Friday, March 1, 2013

One-Way Tickets To Florida: - Puerto Ricans Escape Island Woes

by Greg Allen
Feb 5, 2013 (Morning Edition) —
Life in Puerto Rico is tougher than ever. The U.S. territory -- popularly known as "the island of enchantment" -- faces a decaying economy and escalating violent crime rate. Many residents are leaving the island in record numbers and embracing the mainland as home.

Puerto Rico's population is dropping. Faced with a deteriorating economy, increased poverty and a swelling crime rate, many citizens are fleeing the island for the U.S. mainland. In a four-part series, Morning Edition explores this phenomenon, and how Puerto Rico's troubles are affecting its people and other Americans in unexpected ways.

According to the most recent census, the 4.6 million Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland now surpass those on the island of Puerto Rico. For years, they've been migrating out of the U.S. Caribbean territory — many to escape the escalating crime rate and economic crisis.

Today, Florida replaces New York as the primary destination for Puerto Ricans coming to the U.S. In Osceola County, Fla., the population has tripled over the past two decades largely because of the migration. It's one of the nation's fastest growing areas, and about half of the population is Hispanic — most of them Puerto Rican.
Bringing Puerto Rico To Florida
In Kissimmee, south of Orlando, many of the signs are in Spanish, and some businesses resemble what you might find in a city like San Juan. One of those businesses is Miguel Fontanez's restaurant, Pioco's Chicken. It's a spot that was started by his father, also named Miguel.

The elder Fontanez owned a chain of successful restaurants in Puerto Rico. But in 1996, he brought his family to Central Florida after his brother, a police officer, was killed. "It was very bad; it was very tough," Fontanez says. "So [my father] just wanted to move somewhere fresh and start something different. And my grandmother at that time was living already here. So the first place that came to mind was Florida."

A number of Puerto Rican colleges and universities have opened campuses in Central Florida, offering bilingual education to the area's fast-growing Hispanic population.

After moving to Central Florida with her daughter, Arlnene Bonet says finding a job wasn't easy. But now that she has one, she's grown to love the area and has no plans to return.

"It's pretty much like a Caribbean island because it's sunny, it's fresh, it's beautiful," she explains. "So we feel like it's home." While the move was hard on her daughter, Bonet says it was crucial — both for her future and her eventual grandchildren.

"That's one of the reasons also I moved," Bonet says. "It's not just thinking about me. What kind of life can I give my grandchildren in the future if Puerto Rico, instead of going up, is going down?"

Copyright 2013 NPR.