Puerto Rico’s Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is working on strengthening ties with mainland Puerto Ricans (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

As Florida’s Puerto Rican population grows, Gov. García Padilla looks to reconnect with mainland residents

As the Sunshine State sees a surging Puerto Rican population, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) office is reopening in central Florida, 4 years after it had closed.

The reopening is part of an effort by Puerto Rico‘s newly elected governor to strengthen ties with Puerto Ricans living in Florida and the rest of the mainland. The previous administration under Governor Luis Fortuño shuttered the office in 2009 among budget and staff cuts.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s efforts to reconnect with mainland Boricuas comes at a significant time. According to the most recent Census data, more Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland than on the island.  In 2012, an estimated 4.9 million Puerto Ricans resided in the 50 U.S. states compared to the 3.7 million people who live in Puerto Rico.

Central Florida in particular has seen a big increase in residents from “La Isla del Encanto.” According to Regional office director for the PRFAA Betty Franceschini, close to 900,000 Latinos live in Florida with most of them close to the Orlando/1-4 corridor. Today, Florida replaces New York as the primary destination for Puerto Ricans leaving the U.S. commonwealth.

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Governor García Padilla, local elected officials, and community organizers gathered this morning for the ribbon cutting ceremony to inaugurate the new office in Kissimmee, Florida. Gov. García Padilla says opening the office in Florida is especially important since the state has the second highest concentration of Puerto Ricans living in the U.S.

“My Administration is deeply committed to strengthening the deep bonds that stateside Puerto Ricans share with our beautiful Island. The opening of our office in Central Florida gives us the opportunity to engage with the close to 900,000 of our compatriots living in the Sunshine State, promote tourism and draw investments from Florida businesses to the Island in order to improve the quality of life of Puerto Ricans no matter where they live,” Governor García Padilla said in a statement.

Franceschini said the new office will help new mainland residents transition. The office will also provide community services for those already here including working closely with chambers of commerce, providing orientations and educational seminars, and helping get paperwork such as passports and birth certificates from the island.

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“We’re going to be partnering with organizations within the community to provide services according to their needs. One of the objectives is to help the Puerto Rican population get engaged civically and strengthen their political power and influence. We are nonpartisan but we want to help them understand how to deal with the electoral process,” Franceschini says. “We want to make sure Puerto Ricans get their voices heard.”

The office in Florida is the first of the ten offices shut down during Gov. Fortuño’s administration to reopen. Franceschini says there aren’t any plans as of yet to open the other offices.

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