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Puerto Ricans in Florida – Now What?

1 mil tag

Here’s an analysis about 1 million Puerto Ricans in Florida just published by Suset Laboy of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York for which I was interviewed – Maria Padilla, Editor. 

By Suset Laboy

2014 marked a watershed moment in the history of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Florida became the second state in the nation with a million Puerto Ricans, right behind New York. The current migratory wave, which is as substantial as that of the 50s, has left more Puerto Ricans living stateside. At Centro, we have been researching and reporting on this migratory trend for some time now, including on the recent data released by the American Community Survey confirming a million Puerto Ricans in Florida. The numbers suggest and continue to suggest important questions—What does the data mean for Florida’s cultural, economic, and social makeup; for U.S. Puerto Ricans more generally? We reached out to two academics and a seasoned journalist in the state for their insights. We share their responses below:

The makeup of Puerto Ricans in Florida is quite diverse, combining longtime residents with newcomers both from other states and Puerto Rico.  

Jorge Duany, an anthropologist and Director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, sketched the panorama of Puerto Ricans in the state, explaining, “According to 2013 census estimates, 40.5% of all Puerto Ricans in Florida were born on the island, and most of the rest were born in one of the fifty United States. This is one of the greatest sources of internal differentiation within the Puerto Rican population, as it tends to coincide with generation, age, and language preferences, as well as prior lived experiences of migration and resettlement. Another major source of diversity is the socioeconomic composition of the community, given the wide range of occupational, income, and educational characteristics of Puerto Ricans in Florida. The presence of a well-educated, bilingual group of managers and professionals is a distinctive feature of the recent Puerto Rican exodus to Florida, although the idea of a ‘brain drain’ may be exaggerated. The majority of Puerto Ricans in Florida actually work in sales, office, service, and blue-collar occupations. Lastly, the population is fractured along racial lines, with a majority of those coming from the island defining themselves as white, while many of those coming from other parts of the United States describe themselves as neither white nor black, but as members of ‘some other race.’”

Expanding on the question of the diversity of Puerto Ricans in Florida, Fernando I. Rivera, a sociologist at the University of Central Florida, teased out several of the groups that make up Puerto Ricans in the state: “I would say that there are several groups within the Puerto Rican population in Florida. One group is the native ‘FloriRicans,’ those that have been here for several years and have seen the growth and development of Florida, particularly the Central Florida region. This population encompasses Puerto Ricans in Miami, Tampa, and other areas of Florida, particularly areas with military bases.

“The second group is those from the Northeast that have followed the patterns of movement of other populations from this region. This group of ‘Nuyoricans’ find Florida attractive due to the lower cost of living, warmth, and access to Puerto Rican/Caribbean culture. By far this group has been more active in representing Puerto Ricans in different Florida institutions such as politics, business, education, philanthropy, and art.

“The third group is the ‘Islandricans’ which represent those migrating directly from Puerto Rico. This group is reminiscent of life in Puerto Rico and has provided different venues to reproduce the experience of growing up in Puerto Rico. From establishing ‘lechoneras,’ specialty barber shops, music festivals and concerts, and other cultural expressions. Several fraternities and sororities from the Puerto Rican Greek system have established chapters in Florida and are actively trying to reunite and socialize with members living in Florida.

“The last group are the ones on the move, these Puerto Ricans have lived in Puerto Rico, the northeast, Florida, and other places. They tend to move seeking better economic opportunities and will follow those opportunities whatever it takes them.”

The jury is still out on whether the diversity of groups will produce a cohesive Floridian Puerto Rican identity like those produced in earlier migratory waves.

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Hispanic Federation Opens Doors in Orlando



Hisp fed2
Many local Hispanic leaders attended the Hispanic Federation ribbon cutting, including (from left) Betsy Franceschini of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Office, Daisy Morales of the Soil and Water Board, Josephine Mercado of Hispanic Health Initiatives, Diana Bolívar (in blue top) of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Carolyn Vega-Meléndez of Sen. Marco Rubio’s office. / Facebook photo

A new Latino-based organization opened its doors in Orlando this week to much community fanfare. The Hispanic Federation, a 25-year old New York group, is a new nonprofit in town that is expected to tap the local fund-raising vein to disburse monies to other Latino nonprofits, in much the same way that the United Way does on a larger scale. In 2014 Hispanic Federation raised $7 million in grants and private contributions, an increase of nearly 30 percent from the year before, according to its nonprofit tax filing.

The organization states Its mission is to “empower and advance the Hispanic community” and its logo reads, “Taking Hispanic Causes to Heart.”

