Who would think that Communism would change the entire paradigm of how politics is run in Florida. In the 50’s there were many prosperous Cubans that had their businesses and their residences here and in Cuba. After Castro took political power and started taking lands and businesses, most of the more affluent Cubans along with many less fortunate decided to leave the island. The most prosperous saw that their vision was very different from that of the revolutionaries. Angry at their losses and the pain the regime brought toward the people they loved, they vowed to make sure that the Castro regime would fail, thus, creating in them a passion for political power in Florida.
Almost 60 years later, the inheritance of this Cuban-American passion is seen in the corridors of Tallahassee and in groups such as the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus (FHLC) whose purpose is to discuss, educate and advocate issues that are important to the advancement of Hispanics and the Hispanic community in the State of Florida.
Several Republicans and a handful of Democrats are members of this group. A majority of them are a younger generation of Cuban-Americans who were encouraged and promoted to become elected officials, and speak out anytime anyone talks about the possibility of lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. They are messengers of the cause.
However, the FHLC has also addressed other issues this year that affect many Hispanics. Some of the legislative priorities that they shared recently with Governor Rick Scott consisted of the expansion of Medicaid within the Hispanic community. They also backed in-state tuition and a driving authorization cards for non-citizens. This shows that both parties can work together on issues—this is how good government should be.
In the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, the senators are comprised of three Republican Cuban-Americans from South Florida, which includes their chair, Senator Rene Garcia and one Puerto Rican Democratic Senator from the I-4 corridor, Senator Darren Soto. Senator Soto is the first Puerto Rican Senator in the history of Florida. In the House, the majority of Hispanics are also Cuban-American Republicans. There are 5 Hispanic Democrats in the caucus, one of which is of Puerto Rican descent. These are the results of the two strongest Hispanic voting blocks in Florida: Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans.
In years to come, I anticipate Venezuelans in the legislature as they carry the same political passion as Republican Cuban-Americans. We saw this week a passion for change and a deep anger that was visible around the world that was started by a young group of Venezuelans. We see the seed within the Venezuelan community in Doral, Florida in which the current Mayor is Venezuelan. History will repeat itself and the paradigm of Florida politics will change once again.
Hispanics are not monolithic and even though many of us may have Spanish as a common language, there are others who do not know how to speak Spanish. We have many differences depending on which country we come from. Even though the Republican Party still has work to do reaching out to other Hispanic groups and cultures, it has helped that the Republican Cuban American groups in Miami have done an excellent job in mentoring and promoting young rising Hispanic stars to take the lead in politics and to stand for their cause, and the Democrats should take note of this, and start now.
Like my good Republican friend and political strategist, Angelette Aviles says: “It is time to reach out, not outreach. Democrats say they are for minorities but when it comes to appointing them to positions or boards in Florida, you don’t see that become a reality, and if a Republican appoints a minority we are told we are doing it for political reasons or brownie points and not genuine.”
After speaking with various Hispanic Democrats who are involved in the party, many felt the same “push back” in reference to the Democratic Party of Florida. However, they wished not to give their names as they felt their chances would be less to become a leader in the party. The young and the restless Hispanic Democrats are out there ready to take the baton, studying political science; becoming attorneys, being leaders in their community. Don’t push them back–embrace them.
My personal advice to the Democratic and Republican Party in Florida, is to show real results and take action. Both can start by working on their state party’s website. Include a page with their Hispanic leaders and also place the different Hispanic caucus groups that exist in Florida with their contact information in order for Hispanics around the state to get involved. This is one of the many ways to increase leadership and to connect with Hispanics. I want the political parties to know that I do not say this because I want a particular party to win; I want both parties to improve for betterment of the community. I want Hispanics to become involved regardless if they are Democrats, Republicans or have no political affiliation.
Neither party should be drinking Tom Collins by the pool and thinking they have the Latino vote. First, sit down and drink a Mojito with the Cubans, eat a nice Mofongo with the Puerto Ricans, sip some Tequila with the Mexicans, have an Arepa with the Venezuelans and drink some great coffee with the Colombians…now you are talking business. Let’s stop doing the minimal effort. Politicians and the political parties need to lead, promote, and grab the hand of the younger Hispanic generations who wish to do the same. It is time to give it all you have.