30 posts

Pied Piper of the Puerto Rican Diaspora?

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló threatened to lead the diaspora vote in the 2018 midterm elections. Here he leads a Christmas parranda down an Old San Juan street. / Rosselló-Facebook

The governor of Puerto Rico wants to be the Pied Piper of the Puerto Rican vote, leading the diaspora to the polls in 2018 if Congress doesn’t treat the island better under tax reform. Well, tax reform came and went and Governor Ricardo Rosselló may have to make good on his promise because the reform designates Puerto Rico as a foreign entity at considerable cost to the island economy.

“We are a significant voting bloc in the United States that perhaps hasn’t been organized well in the past,” said Rosselló in an article in Politico. “The diaspora, the Puerto Rican exodus, has always wanted to help Puerto Rico, it just hasn’t been crystal clear how they can do it. If we can establish that organization we can have plenty of influence.”

Rosselló is a little late to the political party, for everyone and her grandmother has been trying to corral the Puerto Rican vote, especially in Central Florida, with the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state. And this has been the case for quite a while.

Something Laughable

That aside, there is something laughable about Puerto Rico’s failed ruling class, of which Rosselló is a legacy child for his father Pedro Rosselló was a two-term governor, promising to sew up the stateside Puerto Rican vote. The island’s ruling class has demonstrated beyond a doubt it has no clothes of any political stripes, having abandoned the largely poor people of Puerto Rico to fend for themselves in the worse natural disaster in modern Puerto Rico and U.S. history. In addition, it has shown no political accountability for the man-made disasters that erupted after the hurricanes struck.

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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: https://www.insyncedu.com/en#how.

  •   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 www.ocps.net 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

Elections Officials Strike Back at Trump

Trump’s allegations of voter fraud could lead people to lose confidence in the electoral process.

President Trump continues to make unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud during the 2016 presidential elections, this time calling for a major federal investigation into what most experts say is a nonexistent problem.

Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million to Hillary Clinton, the highest for any presidential candidate, but he won the Electoral College vote by a narrow margin.

If left unchecked, Trump’s allegations could undermine the nation’s electoral system as voters lose confidence in the voting process. In addition, it could prompt unnecessary actions, such as a repeal of motor voter laws that make it easier to register to vote and to unreasonable voter ID requirements. These and other measures would fall heavily on the Latino and African American voter communities.

Seminole Elections Supervisor Michael Ertel
Orange Elections  Supervisor Bill Cowles

But two well-respected Central Florida elections officials –  Orange and Seminole Counties  Supervisors of Elections Michael Ertel and Bill Cowles  – are speaking out against Trump’s debunked claims.

“Voter fraud is likely one of the least committed felonies in America,” wrote Ertel and Cowles in response to Trump’s assertions in a dual post published on Facebook. “Florida’s system, while not perfect, is among the best at ensuring voter trust.”

(Full disclosure: I have been a poll worker in Seminole County under Ertel and I also translate Seminole County ballot material.)

Here, in their own words, are Ertel’s and Cowles’ answer  to Trump’s assertions.

“Long, but important post. President Trump has created quite the kerfuffle with today’s tweets concerning voter fraud. To be clear: voter fraud is likely one of the least committed felonies in America, and barring system-wide collusion, it is simply not the case that “millions voted illegally.” However, there are always political operatives who attempt to manipulate the process throughout, and to pretend it doesn’t exist at all, is to either be putting your head in the sand or to exercise an extreme naivete of the presence of dirty political tactics. There is good news: Florida’s system, while not perfect, is among the best at ensuring voter trust. We have hard-working, ethical supervisors of elections, and Seminole County is home to pollworkers and staff who together constitute America’s Finest Elections Team. Moreover, like with any crime, there are things which can be done at the state and local levels to decrease the likelihood of the crime being committed. From strong enforcement of existing laws, to realistic voter registration guidelines, to common sense photo ID laws with non-arduous provisions for those without an ID, to local election officials who are savvy enough to identify the potential threat areas and create procedures for eliminating or minimizing the threats, to community members contacting their elections administrators if they see anything they’re not comfortable with. Like with any endeavor, we can’t stop all bad actors from attempts, but we can work together to ensure their efforts are thwarted. An honest appraisal of the process is fair, and if done in a dignified, professional manner, could certainly bear positive results. Because after this new discussion, the trust in the democratic process of electing our republic’s leaders now hangs in the balance.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

New Reality Begins to Set In

A new reality is beginning to set in but we don’t know what it looks like yet except a lot of people are seeing red. /Go Daddy stock photo

A new reality is beginning to set in one week after the presidential election. The country appears to be poised to tear at the seams after a divisive presidential election filled with hateful rhetoric.

