From left to right, Nilian Quiñones, Irkania Orama, Gloria Maunéz, María Rivera, Mairyli Miranda, Débora Torres and Laura Rivera. (GFR Media)

Kissimmee/Davenport - Still wearing the traditional nurse uniform, Mairylí Miranda, a native of San Juan who has lived in Florida for 15 years, openly denounced she is not allowed to speak Spanish at work in a government agency, in Florida.

She was not alone. Six other Puerto Rican women who work at the Florida Health Department clinic in Haines City, joined her yesterday in this complaint.

"We speak in English to the Anglo-Saxons because we are polite, but we speak Spanish with each other because we think in Spanish. But one day they gathered us all together and warned us that if we continued to do so, we would be fired. But there is no law that bans us from speaking Spanish," she said.

"Feeling so bad is really sad, you feel afraid that someone may get angry, or you feel that your heart is going to jump out of your chest because a boss might listen to you and scold you," she said.

Although she described the problem started in 2017, neither she nor her colleagues could say that President Donald Trump´s arrival at the White House that year may have triggered the problem. Trump has spread an anti-immigration rhetoric that some people think has exacerbated the hate rhetoric.

What is ironic is that speaking Spanish was a job requirement when they were recruited. “And that was really surprising because they required us to be fluent in Spanish because of the number of patients who come here," said Gloria Maunez, a native of Mayagüez, who´s lived here for 15 years.

They filed the complaint before the Health Department Human Resources office in Polk County, the area where the clinic is located. They also wrote a letter to the Health Department headquarters in Tallahassee. That agency promised to comment on it, but so far, it did not happen.

During an interview at Wilson Park in Davenport (minutes from Haines City), Laura Rivera, a nurse from Ponce; María Rivera, a Comerío administrative officer; Débora Torres, a secretary from Mayagüez; Irkania Orama, a nurse from Río Grande; and Nilian Quiñones, a nurse from Arecibo, made these complaints and they all voluntarily agreed to have their names published.

Puerto Rican professor Howard Rodríguez-Mori, who has studied Puerto Rican migration to Florida for decades, said these complaints carry racist connotations, although they could be actions arising from the clinic administrators´ lack of knowledge of other cultures.

However, citing rules of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the professor said it is illegal to require an employee to only speak English, except when using that language is part of the company's operation.

 "In 2006, when the Census Bureau published a study revealing that the demographic trend in the United States pointed to exponential growth in the Hispanic population over the next 50 years, an anti-Latino sentiment started to emerge and seemed to recede in 2008 when people focused on the economic crisis and then when Mr. Obama won the presidency," Rodríguez-Mori said.

However, he recalled that Trump´s policy on immigration since he won the presidency in 2017 has fueled this anti-immigrant rhetoric.

 "It's white Americans responding to what they consider a threat, the growth of the Hispanic population, and trying to protect themselves," he added.


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