Welcome Workshops for Puerto Rican Migrants

The welcome workshops or “Talleres de Bienvenida” help Puerto Ricans and other migrants to acclimate to life in Florida./ photo credit: Sami Haiman-Marrero

Welcome workshops for Puerto Rican migrants will return to Central Florida in a series of classes starting in May after a year-long hiatus in 2016.

Samí Haiman-Marrero and others created the welcome workshops, known in Spanish as Talleres de Bienvenida, in 2014 to help Puerto Rican migrants learn the ropes of Central Florida.

Puerto Rico’s economic distress is pushing many people toward the exit doors, much the same way that extreme poverty and lack of economic development forced hundreds of thousands to flee during the 20th century.

A big difference is today’s migrants overwhelmingly choose Florida – and specifically Central Florida – over other states, a reflection of the demise of manufacturing in the Northeast, once a big draw.

How will migrants acclimate to life in Florida? Do they have a handle on the cultural changes? Will they thrive?

There are over 1 million Puerto Ricans in Florida, although not all come from the island. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of people already have settled down. But there are many examples of families in crisis.

Kids Caught in the Middle

“They are faced with living in a new place where everything is completely different,” said Haiman-Marrero, who is particularly concerned about Latino families living in shelters. “When they’re living in shelters that means they can’t take living in cars anymore. What breaks my heart is the kids. They are caught in the middle of this,” explains Haiman-Marrero, who runs her own marketing firm called Urbander.

Sami Haiman-Marrero addresses a workshop audience. /photo credit: Sami Haiman-Marrero

Six workshops were held, three each in 2014 and 2015, topping 140 people per workshop on good days. But she took a break in 2016 because of the “craziness” of an election year.

The workshops, open to all newcomers not just Puerto Ricans, cover issues such as housing, transportation, education, health care and how to find a job – “key things anybody needs to know if they move to a new country.”

Puerto Ricans aren’t exactly moving to a new country since all are U.S. citizens and Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. But in many respects island newcomers do behave like immigrants due to language differences.

Nearly 90,000 people left Puerto Rico in 2015, the highest annual migration figure reported in the period between 2006 and 2015, approaching historical proportions. There’s a good chance that migration may strengthen as new austerity measures are enacted on the island.

Shorten Learning Cycle

The workshops are aimed at shortening the learning cycle. “Instead of it taking a year or two, it takes six months” to acclimate, she explained. “We want to make sure they have the information that can help them better manage the stress.”

Moving is one of the top stress-producing life adjustments, according to psychologists and moving specialists, no matter whether it’s a corporate relocation or a personal one. People are uprooted, their sense of self is shaken. Financial resources may tighten. Children watch parents closely for signs of distress. Public and even familial empathy often is in short supply.

Haiman-Marrero and her then partners, Nancy Shariff and Jackie Méndez, got little empathy in 2014, when they held a taller in San Juan billed, “Florida Expo: World of Opportunity.” About 8,000 people showed up for the three-hour workshop.

Expo Disaster

The “expo” was not their idea, but it was too late. The show had to go on. Local critics charged they were inviting more Puerto Ricans to Central Florida. On the island some said they were  exacerbating Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.

Young workers are over-represented among migrants – just the population needed in Puerto Rico, where labor force participation is around 46 percent and tax revenues have fallen, Puerto Rico statistics show.

“It was mind-boggling,” she said. “But then I figured, why travel to Puerto Rico with our limited funding?”

May Launch Date

Five workshops were held in Central Florida, reaching up to 140 or so people per workshop. This year’s workshop – all free – are set to kick off May 6, followed by one workshop per month held at a branch of the Orange County library, ending in October. Details at https://www.facebook.com/talleresdebienvenida/.

The 2014 workshops were co-sponsored in part by Florida Blue and Orlando Health. This year Haiman-Marrero also is raising funds for the workshops at FundLatinos .

“We’re going fine tune it and make it more robust,” Haiman-Marrero said. “I want to offer a hand up to my fellow boricuas and fellow Latinos.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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