Earlier this month, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies and the newly created Puerto Rico Research Hub at the University of Central Florida (UCF) hosted a day-long conference in Orlando entitled “In Pursuit of Puerto Rican Studies.” The event, as noted by Fernando Rivera, founding director of the Puerto Rico Research Hub at UCF, “allowed different stakeholders to develop the research agenda for Puerto Ricans in Florida.”
“In Pursuit of Puerto Rican Studies” also marked the 14th overall event organized by El Centro as part of the Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans series launched in 2016 in response to the ongoing fiscal crisis.
“Since we launched [Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans], our goal has been the same: to convene Puerto Ricans from the diaspora and on the Island and find solutions to the problems we are facing,” said Centro director Edwin Melendez. “Which is why we have gone to places like New England and Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, to offer this platform.”
“Here in Florida,” continued Dr. Melendez, “there is a sense of urgency to address the challenges facing the more than one million Puerto Ricans living in the state. It was imperative for our two research institutions to come together and find solutions.”
The event comes just months after the Puerto Rico Research Hub was officially inaugurated on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. “We’re excited about partnering with El Centro,” echoed Dr. Rivera.
“In Pursuit of Puerto Rican Studies” was preceded by a pair of workshops led by Centro staff the day before. “The response we had was great, especially in terms of capacity building,” said Centro data researcher Jennifer Hinojosa. “We shared some data on the Puerto Rican population in Florida, including interactive maps, as well as some of the digital resources available from Centro.”
“There was a definite thirst among attendees for the knowledge and resources that El Centro can offer,” said Carlos Vargas-Ramos, Director of Public Policy, Development, Media, and External Relations at Centro. “As always, Centro’s role is to not only convene, but to empower those who are working toward solutions for our communities.”
“Having the expertise and knowledge of El Centro,” added Dr. Rivera, “is vital for the success and sustainability of the Puerto Rico Research Hub.”
The next day, following welcoming and introductory remarks, two sets of concurrent panel discussions were held, bookended by opening and concluding plenaries. Conversations ranged from Central Florida’s population boom of the past decade to the response to Hurricane Maria. Overall, education and mental health were among the most pressing needs.
“There was serious concern in light of the trauma experienced by those affected by Hurricane Maria for culturally-competent mental health counseling,” said Dr. Vargas-Ramos.
Notes from each of the panels will be used to develop additional recommendations based on areas of research identified during the conference.
“It was a great opportunity to collectively come with recommendations to address the welfare of the Puerto Rican community. Florida continues to be the epicenter of the current Puerto Rico population movement in ways that resemble the movement of Puerto Ricans to New York in the mid-20th century,” said Rivera.
“We’re going to be working closely going forward in order to leverage our collective resources and better meet the needs of the Puerto Rican community in Florida,” added Dr. Vargas-Ramos.
The next Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans event will be a diaspora youth summit in June in New York City. For more information, visit the Centro NationBuilder page. More updates to come.