Monthly Archives: April 2017

4 posts

Puerto Rican Parade Takes Over Downtown Orlando


The Puerto Rican Parade marched through the heart of downtown Orlando, ending with a festival on the grounds of the Dr. Phillips Center. /Maria Padilla

A newly revitalized Puerto Rican parade, led by Cong. Darren Soto (D) and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and his black labradoodle, packed the heart of downtown Orlando Saturday with hundreds of Puerto Ricans waving their treasured flag.

The parade, in its second year, ended at the public plaza at the Dr. Phillips Center, where an outdoor festival continued through the afternoon and evening filled with live music, food and other vendors.

The parade capped a week of activities in the local Puerto Rican community, including a Puerto Rico Day in Tallahassee that drew two busloads of attendees in what has become an annual outing.

Orlando has hosted Puerto Rican parades going back more than 20 years but some of the wheels fell off the event after the death of Mildred Zapata in 2015, who for many years coordinated the parade and its affiliated events.

Current parade organizers Ralph Morales and Mike Moreno are said to once have been connected to the New York City National Puerto Rican Day Parade held in June, considered the largest Puerto Rican parade in the U.S.

Morales and Moreno last November pulled together a team of local activists and organizers to plan the parade, which promoted the achievements made by Puerto Ricans in business, health, music, science, arts and government.

Rival New York?

Florida’s Puerto Rican population has skyrocketed in the past 10 years as an economic crisis has gripped the island and Puerto Ricans from other states migrate to the Sunshine State. Today, over 1 million Puerto Ricans reside in Florida, and the expectation is that Orlando’s Puerto Rican parade could one day rival the New York original.

Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz./ Maria Padilla

“We finally made it official,” said Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who also sang Puerto Rico’s national hymn “La Borinqueña.” The Puerto Rico-born commissioner added that the community must push to make the parade an annual event, a sentiment echoed by Morales.

“It was not easy but the important thing is to continue,” said Morales.

This was the second Orlando parade for the organizers and, according to some attendees, it was much larger than the 2016 parade.

“There weren’t that many floats” in 2016, said an employee of Orange County who didn’t want to give her name.

From Marching Bands to Bomba y Plena

This year’s parade included 10 floats, including floats representing Costa Rica and Mexico. But there were many more participants, including marching bands from University, Evans and Edgewater high schools; a classic Toyota club of Orlando; beauty queens, motorcyclists, military veterans and bomba y plena dancers. Elected officials such as Cong. Soto, the first Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, who was honored at a banquet earlier in the week.  Puerto State Sen. Victor Torres (D), State Rep. Amy Mercado (D) and State Rep. Carlos Smith (D) also took part. 

Bomba y plena dancers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. / Maria Padilla










There was no shortage of Puerto Rican flags at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. /Maria Padilla


Puerto Rican Parade attendees along Orange Avenue show off their Puerto Rico colors. /Maria Padilla








Feeling a Case of Puerto Rico ‘Bailout Blues’

The Puerto Rico ‘bailout blues’ are brought on by always having to explain what Puerto Rico is about. / Maria Padilla

I’m experiencing a case of the Puerto Rico “bailout blues” after a recent conversation with a friend went like this: “Well, you guys want a bailout but you don’t pay federal taxes and you can’t have it both ways.”


After the rant dust settled down, I concluded: Must we always start from scratch?

Must Puerto Ricans everywhere always start from scratch when it comes to the subject of Puerto Rico? Are we doomed to a relive a Groundhog Day set to 1898? Are we forever to shout, “Remember the Maine!” – even to the President of the United States whose Twitter rant about Puerto Rico this week was woefully wanton?

Low on the Radar

It must be disconcertingly so, for knowledge is not required for opinions to be formed or uttered. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Trump tweets 1 and 2:

Puerto Rican Parade

All of this serves as a perfect backdrop to Saturday’s Puerto Rican Parade through Downtown Orlando,  preceded by busloads of Puerto Ricans returning from a Tallahassee tour earlier in the week.

The events serve three purposes – to remind the Orlando community of our presence, to build up our self image and self esteem, and to entertain ourselves. I worry that the third purpose may cast the longest shadow.

The ‘Ask’

“Don’t forget ‘the ask’ ” – shorthand for, what do you want? – I reminded a participant of the Tallahassee tour. Make sure you ask for what you want. What do you want?

