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The Rise of the 'Florican'

August 28, 2008 02:15 PM
by Shannon Firth
Unemployment, inflation and rising crime rates are driving Puerto Ricans to seek jobs and new lives in Florida.

Soft Economy Hits Puerto Ricans Hard

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A recent survey by marketing research firm Gaither International reports that one in four Puerto Ricans are considering leaving their homeland. A stream of mainly middle-class professionals have already migrated to Florida to escape Puerto Rico’s rising inflation, crime, a shrinking manufacturing sector and a 12 percent unemployment rate. “Floricans” is the new term used to identify the Puerto Ricans now living in Florida. The Miami Herald, citing U.S. Census data, reports that 200,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida between 2000 and 2006, roughly 5 percent of its population of 4 million. This wave of migration continued after the government’s partial shutdown in May 2006, which was triggered by a budget crisis that left almost 100,000 government workers temporarily unemployed.

The same economic downturn hitting the U.S. now is one that Puerto Ricans have been grappling with for two or three years. Frances Robles of the Miami Herald told NPR, “If we think that in the U.S. we’re facing problems with our gas and our electric then they should go to Puerto Rico. … Can you imagine spending a third of your pay on keeping the lights on?”

Most jobseekers from Puerto Rico speak English and have college, and often graduate, degrees. The Miami Herald, citing The Puerto Rican Surgeons Association, said 800 doctors have left in the last three years.

Xavier Vilaro, a sales, marketing and business development VP, told the Herald, “The [job] offers have been good, some have not been what I have been expecting, but it’s been fairly better than back home.”

Frank Oquendo, a recent immigrant who worked as a salesman for a fitness center in Puerto Rico until being forced to take a 25 percent pay cut, confessed reservations about leaving: “Sometimes you feel like a traitor when people ask, ‘Why don’t you stay here and work for your country?’ … I want to help push Puerto Rico forward, but what about my kids?”

Some Puerto Ricans, like Elías Gutiérrez, head of the graduate school at the University of Puerto Rico, are angry about the continuing exodus, telling The Miami Herald: “We are committing collective suicide. This is going to become a country of elderly and poor people.”

Opinion & Analysis: Florida as haven; Puerto Rican statehood

Carlos Marina, a Puerto Rican who moved to Jacksonville, finds that Floridians have embraced stateside Puerto Ricans. He told The Florida Times Union, “You go to the Publix, and it’s, ‘Did you find everything OK?’ People in the aisle say ‘hi.’ Once, it was raining and the clerk said, ‘Do you want me to get your car for you?’” Others, like Yunia Lima, are disappointed and still feel some discrimination. Lima said her neighbors tried to talk the County Commission into stopping her from creating a day care center.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Republican, upset stateside Puerto Rican and Guam immigrants in February, calling them “foreign citizens” and claiming that neither should receive the tax rebates granted by the economic stimulus package. A community protest followed but failed to garner an apology from Brown-Waite, who called it “race-based hysteria.” Samuel Lopez, one of leaders of the protest, said, “It’s obvious that Ginny Brown-Waite has not only lost her mind, but she has also lost touch with the American people.”

Because so many territory-sponsored referendums regarding Puerto Rico’s statehood have failed due to voter apathy, Kenneth McClintock, president of the Puerto Rican Senate, is lobbying for a U.S. Congress-sponsored bill. McClintock told the Naples News, “The day Puerto Rico becomes a state, we’ll see a huge economic boom in that state.” Lourdes Pietri, a Fort Myers resident, remembers many referendums and agrees that voters have lost hope, but ultimately disagreed with McClintock’s perspective on statehood, saying, “Culture means a lot to Puerto Ricans. People who support statehood don’t realize that.”

According to the Puerto Rico Herald’s 2005 poll, 58 percent of Puerto Ricans said they wanted to become part of the United States, while 21 percent want complete sovereignty, and another 21 percent want “independence with free association.”

Historical Context: The first Puerto Ricans in America

Reference: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

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