As Florida’s Puerto Rican population grows, Hispanic organizations are increasing their presence in the Sunshine State, reflecting both the growing political clout of the state’s Puerto Rican community and the political relevance of the state.
LatinoJustice PRLDEF opened an office in Florida earlier this month to advance its civil rights work on behalf of Latinos throughout the Southeastern United States. Based in New York, the organization is focused on voter protection, police abuse, immigrants’ rights including access to higher education, workers’ rights, felon disenfranchisement and voter rights restoration, among many other issues throughout the region.
“Latinos throughout the Southeast can now count on an organization with more than 40 years of success, not only in the Northeastern U.S., but throughout the country including Puerto Rico,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Over the years, Latinos in the Southeast have told us that there was a real need for our lawyers to be in their communities. We have answered that call with the opening of our Southeastern Regional Office.
Most recently LatinoJustice PRLDEF worked with broad community support in Central Florida to ensure proper representation during the state-wide redistricting process. LatinoJustice worked in a broad coalition in Central Florida to create and advocate for several Latino-dominant election districts during the past redistricting process. This included creating the first Latino majority state senate district in Central Florida and a Latino majority congressional seat.
A second New York-based group with a growing Florida presence is the Hispanic Federation, an organization that provides grants to a broad network of Latino non-profit agencies serving the most vulnerable members of the Hispanic community and advocates nationally with respect to the vital issues of education, health, immigration, economic empowerment, civic engagement and the environment.
Finally, the Latino Leadership Organization, a New York-based non-profit, has announced that it will establish its first permanent chapter and training academy in Orlando by January 2016.
“The Hispanic community in Central Florida is diverse and growing,” said Amy Mercado, former chair of the Orange County Democrats and the LLI’s new Orlando director. “No matter the party, we are going to fill a void and educate, empower, engage and mobilize everyday people in the electoral process.”
Latino Leadership Institute Academies provides campaign training in areas such as campaign finance law, messaging, community organizing, fundraising, campaign management and campaign planning.
“We are not reinventing the wheel. Instead, we are mirroring a proven program that has been very successful in New York City,” said Mercado. “Central Florida was chosen as the first location, because of the importance of the I-4 corridor and the growth of the Hispanic/Latino population.”
The Pew Research Center confirms that the Southeast as a region has witnessed a rapid development of Hispanic communities over the past decade. In Florida, in particular, the Puerto Rican community is now poised to overtake the Cuban community in terms of size. Nationally, Puerto Ricans are now second only to Mexican-Americans in population size within the nation’s Hispanic community.
Nearly half of the five millions individuals of Puerto Rican heritage who live on the U.S. mainland live in just two states: New York and Florida. Roughly one million Puerto Ricans now live in Florida, with more arriving every day mainly from the Island and from the Northeast, including New York.