The Rise of Frente Unido
It was standing room only last night at a community forum, Puerto Ricans in Central Florida: Past, Present, Future, sponsored by Frente Unido 436 (United Front 436). Close to 200 people and several elected officials gathered at Ana G. Mendez campus on Semoran for a lively discussion aimed to inform and educate the community about the Puerto Rican community.
The evening kicked off with a special message from the President of Frente Unido 436, Rico Piccard, who envisioned the series of sessions to engage the community. Zoraida Rios-Andino opened the meeting and kept the powerful program moving all night. “I didn’t come here to be a community activist, but I cannot sit by while injustice is around us,” she said.
The program’s three-member panel consisted of Patricia Silver from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, Doug Head from the Black, Latino, and Puerto Rican Alliance for Justice, and Luis Pastrana from Ana G. Mendez. Elected officials in attendance included Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, State Senator Darren Soto, Clerk of Courts Armando Ramirez of Osceola, State Representative Victor Torres and his wife Carmen Torres, and State Representative Joe Saunders.
Patricia Silver delivered an insightful and interesting history of Puerto Rican migration to Central Florida, as well as the current status of the community. There are currently close to 250,000 Puerto Ricans in the Orlando Metro area, about 11.5% of the population which is a larger proportion now than in New York. Puerto Ricans now make up about 9% of the voting age population in the area.
Doug Head presented a powerful presentation on the electoral realities, voting trends and demographics of Orange County. He also addressed the hot-button issue of County redistricting, which riled up the crowd still seeking better representation. Several plaintiffs of the current lawsuit against the County were in attendance. Another key message in the presentation was the large drop off of turnout and participation in Orange County elections during non-Presidential elections.
Luis Pastrana, speaking in Spanish, left the crowd laughing and engaged, more than an hour and a half into the program. He called for unity and encouraged Puerto Ricans coming to the community to understand the system here and to get involved. His call to action clearly resonated with the crowd which enthusiastically reacted to the challenges ahead and the need to act.
The crowd continued with a discussion. The success of this event, the first of many to come from Frente Unido 436 (United Front 436), shows the growing role and place for Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, as well as how powerful a bloc Puerto Ricans are becoming.