Monthly Archives: May 2017

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Orlando Confederate Statue to Watch Over the Dead

Five prominent Confederate state flags depicted in a postcard for sale at the American Civil War Museum, Richmond, Va.

Orlando’s Confederate statue, known as “Johnny Reb,” will be moved to a new home watching over the dead in Greenwood Cemetery, in the Confederate section appropriately enough.

There is no timetable for moving the statue, which has been stationed at Lake Eola for about 100 years. Ironically, Johnny Reb is in poor condition and may get a cleaning and repair, thanks to the progressives who want him banished.

The Orlando City Council voted 4-3 to remove the statue, a vote symbolic of how the Civil War still divides the nation more than 150 years after it ended. Mayor Buddy Dyer, and Commissioners Patty Sheehan, Sam Ing and Regina Hill were in the majority, while Commissioners Jim Gray, Robert Stuart and Tony Ortiz were in the minority.

Dyer said the solution “balances the inclusive morals of our community today, while carefully preserving historic artifacts from our past that can be used to further educate and serve as important lessons in today’s society,” as quoted in the Orlando Sentinel.

No Record of Hearing

There is no record of the actual hearing, which was pushed by former Orlando Sentinel colleague David Porter, because it was not an agenda item and the nearly two-hour video of the City Council’s May 15 meeting ends with the last item concerning medical marijuana.

Before the Confederate hearing, Ortiz, representing heavily Hispanic District 2,  announced his “philosophy” on the subject. “We have soldiers that have served in all kinds of wars and we have to respect that,” he said.

Ortiz Is Against

It’s not surprising that Ortiz would vote against removing the Confederate statue for he often votes against social issues such as this. He was the lone City Council vote against gay marriage, for example, explaining that it was against his values. And he cannot bring himself to put up a plaque in District 2 honoring the late community activist Rico Piccard, a plaque that was approved by the state. In at least these three regards, Ortiz appears to be out of sync with his district.

The Front Lines

But Ortiz has a point about people who fight wars. Lots of enlisted or drafted soldiers have found themselves in the front lines of battle confused about why they are there. The Viet Nam War is a 20th century example. Iraq and Afghanistan are others.

It’s fair to say that many Johnny Rebs fought in the War Between the States without fully understanding why, except that it was the thing to do in the South.  (Many Civil War battlefields, such as Appomattox, are hauntingly sad.)

The South fought to defend its right to own slaves and to expand the peculiar franchise to new states joining the union. The policy benefitted the landed gentry but also the entire economy of the South founded as it was on the slave labor of blacks. The complicity of the North – its financial institutions and great universities awash in money generated by the slave trade or economy – is only now coming into focus, revealing that the entire nation is indebted to slaves.

Historical Context

The historical context is too nuanced for many defenders of all things Confederate, including the flag (of which there are several versions, by the way). First a symbol of battle, the meaning of the Confederate flag and other symbols has been lost over time, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s as the civil rights movement ratcheted up.

If it was once a symbol of history and heritage, the Confederate flag is now seen as a symbol appropriated by the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups without much pushback from others.

“There are people who have confronted that flag in the hands of people who have meant to do them harm or at least want to deny them their basic civil rights,” explains John M. Coski, official historian of the American Civil War Museum. And I would add deny people their basic humanity.

Divisive Meaning

That is the divisive meaning of the flag to millions of people, particularly blacks, whose full equality means they shouldn’t have to confront these symbols daily in public spaces.

It is time for Johnny Rebel and company in Orlando and across the South to put down their rifles and flags and go home so that all of us may live and breathe freely.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Potboiler: Goya Foods Quits NY Puerto Rican Parade

A Goya float in a previous National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. /National Puerto Rican Day Parade

The giant Latino company Goya Foods has left some in the Puerto Rican community stewing after it pulled its 59-year sponsorship of New York City’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade, apparently over the parade’s honoring of Oscar López Rivera, officially freed today after serving 35 yeas in federal prison for alleged ties to terrorism.

Goya denied the connection, saying it was a business decision. “We make business decisions all the time,” spokesman Rafael Toro told the New York Daily News.

Oscar López Rivera

Press reports indicate, however, it’s all about Oscar, who parade organizers named “National Freedom Hero” earlier this month.

López Rivera, whom federal prosectors alleged was the bomb-making expert in the Puerto Rican pro-nationalist FALN group, is expected to lead the parade down Fifth Avenue. One of the FALN’s more infamous acts was the bombing of New York’s Fraunces Tavern, which left four dead and injured dozens of others.

Steaming over Goya

Goya’s move surprised parade organizers, who were left steaming. “We are very disappointed at Goya for pulling out of our parade via a phone call and with no rationale other than ‘it was a business decision,’ ” the parade board said in a statement, according to the Daily News.

