Note: This story is based on interviews conducted earlier this year but never before published.
María T. Padilla
The guagua aérea has changed its destination from the Big Apple to the palm shores of Florida, where 1 million Puerto Ricans now live – slightly less than in all of New York state and equal to about one-third of the entire population of Puerto Rico, according to the latest census figures.
For many Central Floridians the trend means more people with which to speak Spanish, and a warm and welcoming culture. For others, the growing population of Puerto Ricans produces anxiety, worry and the desire for more political activism.
Pro or con, Florida is the new heart of the boricua diaspora in the United States. It’s where planeloads of guaguas aérea keep landing, a reference to a well-known 1993 movie based on the book of the same name by Luis Rafael Sánchez. Central Florida, generally defined as a six-county area, is the place where experts and others forecast the future of the Puerto Rican diaspora is likely to unfold.
“Central Florida definitely is the new epicenter of Puerto Ricans,” said Betsy Franceschini, regional director of the Central Florida office of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), which reopened offices here in 2013 after being closed for several years due to budget cuts. Each year PRFAA helps thousands of migrants looking for area jobs, housing and schools.