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The Associated Press
More Puerto Rican Institutions Are Coming To Orlando
By MIKE SCHNEIDER
July 10, 2003
ORLANDO, Florida (AP) - Possessing the fastest-growing Puerto Rican community of any major metropolitan area in the United States, metro Orlando is fast becoming home to many institutions from the island.
City officials announced Thursday that Ana G. Mendez University System, a Puerto Rican institution of higher learning, is opening a bilingual off-campus center in central Florida. Next month, the Puerto Rican daily, El Nuevo Dia, will begin publishing a central Florida edition.
"We are growing and diversifying our opportunities on the mainland," said Zulma Velez-Estrada, interim manager of the central Florida office of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.
While other cities, such as New York, have larger Puerto Rican populations, central Florida's population is the fastest growing of any major metropolitan area, said Celeste Diaz Ferraro, spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington.
The Puerto Rican population in metro Orlando almost tripled from 51,800 people in 1990 to 140,000 people in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Puerto Ricans accounted for about 8.5 percent of metro Orlando's 1.6 million people in the 2000 census and made up more than half of metro Orlando's 271,000 Hispanics. In the 1990 census, Puerto Ricans made up only 4.8 percent of metro Orlando's 1.07 million people.
"It's an attractive destination for people who are looking to leave the island for economic reasons but know they have a community there to support them," said Diaz Ferraro. "There were plenty of job opportunities. Then the community grew and gained critical mass."
Other parts of central Florida also are popular destinations for Puerto Ricans.
Close to half of Florida's 482,000 Puerto Ricans live along the Interstate 4 corridor, stretching from metro Tampa to Daytona Beach, according to the U.S. Census. The I-4 corridor has about 230,000 Puerto Ricans.
"The cost of living is lower than Miami," Diaz Ferraro said.
Jose Mendez, president of the Ana G. Mendez University System, said he chose Orlando because of its growing population. The university will offer bachelor and master degrees and will have 200 students when it opens in September.
Puerto Ricans also are growing as a political force in the area, especially in neighborhoods such as Buenaventura Lakes in Osceola County. Last year, Rep. John Quinones, a Republican from Kissimmee, became the first Puerto Rican Republican elected to the Florida House and Florida Republicans see him as a key to cracking a traditionally Democratic base.
Gov. Jeb Bush recently recognized Quinones as a state Republican fund-raiser, saying he represents the future of the party.
In the past six years, Banco Popular, the island's largest bank, has opened nine banks in central Florida. Banco Popular first established a presence on the mainland 41 years ago in New York.
"You cannot do Banco Popular in the U.S. without doing central Florida," said Frances Ryan, a bank spokeswoman.
Other businesses have followed. The Puerto Rican insurance company, Cooperativa de Seguros Multiples, opened an office in central Florida two years ago.
"Just the fact that it comes from the island, there's a comfort zone and trust," said Eddie Diaz, a Puerto Rican who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year.
Central Florida will have the first non-Puerto Rican edition of El Nuevo Dia when it begins publishing five days a week next month, said Jaime Segura, the Spanish daily's general manager.
The central Florida edition is starting with a circulation of 20,000 and a staff of 35 people.
The Orlando market was chosen because its Puerto Rican residents are more likely to be Spanish-speakers new to the mainland, unlike in places like New York whose Puerto Rican residents are more likely to be second or third generation who are more comfortable in English, Segura said.
"They read in Spanish and they talk in Spanish," Segura said.