Esta página no está disponible en español.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Puerto Rican Leaders Seek Political Power
By Madeline Baró Diaz
April 20, 2002
CORAL GABLES · Florida has the fastest-growing population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, yet Puerto Ricans lack the visibility and political power of some fellow Hispanics, community leaders and scholars said during a conference on Puerto Rican issues Friday.
The conference at the University of Miami was titled "The Puerto Rican Vacilón," denoting the double meaning of a good time as well as the ambiguity of issues surrounding Puerto Ricans, a Hispanic group not always considered part of the immigrant community. The conference was the idea of Frances Negrón-Muntaner, a filmmaker, writer, journalist and cultural critic who called it a "first-of-its-kind" get-together.
"It should have happened a long time ago," she said. "There is a critical mass of Puerto Ricans in Florida. You already feel the numbers."
Puerto Rican leaders said they are hoping to empower their community by registering Puerto Rican voters, educating them about the political process in the United States and making them aware of the power they can wield at election time.
Almost as many Puerto Ricans live in the United States, 3.4 million, as live in Puerto Rico, 3.6 million. According to the U.S. census, Florida has 482,027 Puerto Rican residents, second to New York, which has more than 1 million.
Within Florida, Orange County has the largest Puerto Rican population at 86,583. Miami-Dade is second with 80,327 and Broward is third with 54,938. Unlike Miami-Dade, however, where Puerto Ricans are the second-largest Hispanic group behind Cubans, they are the largest Hispanic group in Broward.
Their U.S. citizenship sets Puerto Ricans apart from other Hispanic groups, said Raúl Duany, chairman of the Puerto Rican Professional Association of South Florida, a conference co-sponsor.
"Being U.S. citizens, we fall through the cracks in research," he said. "We're not immigrants. We're not exiles."
Puerto Ricans fall through the political cracks, as well. Puerto Ricans do not have a cause that the whole community can rally behind, Duany said. The question of statehood for Puerto Rico is a hotly debated topic within the community.
The community also lacks political representation. Few Puerto Ricans have been elected to office in the United States.
Efforts are being made to increase political participation, however. The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, under the office of Puerto Rico's governor, has offices in Miami and Orlando that are involved in a voter registration effort.
Puerto Rican voters in Florida are considered the "swing vote." Although traditionally sympathetic to the Democratic Party, Puerto Ricans do not have a strong affiliation with either party and are likely to vote for the candidate who they think will serve the community best, said Manuel Benitez, director of the South Florida regional office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. As such, the Puerto Rican vote is courted by Republicans and Democrats alike.
"Most Puerto Ricans don't recognize the power that we have with the numbers that we have," Benitez said.
The voter registration effort by Benitez's office includes education. Benitez thinks many Puerto Ricans do not vote because they feel like they are only in their communities temporarily and also because of confusion with the election process in the United States.
In Puerto Rico elections for major offices are held once every four years, on the same day as the U.S. presidential election. Puerto Ricans also do not vote for judges, school board members, sheriffs and other local officials, Benitez said.
Conference organizers said they hoped the gathering, which wraps up today, would generate community self-examination, raise awareness of Puerto Rican issues and stimulate dialogue and research.
"I hope it'll help us understand ourselves a little better," Duany said.