‘War Against Puerto Ricans’ Coming to Orlando

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The book The War Against All Puerto Ricans published earlier this year is riding a wave of mostly bad news about Puerto Rico, including a nine-year economic recession that won’t quit, an unprecedented migration to the states, an aging population, an unpayable $72 billion in debt and the specter of default.

All of which has made it easier for author Nelson Denis, former editorial director of the newspaper El Diario La Prensa in New York, to connect the dots of what he states is the United States’ poor treatment of the island over 117 years – and sell lots of books.

“It’s pretty much 117 years of Puerto Rico being ignored,” said Denis, who will be in Orlando this week to promote the book  whose subtitle is “Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony.”

Denis’ book spans the island history after 1898, when the United States took possession of the island after the Spanish-Cuban-American War, and through the 1940s, when nationalism and pro-independence fervor was at its height. He spells out sometimes in painful and riveting detail (there are 71 pages of footnotes) the deals and dealmakers who plundered the island. Even today, in the face of the current economic crisis, the political relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico remains unclear, a “riddle,  wrapped  in a mystery, inside an enigma,” to quote Winston Churchill.

“The version of events is now under severe discredit,” he said, referring to how Puerto Rico came to its current political status as a commonwealth of the United States. Actually, that is too polite. “Sold out” is more Denis’ term.war against

The War Against All Puerto Ricans has been well received by critics and the public, selling 35,000 copies. Between 20,000 and 25,000 flew off the shelves in Puerto Rico, although the book is written in English. The Spanish translation comes out in November, opening up the book to even more readers and possibly new markets.

Denis is focused on trying to land a film deal, which he thinks would help reach a younger and broader audience.

“A movie is a synthetic event and yet the irony is that in this day and age it underscores the reality and makes it feel like a real event,” said the Yale-educated lawyer. In other words, it’s not real unless it’s on the big or little screen.

As for a book-writing encore, Denis said he may next tackle the issue of the carpetas, the secret surveillance files of Puerto Rican activists maintained by the FBI and other government agencies. Said Denis: “I want to let people know this information is out there.”

Catch Nelson Denis Friday, October 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Universidad Politécnica, across from Valencia College off Econlockhatchee Trail in east Orange County.  The event is free and open to the public.

˜ María Padilla, Editor

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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