Old Asociación Borinqueña Building Rises Again

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The Centro Borinqueño building in east Orange County before Acacia Network completed the latest upgrades and renovations. /Archive


The Encuentro Nacional of the Puerto Rican diaspora wasn’t the only news coming out of the Centro Borinqueño, the venue for the national gathering of Puerto Rican elected officials and others in east Orange County last week. In fact, there were many stories and one of them is the Centro Borinqueño itself.

The meeting, attended by 300 or so people, was a “coming out” of sorts for Acacia Network, which owns the Centro Borinqueño building, well known in Central Florida for its iconic sentry box reminiscent of the Spanish forts built in the Hispanic Caribbean and Latin America.

Raul Russi

In 2014 New York-based Acacia  Network, a social services nonprofit, bought the building’s $1 million bank note from Fifth Third Bank after the building had entered into foreclosure proceedings. The original owner was the Asociación Borinqueña, the oldest member-based Puerto Rican organization in the Orlando area. They constructed the building and then couldn’t keep up the payments or maintenance. Acacia states that it didn’t want the community to lose the building forever, so the group bought it at the urging of some company and local leaders.

After Acacia purchased the building – but before it took possession – the building was stripped of certain assets, including kitchen appliances/equipment and other items. (I toured the nearly empty building at the time.)  Acacia officials joked that they were lucky the Amaury Díaz mural of Old San Juan was not taken down. (Actually, there had been a contentious discussion of it, according to sources.)

Since then, Acacia has poured “hundreds of thousands of dollars” into upgrades, according to Raúl Russi, CEO of Acacia.  Improvements include resurfacing of the parking lot, new paint job inside and out, new stage, and new tables and chairs, among other things. And the kitchen? It’s expected to be finished by the start of the holidays, Russi said.

Acacia footed the bill for the Encuentro Nacional, not only providing the space but also the open bar and appetizers the night of the reception and the breakfast and lunch on the day of the symposium, which was organized by several groups. (Financial advisor Julio Rocha paid for the printing of the program.)

“This is your place. You built it. This is your center,” Russi told the gathering. “We want to make this a place where we can have safe discussions – with different opinions – but as Puerto Ricans,” he said.

All Eyes on ‘Floriricans’

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About 300 Puerto Ricans from all parts of the country and Puerto Rico gathered at the Centro Borinqueño in Orlando for a first-ever meeting of the Puerto Rican diaspora. / photo by Maria Padilla


This week’s Encuentro Nacional of the Puerto Rican diaspora was a gathering of historic proportions for the local and national Puerto Rican community. For the first time ever Puerto Rican elected leaders from about eight states – including  congressional representatives Nydia Velázquez of New York, Luis Gutiérrez of Chicago, José Serrano of New York (via Skype), Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia and Central Florida’s own Alan Grayson – came together to demonstrate the potential strength of the Puerto Rican voter and also examine solutions to the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico, weighed down by $70 billion in debt and a sagging economy that includes a nine-year recession.

Going forward the onus is on the 300 or so leaders and activists at the meeting, held in the newly refurbished Centro Borinqueño (formerly the Asociación Borinqueña) in east Orange County, to create a plan of action, to show that this was not just another conference of talking heads and pundits but a serious stab at resolving issues both aquí and allá , at being agents of change.

The moment is pregnant with possibilities. For one, the Puerto Rican population of Florida now numbers more than 1 million, generating a shift in focus –  and hope – to Orlando, where Puerto Ricans are concentrated.

“We don’t appreciate the magnitude of the moment that we’re going through in Puerto Rico and the diaspora,” said Edwin Meléndez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, who attended the gathering. “We’re growing faster [in the states] than other Latinos … and that trend is not going to stop.”

Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island in unprecedented numbers –perhaps as many as 50,000 this year alone – plus Puerto Rican migration from other states has produced “a realignment” of the stateside Puerto Rican community, currently focused on Florida instead of New York, he said.

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Puerto Ricans in Florida – Now What?

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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



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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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