August 2015 – PUERTO RICO – “It’s a lot of people coming now,” Kissimmee Commissioner Art Otero said. “And it’s not just anybody. Even professionals are moving here — doctors, teachers, specialists. The schools are expecting hundreds of new kids assigned to the district.” The number of Puerto Ricans in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia — more than 5 million, according to Census data — significantly outnumbers the 3.5 million on the island. With those numbers rising, fueled by the latest exodus, here is how the three U.S. cities with the largest populations of Puerto Ricans — Orlando, New York and Chicago — are dealing with the influx during the economic crisis:
Perhaps nobody captures the situation in central Florida better than Carlos Merced, an actor in Puerto Rico who moved to this region eight years ago. “Puerto Ricans land at the Orlando airport and think they’re going to be greeted by Mickey Mouse, who will scoop them up in his arms, take them to Cinderella’s castle, and the princesses will fix everything for them,” he said. “But the problem is, those princesses aren’t Hispanic, and Mickey doesn’t speak Spanish.” Even before the island’s economy tanked, islanders were flocking to the Orlando area, now home to more than 370,000 Puerto Ricans. The growth happened so rapidly that the Osceola County school district has added portable classrooms, built new wings to existing schools and has two new high schools set to start construction soon, school board member Kelvin Soto said.
Officials say migration has spiked in recent months as the government began defaulting on its loans. Betsy Franceschini, director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration’s office in nearby Kissimmee, Fla., said families show up at her office with suitcases looking for help. She estimates about 1,000 families a month are moving to the area. Too many are coming unprepared. A string of motels built along Kissimmee’s main street for people visiting Disney World are now filled with Puerto Ricans who can’t afford to rent an apartment. Janira Torres, who owns the popular Melao Bakery in Kissimmee, said Puerto Ricans are so desperate for work that she has boxes of applications.
When she visited family back on the island recently, people in her neighborhood begged her to interview them for potential jobs. Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz said many Puerto Ricans eventually succeed in the area. But as the rush increases, he fears even more won’t make it. “I’m not scared, because I know we will benefit from the talent that a lot of them bring,” he said. “But I’ve seen so many people return to Puerto Rico in a more desperate situation than what they left. It gives me a huge pain in my heart.” –USA Today