The federation’s establishment in Orlando is the first time the organization has moved away from its Northeast base. More important, the nonprofit’s expansion appears to be part of an evolving trend in Orlando, where at least three New York Latino advocacy groups – mostly Puerto Rican – have established a presence in the past year or so.

“Everything helps,” said lawyer Anthony Suárez, whose offices on East Colonial Drive was the site of the ribbon cutting. The Hispanic Federation is subleasing space from Latino Justice, a civil rights advocacy group, which in turn leases from Suárez, a former state legislator.

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Patatín y Patatán

marc anthony and hillary
Marc Anthony endorsed Hillary Clinton during his Miami Arena concert. / photo from Marc Anthony Facebook page

This column is about this and that, and so on, etcetera. Many Spanish speakers – at least in Puerto Rico – use patatín and patatán as a substitute for the catch-all this and that.  It has a nice swing to it. So without further delay, here are some rambling thoughts.

Marc Anthony and Hillary Clinton

Estas elecciones son cruciales para el futuro de la comunidad Latina [sic]. Tu voto hará la diferencia,” says the famosísimo salsa and ballad crooner Marc Anthony during his ongoing concert tour.

He is right about this election, which like all elections are crucial to the Latino community. Then Marc Anthony went on to endorse Hillary Clinton, who this week shared the stage with the Puerto Rican celebrity at the Miami Arena.

I am glad Marc Anthony has found his political voice. And it’s OK by me that he endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Marc Anthony’s endorsement is celebrity gold to Hillary Clinton – or any other candidate, for that matter. Many if not most Puerto Ricans vote Democrat, after all. His endorsement may convince some people on the margins to support Hillary.

However, that doesn’t mean we should all follow Marc Anthony like lemmings. This is not a rant against the singer or the candidate. Just sayin’, a celebrity endorsement is ephemeral. Find your own political voice and follow it. Patatín y patatán.

Wacko Joaquín

hurricane-joanquin-memes-2Love, love, love the meme going around showing the storm category changes of this tempest tossed with the head of actor Joaquín Phoenix. The higher the intensity the scarier the Joaquín. Clean-cut handsome Joaquín presumably is a storm not a hurricane. Full-force category 5 hurricane is Joaquín with the full bush head and beard, scary as all get out.

Here’s some trivia about Joaquín Phoenix that ties perfectly into the meme. Did you know that Joaquín Phoenix, whose real name is Joaquín Rafael Bottom – was born in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, to missionary parents? His nonHispanic Jewish mother was born in The Bronx.  I once watched David Letterman ask Joaquín Phoenix where he was born on The Late Show. When Phoenix answered “Puerto Rico,” Letterman thought he was joking, then got all flustered when he realized Phoenix was serious. Yeah, Puerto Ricans tend to elicit that reaction from others. Patatín y patatán.

Immigrant Wave

Heard a fascinating report about the future of immigration on NPR this week, based on a Pew Research Center study. Here are some highlights:

• 14 percent of the people – that’s 45 million people – in the United States are now foreign born, a record.

• 88 percent of the population increase between now and 2065 will come from the foreign born or 78 million people.

• 47 percent of today’s immigrant population is Hispanic, but by 2065 that figure is expected to be  split with Asians – that is, 31 percent of immigrants will be Hispanic and 38 percent Asian.

The country, in other words, will look more and more like California. Patatín y patatán.

˜ Maria Padilla

Pew immigrant projections

‘Guagua Aérea’ Heads to Florida

guagua aerea
The term ‘guagua aérea’ refers to a well-known 1993 film about the Puerto Rican migration to the states.



Note: This story is based on interviews conducted earlier this year but never before published.

María T. Padilla


The guagua aérea has changed its destination from the Big Apple to the palm shores of Florida, where 1 million Puerto Ricans now live – slightly less than in all of New York state and equal to about one-third of the entire population of Puerto Rico, according to the latest census figures.

For many Central Floridians the trend means more people with which to speak Spanish, and a warm and welcoming culture. For others, the growing population of Puerto Ricans produces anxiety, worry and the desire for more political activism.

Pro or con,  Florida is the new heart of the boricua diaspora in the United States. It’s where planeloads of guaguas aérea keep landing, a reference to a well-known 1993 movie based on the book of the same name by Luis Rafael Sánchez.  Central Florida, generally defined as a six-county area, is the place where experts and others forecast the future of the Puerto Rican diaspora is likely to unfold.

“Central Florida definitely is the new epicenter of Puerto Ricans,” said Betsy Franceschini, regional director of the Central Florida office of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), which reopened offices here in 2013 after being closed for several years due to budget cuts. Each year PRFAA helps thousands of migrants looking for area jobs, housing and schools.

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