But, really, it was the parade organizers who politicized the parade by choosing López Rivera, resulting from the Puerto Rican community’s desire to whitewash López Rivera’s notorious past.

Most parade honorees have been celebrities or entertainers – Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernández was named this year’s Athlete of the Year and salsa star Gilberto Santarosa is the Grand Marshall.

Why would a major food company like Goya give a can of beans about an alleged terrorist enough to tie its well-established brand to his name? That’s loco.

“Which headline would you prefer as a corporate global giant in today’s climate: ‘Goya ends PR parade sponsorship after 60 years’ or ‘Goya funds celebration honoring convicted terrorist’ … #SpinGame,” writes Christina Hernández, community organizer and social media marketing specialist, in answer to a Facebook post. 

Lay Low

She cautioned community activists to lay low. “Let it pass and then renegotiate for next year. Last thing you want to do is raise the heat so much that other sponsors follow suit.”

Others defended Goya’s right to pick its sponsorships. “It’s their money they should have the right to decide how its allocated without explanations !!!” said Carlos Nazario of Acacia Network.

Some others have a beef to pick with Goya. “When I used to work at Hispanic magazines I visited their offices in NJ so many times I lost count and they never supported Hispanic magazines,” wrote Samí Haiman-Marrero, also a marketer. “And that’s OK…they spend their money however they wish, and I spend my money on other brands. No tiene que ser GOYA para ser bueno! LOL,” she said playing off Goya’s  slogan, “Si es Goya tiene que ser bueno!” If it’s Goya it has to be good.

Goya Foods Links to Puerto Rican Community

Severing its ties with New York’s Puerto Rican parade doesn’t necessarily mean Goya is cutting its links with the Puerto Rican community, which are deep. Company founders Prudencio and Carolina Unanue first migrated to Puerto Rico after leaving Spain in the 1930s before relocating permanently to New York.

Goya products – from olive oil and tomato sauce to beans and sazón – could be found in New York City bodegas patronized by the Puerto Rican community long before landing on mainstream supermarket shelves. The company still has a Puerto Rico manufacturing and distribution plant.

Goya has paid tribute to Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneer soldiers and beloved baseball player the late Roberto Clemente. It has donated tens of thousands of pounds of food in the name of Puerto Rican artists Marc Anthony and Cheyenne. It has donated foods here in Central Florida, home to Florida’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans.

Meanwhile, controversy is not new to the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc., which has generated questions in the past over its alleged mishandling of funds and sponsors.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Activists Take Aim at Orange County School Board

Vamos4PR Florida organizer Ericka Gómez-Tejeda discusses strategy at the education/school board workshop. /Maria Padilla

If there is one public institution in the Orlando-area that Latinos have had trouble penetrating it is the Orange County School Board.

There are Latino(s) on the Orlando City Council, the Orange County Commission, in the State House, the State Senate and last year a  Hispanic became a member of Congress representing Orlando.

Despite a 40 percent Latino student body – the highest of any group – the Orange County School Board does not have a Hispanic elected to the eight-member school board. Millions of dollars in annual funds are allocated for bilingual education – for English-language learners – and yet parents have little say about the funds, which can be, and often are, used for other purposes. About 167 languages are spoken in the the Orange County school district, with Spanish being the second most common, behind English.

Clearly, Hispanic parents should be able to exercise clout at every level of Orange County schools. But they do not.

Change Is Afoot

That may be about to change.

A coalition of groups working under the umbrella coalition Vamos4PR has set its sights on Orange County schools, with the aim of helping parents and students navigate the nation’s 10th largest school district as well as obtaining more help for those who are Spanish-dominant.

“The focus starts with Orange County because it is bigger and because Osceola is seen as friendlier,” said Ericka Gómez-Tejeda, organizer of Vamos4PR Florida, an offshoot of the national organization that advocates on behalf of the nation’s growing Puerto Rican population. Puerto Ricans make up half of Hispanics in Central Florida and number over 1 million in all of Florida.

Indeed, Osceola, with one-third as many students as Orange – and 60 percent of them Latino – counts one Hispanic school board member.

During a recent day-long workshop at the Acacia Network building in east Orange County attended by about 100 people, Vamos4PR organized parents, teachers, students and others to begin making demands of the Orange County School Board.


An estimated 50 people committed to attend the May 23 school board meeting with about 10 prepared to tell impactful stories of their experiences. They are planning to send nearly 300 post cards to school board members representing districts with high Hispanic student populations.

‘We need to own our power and we need to build on it,” explained Denise Díaz, a Vamos4PR organizer who is also executive director of Central Florida Jobs with Justice.

Vamos4PR is pushing for:

  • More Spanish-speaking school staff
  • Bilingual written communication with parents
  • Certified interpreters
  • Orientation about the rights of parents

Many attendees at the Vamos4PR workshop spoke of feeling alienated and excluded from actively participating in school or school district affairs. A Vamos4PR survey of Orange County Hispanic parents showed that communication – or more precisely, lack of communication – is a top issue.

“Frustrated,” wrote an attendee in a note.

2018 Elections

The organization has created a timeline in which the end game is electoral mobilization for the 2018 election cycle. Vamos4PR was part of a large 2016 coalition that successfully boosted Latino voter turnout in Central Florida in the presidential elections.

In 2018 three school board seats are up for election, including Districts 1, 2 and 3, each with a heavy Hispanic student presence.

Jacqueline Centeno filed this month to run in District 2, which represents heavy Hispanic schools in east Orange County such as Chickasaw Elementary, Jackson Middle School and Colonial High School. Centeno ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2010 under the name “Jackie SchoolBoard,” earning 30 percent of the vote in an August election, which typically has lower turnout. (There was 21 percent turnout in that election but only about 17,000 votes decided the outcome of the school board race, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.)

Demographics and conditions may be more favorable to Centeno next year, including no incumbent competition. (Centeno is not connected with the Vamos4PR workshop.)

Said Denise Díaz about the upcoming school board challenge: “I’m excited to see how we do this and do this through this campaign.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Below is the response from Orange County Public Schools:

Dear Orlando Latino readers and Vamos4PR group members,

Regarding the recent article in Orlando Latino about a survey conducted among Orange County Public Schools Hispanic parents, we would like to share some facts.

  •   Please know the Orange County School Board does have a board member who is of Spanish heritage. District 2 School Board Member M. Daryl Flynn is Spanish.
  •   Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) is proud of significant gains made by our Hispanic students including, but not limited to:
  •   Graduation Rate
  •   In the 2015-16 school year, the graduation rate for Hispanic students increased by 5.1 percentage points. This is larger than the 2.0 percentage point growth of white students.
  •   Since 2013, the graduation rate for Hispanic students has increased by 6.1 percentage points.
  •   The Hispanic graduation rate in OCPS at 80.8 percent is now higher than the state overall graduation rate for all students.

 Advanced Placement (AP) Course Participation

  •   Since 2011-12, there has been a 119 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students taking an AP course.
  •   Hispanic student participation has grown nearly twice as quickly as the district average.

 Advanced Placement (AP) Course Performance

  •   Since 2011-12, there has been a 101 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students scoring 3 or higher in at least one AP course.
  •   Hispanic student performance in AP has improved over twice as quickly as the district average.
  •   The district has 30,092 English Language Learners (ELL) learners which is 15 percent of the total student population.
  •   Resources for Parents of ELL Students

    As part of the resources for parents of ELL students, OCPS has made available the software InSync. The program provides resources in multiple languages for class and home to support the academic achievement of every student. The link to the software is available at the Multilingual Student Education Services department website, and is provided here:

  •   Two-Way Dual Language Expansion

    Based on the success of the Helios VPK Two-Way Dual Language Program, OCPS will expand the program at six schools (Chickasaw ES, Apopka ES, Zellwood ES, Ventura ES, Wetherbee ES, John Young ES). In addition, we will be opening a new VPK Two- Way Dual Language program at Union Park ES and Washington Shores Primary Learning Center. The objective of this evidence-based program is for students to learn to speak, read, and write in both languages, helping students to become bilingual and bi- literate.

  •   Each school has a Multilingual Parent Leadership Council (MPLC) comprised of parents of ELL students who facilitate opportunities for parental involvement and decision making at their school. In addition, the District MPLC, comprised of representatives from school-based MPLCs, share feedback on services provided to our students. When parents participate in the school or district MPLC, they receive information about the services provided to ELL students within OCPS, parents are encouraged to become actively involved in their child’s education, and parents are empowered to become advocates within their community.
  •   We hold Parent Academies every month during the school year in which messaging goes to parents in three languages – English, Spanish, Haitian-Creole, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.
  •   OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins recently received the Hispanic-Serving Superintendent of the Year Award from the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS). The award is given to superintendents who have shown growth in the achievement rate of Hispanic students.
  •   The district has certified interpreters available for parents or guardians to connect with in order to speak with principals, teachers, or other school-based employees.
  •   Our website is translated into seven different languages including Spanish.
  •   Schools with high Spanish-speaking student populations regularly communicate ConnectORANGE messages in both English and Spanish.

    Thank you for sharing this letter with your readers or with your members.

    Katherine P. Marsh
    Director, Media Relations Orange County Public Schools