Puerto Rico

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Hispanic Chamber to Hold Vigil for Pulse Victims

Phillips memorials
The Hispanic community will gather at the Dr. Phillips center in Downtown Orlando Friday evening for a Spanish-language vigil in honor of the Pulse shooting victims. / Maria Padilla

The Hispanic community is expected to gather Friday evening at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando to honor the Pulse shooting victims in a Spanish-language vigil.

About 73 percent of those killed at the nightclub were Latino, based on Hispanic surnames. Most  were Puerto Rican, the dominant Hispanic demographic in Central Florida. Some of the victims were recent arrivals from the island, which is in the throes of a 10-year recession that has sent its residents fleeing to the states in search of a better economic clime.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs,  city commissioners and other city and county officials are expected to attend the vigilia, organized by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. Participants are being asked to wear white in solidarity.

Orlando Forms Alliance

After the nightclub shooting, City Hall immediately cobbled together about 34 community organizations to form a partnership through which victims and their families could receive information and assistance at the one-stop location. They include Catholic Charities, Consulado de México, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Office, American Red Cross, United Way and Florida Health and Department of Children and Families, among others.

More than 1,000 individuals and families have sought some form of help at the center, which will remain open indefinitely, according to City Hall.

“The center is part of our long-term commitment to assist anyone affected by the tragedy,” wrote Dyer in Mayor Dyer’s Blog.

Unusual or Creative Move

In  an unusual – some might say creative – move, the city of Orlando’s alliance includes several chambers of commerce, among them the Hispanic chamber, the sponsor of the vigilia; the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce Metropolitan Business Association, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the West Indian-American Chamber of Commerce.

(Full disclosure: In 2014, the Hispanic Chamber voted me among the 50 Most Influential Hispanics in Central Florida.)

Orlando City Hall looked to the chambers’ diversified memberships to assist in various areas. But the move has irked some Hispanic grass roots groups, which say that the business organizations are not closely connected to the non-business side of their communities.

After all, members pay to belong to the chambers – up to $550 and $620, respectively, for the African-American and Hispanic chambers – and are not the first stops for families and survivors seeking help, any more than Orlando Inc., Central Florida’s main business group, would be the first stop for other disaster victims.

Room for One More

The smaller organizations say they have been shut out from City Hall, although they, too, are providing vital services to the Hispanic community. They seek respect and a voice alongside the larger associations. For instance, the umbrella group Somos Orlando sprang up in the wake of the tragedy, stepping into the gap of culturally competent services. It includes over 40 organizations, some of them Hispanic Chamber members.

“No Hispanic organization has a seat at the table,” one organizer said.

Being Proactive

To be fair, however, the Hispanic Chamber has declared its solidarity with the Orlando community and has been proactive in advocating for Hispanics, issuing information in Spanish and organizing the vigil. The chamber said it has received “thousands of emails and calls” from people who want to help.

“Our City of Orlando and our community asked how the Chamber would assist, and we have stepped in for our community’s need. I’ve had the opportunity to hear, feel, relate, and at times grieve with my team, the families of the victims, survivors, and community at large,” wrote Hispanic Chamber President Diana Bolivar. “Our community needs us and we’ve spent countless hours of hard work and dedication – away from our personal families – to organize and share resources, compassion, and love for our community.”

The city’s response to the horrific tragedy at Pulse nightclub has been exemplary, even a textbook case for future study. Dyer’s extraordinary leadership has shone bright. The hearts of Hispanic grass roots and professional organizations also are with the community. Surely there must be room for each in Orlando City Hall.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

What: Spanish-language vigil for Pulse victims

Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Time: 6 p.m.

Information: Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 407-428-5870

 

Father Refused to Claim Pulse Nightclub Shooting Victim

pr flags at city hall
Puerto Rican flags were planted on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips center in honor of Pulse nightclub shooting victims. /city of Orlando

All the Pulse nightclub shooting victims’ bodies have been released to next of kin. Even the shooter’s body has left the Orange County Medical Examiner’s building off Michigan Avenue, according to information released this week.

“We effectively and efficiently completed the identification, notification and autopsy process within a 72-hour period – a monumental task,” according to an earlier statement by OCME, which worked with the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System to complete the gruesome task.

But it was touch and go for one particular shooting victim whose father didn’t want to claim the body. Because the son was gay. Because the father was ashamed. Finally and after much convincing, the body was released to Orlando-area relatives and he has been buried. (Thanks to the commenters on this post for your concern.)

This young man shall remain anonymous so as not to further victimize the deceased, who was Puerto Rican. But Orlando Latino confirmed the information with several sources. The tale is part of the untold stories of the Latino victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Social Conservative

The fact is, Puerto Ricans on the island are socially conservative and oftentimes anti-LGBT. While the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in June 2015, gay marriage didn’t reach Puerto Rico until April 2016 – 10 months after the highest court’s ruling – because a San Juan district court said the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t apply to Puerto Rico.

“The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin,” wrote the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in slapping down Puerto Rico’s claim.

But the local court didn’t “err” in reflecting the island’s social conservatism, an attitude it shares with many other Spanish-speaking pew gay pollcountries.

In Puerto Rico, 72 percent of Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study of social and moral issues in Latin America. Among island Catholics opposition was significantly lower –  45 percent. Puerto Rico is about evenly split between Protestants and Catholics. Overall, about 55 percent of islanders oppose same-sex marriage.

 The highest opposition – over 80 percent – is in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Meanwhile, Uruguay scored the lowest, 31 percent opposition, which is even lower than the 34 percent of U.S. Hispanics who do not support gay marriage, according to the study.

 

Support for same-sex marriage is higher among younger generations. About   48 percent of the 18 to 34 year olds in Puerto Rico favor it, a figure that drops to 26 percent for people over age 35.

The pain of being Puerto Rican and gay is real. In the island’s macho culture (relative to the states), anti-gay bias is not subtle and has reached the highest levels of government.

Bias None too Subtle

In 2009, Puerto Rico’s Senate president alleged during a radio interview that a fellow senator was like  “el petardo que no explota” or like a firecracker that doesn’t explode, insinuating he was gay. The statement was denounced by pro LGBT groups.

Perhaps this why it took pop star Ricky Martin a while before declaring his sexual orientation. He is now the most famous gay Puerto Rican and no doubt his coming out in 2010 helped many others to do the same. In Puerto Rico, everybody loves Ricky Martin – he is famous, wealthy, good looking and more.

But nobody knew the Orlando shooting victim. No coming out on Oprah for him. And the victim’s family – or at least his father –didn’t accept the son’s sexual orientation, adding further insult to the sad and sensational circumstances of his death.

Puerto Rico Crisis Offers Business Opportunities

Hisp CofC 2016
Puerto Rico economic opportunities were discussed at the Hispanic Business Conference & Expo this week.  / Maria Padilla

Every fiasco creates opportunity, if people care to look carefully. That was the message of a panel discussion about the Puerto Rico financial crisis held this week at the Hispanic Business Conference and Expo in Orlando.

The island’s many problems are known to Central Floridians, tens of thousands of whom have fled Puerto Rico to settle here. But the business panelists pointed out that positive things are also happening on the island.

Hisp Biz Conference
Moderator Rafael Lama (standing), Carlos López Lay, Sonia Colón and Gustavo Vélez discuss Puerto Rico economic potential during the Hispanic Business Conference. /Maria Padilla

“The other side of the situation in Puerto Rico is that not everything is going bad,” said Gustavo Vélez, president of Inteligencia Económica, an economic consulting firm based in San Juan. “Over the last 200 years, Puerto Rico has been restructuring itself – from coffee production in the 1800s to becoming a pharmaceutical hub in the region” until 1996, when federal tax credits were eliminated and eventually phased out.

Carlos López Lay, owner of a Puerto Rico auto parts business, was even cheerier, explaining he formed a movement titled “Yo no me quito,” or We Don’t Quit, to demonstrate islanders’ resilience in the face of a 10-year economic decline and the island’s inability to pay its mountain of debt.

“There are people in the community doing extraordinary things in Puerto Rico,” López said, adding “Yo no me quito, ustedes tampoco y vamos por más.”

The social media movement, with reportedly over 25,000 followers, came under criticism earlier this year as a dig at Puerto Ricans who “abandon” the island during its time of need for other parts of the U.S. It’s a big, ongoing discussion that includes hurtful and sometimes hateful epithets. (I wish I had saved some comments from a particularly vitriolic discussion. Next time, readers.)

López  said that’s not what he meant. People in the states are the patria extendida or extended country, he said.

