It appears that misunderstandings among Puerto Ricans of various party affiliations have been resolved with a clear focus on promoting unity and highlighting Puerto Rico Day in Tallahassee. The aim is to capture the attention of the Florida legislature by working together towards a common goal of shedding light on the issues affecting Puerto Ricans living in Florida.
This unity is being achieved, as recently demonstrated during the press conference held by event organizers, including State Senator Victor Torres, State Representative Johanna López, Alianza Center, and community organizations. They announced that the date for Puerto Rico Day 2024 at the Florida Capitol will be on Monday, January 29th, and Tuesday, January 30th, 2024, during the regular session.
Senator Torres, the highest-ranking Puerto Rican in the Florida Capitol, clarified doubts about participation and the program, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and collective effort to achieve the proposed objectives. Although the program is still in progress, a general idea of schedules and topics to be addressed, such as education, healthcare, economy, and other community interests including voter education, was outlined.
The issue of how unity was achieved was essential. “We were invited and discussed everything at the table, as we are doing now,” shared Bob Cortés, former Republican representative. “It was a process that began about two weeks ago and has been gaining momentum. The goal is to achieve a unified Puerto Rico Day. At one point, we were also planning to celebrate separately. However, we realized that having two Puerto Rico events on the same day would divide us, which was not our intention. The idea is to show a united Puerto Rico.”
“I am very proud that as Puerto Ricans, we can collaborate and set aside partisan affiliations. This is a dream. I remember having a conversation and saying, ‘My dream is to bring both affiliations to the same table,’ and I think we are achieving that with Tallahassee. I am here to serve you and to work alongside all of you. Remember that we have different points of view, but we have an island in our hearts, which is Puerto Rico, and we have to represent Puerto Rico in Tallahassee,” expressed Representative López.
It was announced that the Hispanic Federation, Alianza Center, Legal Services Clinic, SOS by Urbander, and APM-FL Initiative, the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Florida, and PRFAA are the first to convene, but the event is open to all who wish to join, participate in organizing meetings, or sponsor the event. Republican communicator Luis Hernández joined the effort and offered his radio program to promote the event. Additionally, it was highlighted that Republican representative Paula Stark wishes to get involved in the project, and there was Peter Vivaldi, representing her office.
“This is the opportunity we provide to everyone, as we will have the presence of the Senate President and the House Speaker, both Republicans. This demonstrates that it is a bipartisan event. Although I am the only Puerto Rican in the Senate at the moment and Joanna is the only Puerto Rican in the House, we must ensure that our community is well informed about who is up there,” said Torres.
It was explained that interested individuals who wish to participate and cover all travel costs have three options: a $100 ticket that includes everything—meals, hotel, transportation from Orlando to Tallahassee. Then for those people who will use their transportation, there is a $35 ticket that includes the welcome reception. There is another ticket option for $25. They will soon be adding information about flights and hotels; the starting point, time, and other details. If people from other cities outside of Orlando have to make their travel arrangements and then purchase one of the other tickets that grant entry to the reception.
The organizers said that the tickets already have a subsidy thanks to the $5000 donated by the first sponsor, Alianza Center, and then the sponsorship of the Roberto Clemente Foundation for $3000. “We want you, if you register, to have an interest in participating. We cannot do it for free because people say, ‘Oh, I’m going,’ and then at the last minute, they say, ‘Oh, you know, I can’t go.’ But if you register and pay $100, that’s your spot. If you want to give it to someone else in your family or something because something else came up, that’s up to you, but we know that the $100 guarantees your spot,” Torres explained.
A turning point was when the organizers were asked about the nature of the event. Although it was mentioned that it would not be politically partisan, based on previous experiences, there were still concerns about it. However, it was clarified that the participation of all Puerto Ricans, regardless of their affiliation, is crucial to the unity approach that the organizers are seeking.
And it was during the last celebration of Puerto Rico Day that took place in 2020 before the pandemic, some Republicans complained that the balance was leaning towards the Democratic ideology. What happened was that some of the panelists who participated in the educational sessions held in Tallahassee expressed their personal political positions before addressing the topic objectively, which made the Puerto Ricans who were part of the Republicans uncomfortable.
“Whether you are a Democrat, Independent, or Republican, we know that we don’t agree on everything and that we are living in a very polarized moment in this country. However, if we want to succeed as a community, we must be able, at times, to come together and respect each other, regardless of what you believe, regardless of your convictions,” expressed Marcos Vilar, President, and CEO of Alianza for Progress.
“It is political, but political doesn’t mean partisan, so we have to make it clear that being political doesn’t mean that we are going to disagree. It will not be confrontational or disrespectful, but we have to talk about the issues that affect our Puerto Rican community. We will not take sides. I will not say ‘vote for Democrats’ or ‘vote for Republicans’,” explained Representative López.
“I am celebrating my last year in the Senate with this effort of voter mobilization and Puerto Rican culture, and we seek to have an impact on the community and show Tallahassee who we are and what we contribute. Therefore, with the help of the Puerto Rican Chamber, with Marcos Villar, Tony Suárez, and also with Jimmy Torres, we collaborate to ensure that everyone is well represented in this effort. We will all be together, Democrats and Republicans, and this is something that we must understand in the state of Florida, where we have 1.2 million Puerto Ricans,” stated Torres.
To showcase that Puerto Rican diversity, the conference included Joel Montilla, President of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, as well as teacher Susana Peña and doctor Iván Rivera. On the other hand, Vilar mentioned Anthony Suárez as the pioneer in starting the Puerto Rico Day event in the year 2000.
“I thank all of you for giving me this honor. Yes, I was the first and brought with me the first proclamation of Puerto Rico Day in the year 2000. It was signed by the Republican Senate President, the Speaker of the House, the Republican President, and Jeb Bush, who was the Republican Governor. They signed it because they knew that the Puerto Rican community was, at that time, a growing community in central Florida. When I arrived in Tallahassee, the Cuban community used to have something they called ‘The Kings of Mambo.’ It was so big, and it was full because many attended. Everyone respected the Cuban community for the effort they had made in bringing the community. And that is the purpose of Puerto Rico Day,” recalled Suárez, who carried the framed first proclamation of Puerto Rico Day promulgated in the year 2000.
Cecilia Figueroa from Senator Torres’ office explained that Puerto Rico Day focuses on a specific theme, whether it’s art, sports, or the like. This year, voter education has been chosen, but only for a panel that will take place from 10 am to 11:30 am on Tuesday. However, other sessions will be held on topics that affect the Puerto Rican community, and people can attend the one that interests them the most. Then, everyone will gather for lunch and cultural events. There will also be domino tables, among other things. The groups will visit the sessions of the Senate and the Representatives.
There is also a website for Puerto Rico Day, with the ability for each person to purchase their ticket or for companies or sponsors to donate, contribute to the cost of this event, which is estimated to cost approximately $60,000.
General statistics of Puerto Ricans in Florida Population:
According to the 2020 census, Florida had around 1.2 million residents of Puerto Rican origin. Geographical distribution: Puerto Ricans in Florida are concentrated in areas such as Orlando, Kissimmee, Tampa, Miami, and other regions of southern Florida. Employment: Many Puerto Ricans in Florida are employed in industries ranging from tourism and hospitality to health care, education, financial services, and the manufacturing industry. Business participation: Puerto Ricans in Florida have contributed to the growth of the business sector in the state, establishing businesses in a variety of industries, such as restaurants, retail, construction, professional services, and other fields. Average age: The average age of the Puerto Rican population in Florida generally consists of young professionals, families, and older individuals.
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