As Puerto Ricans migrate to central Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, community leaders believe that the influx of newcomers has the potential to transform Orlando.
The “stampede,” as one expert calls it, will more than likely change not only the city itself, but also influence school districts, housing, employment and politics, according to a Friday New York Times report.
Hurricane Maria hit the small island Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, leaving the majority of the island without power and a death toll that reached up to 51, according to the official count. The island is still struggling to recuperate, leaving many of its residents to relocate for better opportunities in Florida.
Already, approximately 168,000 Puerto Ricans have flown into Florida to land in cities like Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Half of those arrivals usually migrate to Orlando, a city that has seen its Puerto Rican population reach over 1 million since 2000.
“It’s a stampede,” Director Jorge Duany from the Cuban Research Institute told TheNYT, adding that this level of migration from Puerto Rico is unprecedented.
The influx of Puerto Ricans could change the political landscape of Florida, a notorious swing state. Most Puerto Ricans tend to vote Democrat and some of the islands’ residents have grown upset with comments from President Donald Trump on the state of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and its effect on the United States’ budget.
With this huge influx also comes various concerns about housing that is affordable, how to handle the sudden growth of students who only speak Spanish, and how to take of the elderly. A superintendent with Orange County Public Schools said the district had already hired an additional 20 Puerto Rican teachers to compensate for the student population growth, with the plan to add on about 10 more teachers.
“We’re one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. We’ve been handling growth. We just can’t handle it in a matter of weeks,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said at an earlier meeting.
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