‘The chain is broken’: Hispanic residents, elected officials call for more government representation

ORLANDO, Fla. — The series of Hispanic Heritage Month events continued across Florida Tuesday, making a stop at the Amway Center in the City of Orlando.

Party attendees networked, listened to music, ate food and checked out local businesses. Local leaders made speeches, including Mayor Buddy Dyer, who gave a cheery “buenas noches,” in a thick American accent before switching to English.

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READ: 9 things to know about Hispanic Heritage Month

It’s the city’s 15th year in a row of celebrating its Hispanic community, which now numbers approximately one out of every three residents, a population almost equal to white community members.

Like many other parts of the Sunshine State, the sizeable numbers of Hispanics are not mirrored in the government meant to represent them, leading to what some members of the community believe is an imbalance.

“Our people are not well informed, and therefore, we’re seeing so many needs,” the city’s lone Hispanic commissioner, Tony Ortiz said. “The chain is broken.”

Ortiz was speaking about Florida as a whole, where 26% of the population is Hispanic, but just 14% of state lawmakers are. Nationally, less than 10% of Congress is of Hispanic origin, a lower rate than the 19% of citizens.

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In addition to Orlando, Hispanics are underrepresented in many other Central Florida governments, though it’s easy for representation to swing wildly election to election when a council or commission has just five or seven seats instead of 500.

Ortiz said community members needed to vote on the issues and stop casting ballots for candidates who campaigned on empty promises.

“We have to consider empowering our people with knowledge about how to get involved, how to lead the sentiment of what’s going on in our communities to those who are legislating and hold them accountable,” he explained. “It’s not only about electing them, and then forgetting about us, it’s about maintaining that communication.”

Ortiz is more proactive than many: he holds a course twice per year that teaches people about the US government, from the federal level to local. It’s offered in both English and Spanish. He said the feedback from it has been overwhelmingly positive.

READ: Florida’s Hispanic vote seeing growth

As the Hispanic population has grown – through both immigration and larger family sizes – there are signs members are beginning to utilize their clout. Protests by Cubans and Cuban-Americans across Florida this past summer showed members were willing to ensure they were heard on issues important to them.

“We have a great delegation representing us in Central Florida,” Ortiz explained. “Having said that, I’m concerned about other parts of the state. We have to work together.”

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