Here are some ironies and random thoughts.

The same people who rail about John Mica losing his congressional seat to inexperienced newcomer Stephanie Murphy say nothing about the entire country being run by an inexperienced Donald Trump-come-lately.

About 22 years ago Mica was a freshman congressman. We have all been freshman – in high school, perhaps in college. We like to think we all start at the bottom and work our way up, but that’s not true. Here’s a solid example: Trump, a man who has held no elected office, represents a special kind of dispensation, a special kind of affirmative action.

But it’s funny how things work out. Mica’s name is being bandied about as a potential Transportation secretary, allowing the 70-odd year old to spend many more years as a Washington insider, bringing home the pork we all hate, except when it’s for us.

Off to the Races

 The dust hasn’t settled and already Seminole people are actively recruiting a Republican opponent to run against Murphy in 2018. Although I disagree, here’s a true confession: Democrats, this is how you win elections – by recruiting early and often. But  I see in this shades of then Senate Minority Leader (now Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell stating that his job was to make sure Barack Obama was a one-term president. Obstructionism followed. A reminder to all of what McConnell said this past week about the GOP sweep, “Elections are not forever.”

• Republican State Rep. Bob Cortés,  just re-elected to a second term in Tallahassee, is one name bandied about to challenge Murphy. Cortés won by about 52 percent each in the two-county, Seminole-Orange House District 30, a respectable showing considering that Orange is decidedly blue. Cortés, of course, is Hispanic – Puerto Rican, to be exact. If he were to run for Congressional District 7, it would be a Trojan horse candidacy aimed at dividing the Latino vote. That’s exactly what happened when he challenged incumbent Karen Castor Dentel for his first term. The fact is, many Hispanics are eager to see other Hispanics in office and will cross party lines to do it. Hence, the promise of a Cortés’ candidacy to keep the GOP’s hope alive.

Flattery May Get You Somewhere

• To all the GOP people who say they’re not interested in running for Mica’s old seat: Stop it already. Just stop. It rings false. Marco Rubio said no to Senate re-election until he said . Plus, political flattery can make anyone think they can walk on water. Only the strong survive.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence has been elevated to be “the new Dick Cheney.” My friends, there is no comfort in that, no comfort at all, considering how Cheney and his inner circle got us into a bad war. Are they saying that Pence is Trump’s brain?


•  America almost went crazy this year because Malia Obama may have toked on a joint at a festival with friends. It blew over when folks realized, hey, Baby Boomers are legalizing pot everywhere. Oops!  But  imagine if Malia or First Lady Michelle Obama had nude photos all over the Internet as Melania Trump does? Would lightning and thunder ever cease?

• Europe: Spare me the lecture and condolences. I’m not having that from the Brexit people. Same goes for Colombia, whose voters nixed a peace agreement with the FARC rebel forces. Nope.

Thanks But No Thanks

Thank you but no, I ain’t wearing no safety pin on my lapel, meant to indicate that the wearer might feel in danger in this new America because of their religion, nationality or other status. The Democratic Party truly is bankrupt if this is the best Cong. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida can come up with.

I know a lot of people who feel anxious, myself included, due to the election outcome and 15 months of Trump campaign smack talk. Will he really do this or that?  I’ll wait for the evidence. If you really want to do some good, go volunteer some place.

Stop the bawling already. The election was a true shocker, and for no one more than Donald Trump and fellow Republicans who expected a loss. But they broke it and now they own it. Trump is looking positively frightened – and chastened.

A recent news story stated that Trump told Chris Christie he didn’t expect to last beyond October 2015 in the GOP primary season. But he outlasted everyone – including 16 other Republicans far, far, far more qualified than he – and won squarely if not fairly. Don’t boo-hoo; instead, do something. Trump, in true fashion, won’t be chastened for long.

Reality Check

• To protest or not to protest?  It’s your Constitution-given right to free speech and freedom of association. Go ahead, if it makes you feel better or if you must. But protest without an end game or action is … bawling.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor