and even told us about King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain’s invitation to a special commemoration. This seemed to be a move similar to Queen Elizabeth’s visit for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007*.
As of this writing, I’ve seen nothing about that invitation being accepted, and this article suggests that Governor Rick Scott’s reminders of the King’s recent hunting trip to Botswana, a trip which angered Spaniards who are currently in the midst of austerity measures, might have strained the invitation.
*Am I the only one pondering how it must feel to be a head of state visiting the very country that was once a colony that your country used to own, but their inhabitants rebelled? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a incredible honor for them to visit and commemorate these events with us, but it must be…um…awkward?
No matter how you regard it, over 150 events are planned in all 67 of Florida’s counties during 2013. Today if you live in Melbourne Beach, Florida (one of the three locations who fight over being the original landing site of Ponce de León’s ships), you can see a reenactment of the landing and an unveiling of a statue of Juan Ponce de León.
If you are near St. Augustine (another of the contested locations), Wednesday will be the day of commemorations and celebrations.
In my neck of the woods, this week is the Pensacola Jazz Festival and this year they are giving it a 500th anniversary flair by renaming it “Viva Pensacola Jazz 2013“.
Do you want to learn more about the Viva Florida 500 events? It’s simple: visit the Viva Florida 500 website for events and information about the anniversary.