What if the bomba y plena signifies nothing? What is the cost of a failure to launch? What is the point, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, of walking loudly and carrying no stick?

Here’s the stick Federico de Jesús of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration is using to help secure up to $900 million in Medicaid funds for the island’s deep-in-the-hole health care system as well as to beat back Trump and likeminded pols:

“If (Congress) includes extending current Obamacare funding under Medicaid for Puerto Rico, that wouldn’t be a bailout to the Commonwealth, it would actually be saving money for state and federal taxpayers who would otherwise face an even more massive influx of Puerto Ricans moving to the US [boldface mine], where health care is 3 to 4 times more expensive than in the Island,” said De Jesús.

El Cuco

In Spanish this is called summoning “El Cuco” or ghost or nightmare, as in your worse ghost or nightmare is coming – hordes of Puerto Ricans at your doorsteps! Be afraid.

But doesn’t this paint Puerto Ricans as being unwelcome, unwanted, unwashed? And … aren’t there already more Puerto Ricans in the 50 states, mostly Florida and New York, than on the island of Puerto Rico? More or less 5 million versus 3 million?

Couldn’t the numbers be leveraged for better effect or result? Wouldn’t it be more empowering to state, “Over 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the states. All are citizens and each can vote – for or against you. Take your pick” ?

Wouldn’t it be more powerful for busloads of Puerto Ricans to go to Tallahassee in January or February before the Florida Legislature is in session, when committees meet and bills are being drafted?

No More Puerto Rico ‘Bailout Blues’

And wouldn’t it be great if people like the Rant Woman and Trump were better informed so Puerto Ricans wouldn’t have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous comments?

Here’s the thing. We have no control over the Rant Women and Trumps of our times. Sure, they are ignorant and disheartening. I won’t look at Rant Woman the same way again.

I opted to move past Rant Woman. I unshackled myself from 1898. I remember the Maine even if she doesn’t.

If the Puerto Rican community minds its politics and business, whatever that may be, the know-nothing Rant People of the world would sit up and take notice when the results start marching in. Which they will. Guaranteed.

It doesn’t have to be 1898 all over again.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Rico Businesses Follow the Flock to Florida

Puerto Rico business coming to Florida? Empresas Fonalledas, owners of San Juan’s giant Plaza Las Américas retail mall, is exploring opportunities in Osceola County. /Plaza Las Américas website

Puerto Rico businesses continue to follow their flock of customers to Florida as island economic conditions squeeze Puerto Ricans.

Ana G. Mendez and Polytechnic universities established themselves in Orlando several years ago. Most recently, wholesale food distributor Titan, home decor retailer Casa Febus and El Mesón restaurant have opened for business in Central Florida.

A new name may be added to these businesses: Empresas Fonalledas, the retail developers of Plaza Las Américas, the retail mall in San Juan that is the largest in the Caribbean and the 15th largest by square footage in all of the United States, with over 2 million square feet of retail space. The mall houses well-known American retailers such as JC Penney (the largest one in the world, by the way, at four stories), Macy’s, Michael Kors, Brooks Brothers and Carolina Herrera, to name a few. The mall is so well known it’s simply known as “Plaza.”

Top-level officials of the family-owned business – including President Jaime Fonalledas – paid a visit to Kissimmee, according to Mayor José Alvarez who later wrote on Facebook:

“I had a very productive meeting today at City Hall. We hosted Mr. Jaime Fonalledas, Luis Fonalledas and Cesar Segarra.
“Mr. Jaime Fonalledas, is the President of Empresas Fonalledas, Inc.
Empresas Fonalledas Inc., is the management company of the group of family held companies which own Plaza Las Américas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean and one of the top retail and entertainment venues in the United States. Empresas Fonalledas Inc., also has holdings in dairy cattle operations, milk processing plants, non-dairy food industries, plastics manufacturing, real estate ventures, and retail. Generating more than 10,000 jobs in total, Empresas Fonalledas companies include Plaza del Caribe, Vaqueria Tres Monjitas, Ganaderia Tres Monjitas and franchises in the Puerto Rico market of Starbucks and Soft & Creamy.”

It’s still unclear what Empresas Fonalledas may launch in Kissimmee, but nabbing the Fonalledas would be like hooking a great white whale. The Fonalledas are among the wealthiest families in Puerto Rico and big donors to the Republican Party. In fact, Zoraida Fonalledas, Jaime’s spouse, has been a speaker or presenter  at GOP conventions. (She was once booed.)

