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Who Speaks For Hispanics? Check It Out
By Maria Padilla
October 31, 2001
The Hispanic community today is at an intriguing crossroads. There are more than 300,000 Hispanics in Central Florida, which is enough to make people sit up and take notice. But the community itself is like a giant bear in hibernation.
Thousands of people come out in droves for festivals, such as Sunday's Festival Calle Orange in downtown Orlando.
However, the community doesn't show up for much else, which is a sure sign of misplaced priorities.
There is yet another danger lurking here, one that is going to become more pressing as time goes on: Who legitimately speaks for the Hispanic community, if the community at large is not civically or politically engaged?
At last count, this region had more than 60 groups representing different segments of the Hispanic community. Most were nonpolitical, more in the nature of organizations centered on nationality.
There are Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian and other clubs that are social in nature, although many do voter registration and fund-raising for good causes, such as student scholarships. The great majority has no political agenda, and it's safe to say it isn't interested in pursuing one either.
Most people perceive politics as being a dirty business. For the Hispanic community, it's even more so, especially for people who hail from countries where politics is rife with corruption and socio-political turmoil.
Countries such as Mexico and Colombia make the top of that list. Puerto Rico is lower down, because, as a United States territory, federal dollars flowing to the island make its political system more accountable. Note last week's FBI arrest of an island legislator on corruption charges.
Still, Puerto Rico is a very political place. And when people move here, oftentimes they also are looking to get away from politics. The point is, many Hispanics aren't interested in getting involved, while others are too busy working to pay attention.
That leaves a vacuum.
Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike must pay attention to who fills that vacuum, for there are barbarians at the gate.
A community of 300,000 people -- and growing -- is ripe for exploitation, especially if most of its members are somnolent. This can cause great damage to a nascent community that will take hard work to repair.
These days all it takes is for someone to slap Puerto Rican, Latin or Hispanic on a group to make it sound on the up and up. It especially grabs the attention of the non-Hispanic community, whose lack of meaningful contact with Hispanics, the state's fastest growing community, makes it eager to embrace whatever and whomever is out there.
Vigilance is required. Any group that purports to represent Hispanics should be closely scrutinized, especially by Hispanics. How many members do they really have? What is their mission? What is their track record here or elsewhere? Legitimate groups wouldn't hesitate to answer these questions forthrightly.
Check to see whether the group is incorporated in Florida. The State Department's Division of Corporations keeps a record of all groups active and inactive, and it's available online.
In addition, pay attention to what groups are saying supposedly in the name of Hispanics. Call, write or e-mail the entities they're trying to influence, and voice your opinion.
Don't let others speak for you without verifying who they are and what agenda they are pushing.