This week’s Encuentro Nacional of the Puerto Rican diaspora was a gathering of historic proportions for the local and national Puerto Rican community. For the first time ever Puerto Rican elected leaders from about eight states – including congressional representatives Nydia Velázquez of New York, Luis Gutiérrez of Chicago, José Serrano of New York (via Skype), Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia and Central Florida’s own Alan Grayson – came together to demonstrate the potential strength of the Puerto Rican voter and also examine solutions to the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico, weighed down by $70 billion in debt and a sagging economy that includes a nine-year recession.
Going forward the onus is on the 300 or so leaders and activists at the meeting, held in the newly refurbished Centro Borinqueño (formerly the Asociación Borinqueña) in east Orange County, to create a plan of action, to show that this was not just another conference of talking heads and pundits but a serious stab at resolving issues both aquí and allá , at being agents of change.
The moment is pregnant with possibilities. For one, the Puerto Rican population of Florida now numbers more than 1 million, generating a shift in focus – and hope – to Orlando, where Puerto Ricans are concentrated.
“We don’t appreciate the magnitude of the moment that we’re going through in Puerto Rico and the diaspora,” said Edwin Meléndez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, who attended the gathering. “We’re growing faster [in the states] than other Latinos … and that trend is not going to stop.”
Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island in unprecedented numbers –perhaps as many as 50,000 this year alone – plus Puerto Rican migration from other states has produced “a realignment” of the stateside Puerto Rican community, currently focused on Florida instead of New York, he said.