"Puerto Ricans have listened"

Orlando - For the first time in Florida's political history, Hispanic community-based organizations created a great partnership to achieve the same goal and focus on educating hundreds of thousands citizens - mainly Puerto Ricans - about power and influence of their vote in this southern state.

 "This is the first time that a coalition was created to mobilize Hispanics in a specific way and, with it, we seek to make sure they understand the political process here, because when they arrive they feel intimidated," said Betsy Franceschini, director of the Florida Hispanic Federation.

 Yesterday, Franceschini participated in a teleconference with other organization leaders such as Frederick Vélez, of the Respeta mi Gente (Respect my People) group, and Nancy Batista, of Mi familia vota (My family votes).

 Congressman Darren Soto, of Puerto Rican descent, also attended the meeting and celebrated the significant number of Hispanics - mainly Puerto Ricans - who have registered as voters for the November 6 midterm elections.

"The Hispanic participation we see will ensure that politicians listen," said the congressman.

 It is estimated that 1.2 million Puerto Ricans live in Florida and that after Hurricane María, a year ago, more than 50,000 Puerto Ricans moved to this state, particularly to the central area, which is known as the I-4 Corridor.

 I-4 is an interstate highway that runs diagonally across Florida, from east to west.

Puerto Ricans are concentrated in different cities, in counties, along that highway.

"More than 50,000 people moved to Florida from Puerto Rico after María, and I have worked with many of those who have been very active politically and who have registered. But, before María, they were already more than a million, and many of them were not registered either, but these organizations made a great effort to achieve these registrations," said Soto.

 The Hispanic Federation registered 27,000 new voters. 90 percent are Hispanic and, within that group, 80 percent identified themselves as Puerto Rican.

"Our communities have taken midterm elections very seriously," said Batista, director of Mi Familia Vota in Florida.

This organization registered 30,000 new voters and 51 percent of them identified themselves as Puerto Rican.

Recently, Marcos Vilar, director of Alianza for Progress, estimated the number of Puerto Ricans registered as voters at 77,000. This number comes from the records obtained by seven organizations, including the Hispanic Federation and Respeta mi gente.

 Boricua Vota, Organice PR, Faith in Florida, Misión Boricua and Vamos por Puerto Rico (Vamos4PR) are also part of this effort.

Registrations through PODER, the digital platform founded in Florida by the governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to encourage the Puerto Rican vote, joined these figures.

The president of that entity, Luis Figueroa, said that more than 30,000 people took the steps to register through that portal.

Although the exact number of registered Puerto Ricans will be unknown, the estimated number is significant and historical, according to community leaders.

"We have been insisting on the power they have in Florida and in Puerto Rico if they vote," said Vélez, director of Respeta mi gente.

 “Puerto Ricans have listened. They are paying attention, and based on the experience in Puerto Rico, with the devastation left by María, they have understood and received the message about the influence of their vote," concluded Franceschini.

Kara Watkins