‘THEY ARE MAKING US DISAPPEAR FROM THE MAP’ – LATINO LEADERS REBUKE FLORIDA REDISTRICTING PLAN
From left to right: Johanna López, Member of the Orange County School Board, District 2; Kira Romero-Craft, Director of the Southeast Region, LatinoJustice PRLDEF; Reverend Jose Rodriguez, Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church in Oviedo, Florida
By SUNITA SOHRABJI/EMS Contributing Editor
Despite their growth in the population and a new congressional seat for the state, the LatinX community still lacks significant representation at the state or national levels, said a group of community leaders at a panel discussion Jan. 13, coordinated by Ethnic Media Services.
Latinos now comprise more than one-fourth of Florida’s population, but Kira Romero-Craft, director for the South East region of Latino Justice, said no majority Latino districts are being created. The new Congressional district 28 has been mapped by the Florida state Legislature to be a primarily White district, she said.
The Florida state Legislature this week is finalizing its redistricting maps, carving out 40 seats in the state Legislature, and 28 seats in Congress. The proposed state Senate district map would give Republicans a 23-17 district advantage over Democrats, and allot the party 16 of the 28 available seats in the House, including the new District 28.
Romero-Craft said Latinos were left out of the process and not allowed to testify. “We need to have the opportunity to elect representatives of our choice.”
“We continue to apply pressure to the Legislature to abide by the Voting Rights Act and make sure that the creation of majority-minority districts are made whenever possible,” said Romero-Craft.
Father Jose Rodriguez, Pastor of the Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church, whose parish serves many undocumented Latinos and works with people who are hit by extreme weather, said the redistricting efforts by the state of Florida constitute a conscious effort to erase the voting power of Latinos.
“This feels like an attack to our community,” he said, noting that districts where Latinos are emerging as a majority are dwindling because of redistricting. “It’s making it look like we don’t exist. They’re making us disappear off the map,” he said.
Cecilia Gonzalez, a voting rights activist from Osceola County, Florida, said: “The redistricting process happened behind closed doors. People were discouraged or openly denied access.”
Gonzalez recalled a recent incident at a city council meeting, in which a community member attempted to make a point, speaking in Spanish. He was immediately shut down by a commissioner who claimed English was the official language of the county.
The Latino population makes up 55 percent of Osceola County’s population; Gonzalez said it was untrue that the county had an official language.
“The real question is what is he doing to learn Spanish if he wants to represent us? Where are the representatives who understand us?” Gonzalez queried.
Johanna Lopez, who serves on the Orange County, Florida school board, feared that resources might be taken away from her community if it is not adequately represented at the state and federal level. Three quarters of Orange County’s school children identify as Latino, and 74 percent qualify for the federal free lunch program.
“If we don’t have fair representation, we will suffer the consequences. We are looking for equal access, the same opportunities. We are here to contribute and to receive the services we deserve,” she said.
“It is an unprecedented abuse of power to not engage communities of color in the redistricting process,” said Lopez.