Orange County

Group works to get more Latin voters to the polls to have Hispanic vote heard

ORLANDO, Fla. — As Florida’s Hispanic population surges, it’s a key group that can sway elections.

But it’s a complex group for politicians to reach because there’s no one set political leaning for the entire population.

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Mellie Santiago is one of about 300,000 people to seek refuge in central Florida following Hurricane Maria five years ago.

Displaced but not discouraged, she quickly became one of the 200,000 Hispanics registered to vote in Orange County that year battling to help others seek housing and better living conditions.

Read: Church, school honors victims of Hurricane Maria, Fiona with ceremony

It’s something she’s still trying to do to this day. She’s getting help from people like Ericka Gomez-Tejeda, who was on the island for advocacy work and helped Santiago through the years, even recently by supporting and speaking out in favor of putting rent control on the November ballot.

Gomez-Tejeda is the co-chair of Hablamos Espanol, a nonprofit whose most recent goal is getting more Latinos to vote by emphasizing the importance of representation, and why it matters to have it with such a fast-growing Hispanic population.

Read: ‘It’s like a loop happening again’: Hurricane Fiona brings back memories of Maria in Puerto Rico

Between 2018 and 2020, the number of registered Hispanic voters jumped by 18,000 in Orange County alone.

Gomez-Tejeda’s goal is to convince people to show up to the polls on Election Day, so issues like the housing crisis can be tackled by people who look and think like them, whatever ideals they may have.

Read: Relief efforts for Puerto Rico underway after island hit by Hurricane Fiona

“It’s very difficult to come to a new place and have your dignity taken away from you simply because of the language,” she said. “Only people who have gone through that process can really understand and fight for you from firsthand experience.”

Santiago said the past few years haven’t been easy, but with support of one another in central Florida she’s confident, just like the rent stabilization ordinance, with the right teamwork and motivation – “si se puede.”

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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