Kissimmee, Florida - When Brandon Rivera, 22, Puerto Rican and neighbor of Saint Cloud, to pointed out that he has not registered as a voter and that he is not interested in voting "because politicians lie," Marcia Mendoza, a Hispanic Federation volunteer who helps to register voters, confronted him firmly, but kindly.
"You are Puerto Rican, should not think so. Your vote is important and even more for all Puerto Ricans," said Marcia, who arrived from the Dominican Republic to Orlando three months ago.
"I do not care about politicians. I'm not interested," Brandon replied mixing Spanish with English, as he leaving Melao bakery, the heart of the Puerto Rican cuisine in Kissimmee, pushing the stroller with his two-month son, Matthew Isaiah.
"Don´t miss the opportunity to vote. It will take you just 30 seconds to register," Marcia begged, holding a pile of registration forms. But Brandon stood firm and walked away from the scene.
Tuesday, October 9 is the last day for citizens to register. This can be done through internet: https://registertovoteflorida.gov; resorting to community organizations such as the Hispanic Federation, or even during the process of requesting or renewing a driver's license or when processing other government services, such as food stamps.
The truth is that, these days, there are volunteers from non-profit organizations helping to register voters.
Yahaira Cardona and Juan Ortiz, a married couple from Puerto Rico who moved here four months ago, walked by the door of the famous Puerto Rican bakery, featuring ‘quesitos’, ‘flans’, ‘mallorcas’ filled with sugar and other Puerto Rican goodies peep from the window.
"We registered (to vote) when we requested the license here. Right there they ask you if you want to register," said Yahaira, who explained that she registered as an unaffiliated voter. "We still do not know who we're voting for. First, we will pray God to help us and vote for someone Hispanic, with values and compassion for others," she added.
Marta and Frankie Pérez have just had breakfast here. She is from Vega Baja and he is from Manatí. They have been in the US for 12 years and they have their home in Kissimmee, one of the cities with the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in Florida.
"We have been voters since we arrived and we have always voted. We are Democrats, definitely, and this government has to be stopped," said Marta. "We go to a church and almost everyone there is Puerto Rican, everyone is registered," she said holding a glass full of freshly squeezed orange juice in her hand.
"If you want your voice to be heard, you have to vote, because those who do not vote have no right to complain," Frankie said.
"We lived in Bunnell (about two hours north of Orlando) and there, in some restaurants, if you say something in Spanish, they simply do not serve you. These are places where racism is still strongly perpetuated," he added. "There is an electoral boom. You see it every day, you see them giving opinions, participating and there are even more Puerto Rican candidates running for political positions," he added.
According to data from the Census Bureau and Central Florida community organizations, there are 1.2 million Puerto Ricans in Florida, more than 500,000 are registered to vote, and there are more than 300,000 who could vote, but have not registered.
In the final stretch ahead of the voter registration process, leaders of non-governmental organizations are coordinating several events to attract the attention of citizens in order to try to register as many Puerto Ricans as possible, explained yesterday Betsy Franceschini, Hispanic Federation’s director in Central Florida.
One of the activities will be a caravan with the participation of Puerto Rican congressman Luis Gutiérrez, seeking to strengthen the call to convince Puerto Ricans that they already constitute a critical mass in Florida capable of affecting the electoral result, she said.
"I've been working with Puerto Ricans in Florida for 30 years and I had never seen so much enthusiasm for a midterm election," the community leader said.
November 6 midterm elections are important because they vote for governors, mayors, Congress members, state legislators, judges, sheriffs, school board members and other positions that have a direct impact on citizens’ daily lives. However, voter turnout is not as high as for presidential elections which will be held in 2020.
In August 28 primary elections, there was an unprecedented participation which is thought to have fueled the participation in these elections. In fact, in those primary elections, there was an increase of 148 percent in electoral participation in those counties where community organizations did field work and that have a high Puerto Rican population, explained Franceschini.
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