Empress Fonalledas, ranked the island’s No. 1 service sector company by Caribbean Business, spent nearly $1.7 million on lobbying during legislation for the unpopular PROMESA bill, which Congress approved to manage Puerto Rico’s then $72 billion debt crisis, according to a Noticel article that quoted

PROMESA’s austerity measures coupled with an ongoing 10-year old economic recession is profoundly changing Puerto Rico. Today there are more Puerto Ricans residing stateside – over 5 million, including Puerto Ricans born in the states – than on the island, with 3.4 million people.

Kissimmee and Osceola County now are home to the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in Florida. And it makes business sense to follow the flock to Florida as the island, sadly, empties of young, working-age families with consumer dollars to spend.

The pull of brand names and fond memories is strong. Puerto Ricans are excited to seek out the brands they recognize. On a recent visit to Orlando my Jacksonville-based mom couldn’t wait to eat at El Mesón, known for its fat sandwiches on pan criollo. 

However, the retail environment in Florida and the states is more challenging, forcing the closure of  anchor stores as well as malls. Fashion Square and Oviedo are two area malls that have been impacted.

Still, what Empresas Fonalledas decides opts to do in Osceola County aimed at the Puerto Rican community will be well worth watching.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Getting for Real about Fake News


April Fools Day is a good time to get for real about the issue of fake news.

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. But it’s not always easy to recognize – or even admit – it’s fake news, especially if it checks all the boxes that readers may want to believe.

Here’s one fake news that made the rounds of my Facebook feed in February with this screaming headline: “MICHELLE OBAMA DEMANDS AMERICANS PAY UP TO GIVE HER MOM A CUSHY $160K PENSION.”


Fake News about the First Family

The only person in the first family to earn a pension is the president. Not even the first lady, each of whom works for free, gets a pension – much less a first mom, such as Marian Robinson, mother of Michelle Obama.

And yet some people want to believe it because it feeds into their house of cards.

Other examples include the ping-pong pizza story, which falsely accused Clinton associates of leading a pedophilia ring from the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. Sounds too ludicrous to be believed, and yet a gunman entered the establishment and fired his assault rifle. Luckily, no one was injured but the gunman was arrested.

So Much Fake News

A recent forum titled “Fake News vs. Real News,” co-sponsored by the First Amendment Foundation and the League of Women Voters of Orange County,  shed some light on this increasingly common but faux phenomenon.

“I got put on the fake news beat probably because there is so much of it,” said Joshua Gillin, a panelist and staff writer for PolitiFact Florida and the Tampa Bay Times

Go-to Websites

Politifact is a go-to website to find out whether a news item has merit. Others include Snopes and FactCheck.

Scary thought: Gillin noted that most fake news is not even produced in the United States, which speaks to the issue of the 2016 presidential election and whether Russia or Russian hacks colluded with the Donald Trump campaign to spread fake news about HiIlary Clinton. Three investigations – House, Senate and the FBI – are underway to get at the truth.

Richard Foglesong, Rollins College professor and forum moderator, asked an intriguing rhetorical question:

“Is the First Amendment part of the solution or part of the problem?”

The First Amendment protects free speech and, if you’re a public figure, the bar is set high in this country against suing. Clamping down on most free speech is difficult because it’s nearly impossible to ban.

Detecting Fake from Real

That’s why readers need to be more critical of what they read. To pass itself off as real news, fake news almost always has some, if not all, of these characteristics, according to Gillin.

  • A public figure or a person you know – Michelle Obama in the fake pension story. (Note the unattractive photo too.) 

  • Some kernel of knowledge – Most people would be familiar with the first family and/or understand that presidents receive a lifetime pension after leaving office. 

  • Wild baseless claim with fake supporting details – Michelle Obama “demanding” a pension for her mom. 

  • Comments – Usually in outrage. “This is all we need now, FREELOADERS,” wrote the Facebook poster. Thankfully, most commenters grasped the flakiness of it. “This is so funny!” mocked one reader.

Fake news is not new. It’s been around for millennia. However, the lightning speed at which news travels these days, especially on social media, makes it particularly troublesome.

“Fake news engenders an uninformed electorate,” Gillin said.

That’s no April Fools joke.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor