Azalea Park Is Focus of Social Mobility Study

Dr. Howard Rodríguez-Mori presents his findings on his study of Talleres de Bienvenida workshops and Azalea Park. /María Padilla

Talleres de Bienvenida, which sponsors acculturation workshops for Hispanic newcomers, has launched a deep-dive study of Azalea Park, with an eye to providing services to the population.

Azalea Park is the first Puerto Rican enclave in Orlando, with settlement going back decades. It became a hot spot once again after tens of thousands of migrants fled Puerto Rico for Orlando after Hurricane María.

“Something has to be done here,” said Dr. Howard Rodríguez-Mori, a retired Florida State University associate professor of communications who conducted an analysis for Talleres de Bienvenida, titled “Onboarding to the U.S.A. through Central Florida: Hispanics and Navigating the Transition.”

Evaluating the most recent Census Bureau population update, Rodríguez-Mori re-discovered a somewhat long-neglected Latino enclave – Azalea Park is 57 percent Latino of which 42 percent is Puerto Rican.

Back in 2009, Puerto Ricans made up an even higher percentage of Azalea Park – 61 percent – earning it the label “Little San Juan.” Along the way, and as some of the Puerto Rican population dispersed, Azalea Park became popular with other Spanish-dominant newcomers as well, such as Venezuelans, Colombians and Dominicans, attributed to its housing affordability and location central to toll roads, the airport and downtown Orlando.

Still, Azalea Park’s metrics fall far below that of Florida and Orange County, making it a prime area for study. In one census tract, the poverty level is 31 percent and unemployment is nearly 15 percent, although the economy ostensibly is going gang-busters. Education levels are lower and English proficiency is an ongoing problem.

“We see an issue,” Rodríguez-Mori said. “We have a community showing many indicators of poverty.”

And poverty is a big barrier to social mobility. Thus, Talleres, an offshoot of SOS by Urbander headed by Samí Haiman-Marrero, wants to improve cultural and economic outcomes with help from funders such as the Hispanic Federation.

“We’re trying to create a model to provide intervention services – language, job readiness, career counseling, tutoring for children, financial literacy,” said Haiman-Marrero, who launched Talleres de Bienvenida in 2014.

Source: Talleres de Bienvenida

Last year, about 163 people attended 12 Talleres workshops in Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties. Three more workshops are planned through November 2019 in Kissimmee and Orlando, all under the aegis of the Episcopal Church, including the Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church of Azalea Park, which became a center for migrant aid and activism after Hurricane María.

Rodríguez-Mori’s analysis of last year’s Talleres workshops indicated that newcomers will travel far and wide to attend a workshop, some as many as 50 miles. “Some people from Deltona are coming to Orange County to take Talleres,” Rodríguez-Mori said. “Some people who missed a Talleres close to home went to the next one” no matter how far.

The influx of newcomers to Azalea Park has made it more economically and socially unstable. “The first two to three years after migration tend to be the hardest,” Rodríguez-Mori noted.

But now post-María migration levels have returned to a sense of normality, he noted, making it a more ideal time to conduct an intervention.

˜˜María Padilla, Editor

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