Puerto Rico is an impoverished U.S. territory that has a century-old history of migration. For generations it has had a conflicted relationship with those who leave, mostly poor islanders. Today’s migrants are better educated but no less stigmatized. For their part, migrants demonstrate affection for the island – there are political protests and other activity on behalf of the island taking place here each week – even if they weren’t born in Puerto Rico and even when there’s little reciprocity.

The panelists are correct – there’s always opportunity in every storm. For instance, Puerto Rican businesses have been following their customers to Central Florida for years, a trend that has accelerated as the island economy has tanked.

The island newspaper El Nuevo Día, whose business editor Rafael Lama moderated the panel, published a special edition this week highlighting nine island companies that have successfully set up shop in Central Florida.

But the discussion did come off as if Puerto Rico’s business community doesn’t get how the ground game has devastated middle- and low-income households. And how Central Florida is picking up the detritus, educating and orienting newcomers about how things are done here.

“We don’t do business here like in Puerto Rico,” commented Rick Hernández of Winter Springs, a Central Floridian for 35 years. “I’ve seen eight companies that have gone back to Puerto Rico.”

A frustrated State Rep. John Cortés (D-Dist. 43) said, “I’m tired of the talk and no action. People have to get more involved.”

The panelists agreed.

“We need to integrate into the big Hispanic market in Central Florida,” said attorney Sonia Colón, whose law firm Ferraiuoli LLC has opened offices in Orlando.

Vélez, the economist, closed, “We need to have a new way of doing things” on the island.

The Hispanic Business Conference, sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, is being held at the Orange County Convention Center-North Concourse and  runs through Saturday, when the vendor exhibit area is open free to the public.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Who Is the Puerto Rican Migrant?

Vargas - PR Summit 2016
Prof. Carlos Vargas-Ramos of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican migrant. /photo by Maria Padilla

More than 440,000 Puerto Ricans have left Puerto Rico since an economic recession hit the island in 2006 and which hasn’t relented.

As is well documented, Florida has become the No. 1 destination for migrants, boosting the Sunshine State’s Puerto Rican population to over 1 million – and growing.

But who is taking up residence in Florida and how does that migrant compare with the Puerto Rican who stays behind?

That was the subject of a presentation at the seventh annual Puerto Rican Summit in Orlando, where scores of Puerto Ricans gathered to hear academic and other experts discuss migration trends and the island’s fiscal crisis.

Profile of the Puerto Rican Migrant

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, professor at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies affiliated with Hunter College in New York (centropr.hunter.cuny.edu), sketched a profile of the Puerto Rican newcomer by the numbers:

• 31 PERCENT

Puerto Ricans who left the island since 2006 are concentrated in just eight Central Florida counties.

• 50-50

Gender split among migrants, a major difference compared with, say, Mexican immigration, which is mostly male. The Puerto Rican migrant wants to keep the family together, Vargas said.

• 61 PERCENT

Participate in the Florida labor force, versus just 40 percent on the island, a significant difference.

• 30 PERCENT

Migrants with Bachelor’s degrees versus 28 percent in Puerto Rico.

The island is hollowing out, Vargas said. “It is the middle section of Puerto Rican economy that is leaving,” he noted.

That leaves Puerto Rico with higher- and lower-income population groups but not enough taxpaying middle income-earning households. And it’s also creating a downward spiral in many towns, where deaths now outnumber births or migration.

Reshaping Central Florida

Conversely, the nearly 150,000 Puerto Ricans who have resettled in Florida since 2006 are reshaping the local economy and politics. (The figure doesn’t include record Puerto Rico migration in 2015, according to preliminary reports.)

For instance, Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in March – a much lower 4.2 percent in Orange County – approaching what economists call “full employment.” That means people who want to work have jobs, leaving positions unfilled because there aren’t enough people to apply. Enter the Puerto Rican migrant.

In the political sphere, Hispanic voter registration means that for the first time more Hispanics are registered to vote in Osceola County than nonHispanic whites (43 percent vs. 41 percent, as of February), which may impact elections if Hispanics exercise their vote.

But according to Vargas, Puerto Ricans generally have lower election participation rates, “leaving votes on the table.”

The Puerto Rican Summit, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton at SeaWorld, is organized by Dynamic CDC, a Miami-based economic development group that seeks to “create a vision for a greater Puerto Rican community in the U.S.”

Summit founder Luis De Rosa and others drafted a letter directed to White House and congressional leaders urging action to stem the financial and demographic bleeding in Puerto Rico, which is carrying over $72 billion in debt it cannot repay.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor