Nineteen Central Florida Leaders Join the 100 Puerto Ricans

On February 20, Centro was proud to acknowledge 19 Central Florida community leaders who have joined our 100 Puerto Ricans Preserving Our History campaign, an event attended by more than 100 guests.

The group recognized at Celebrating Puerto Ricans of Central Florida, at the Orlando Campus of the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, included artists, scientists, scholars, activists and business leaders who were celebrated for their contributions to the Puerto Rican community. They received Centro’s 100 Puerto Ricans gold pin and certificate for agreeing to donate their papers, memorabilia and/or oral histories to Centro’s Library and Archives as part of the campaign.

In addition to Centro’s recognition, the leaders received a letter from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer congratulating them for being selected as one of the 100 Puerto Ricans for their outstanding contributions to the well-being of the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community in the United States. “As the largest Hispanic minority group in Central Florida, the Puerto Rican community has contributed to the economic engine and the development of arts and culture in Central Florida,” he wrote. “Puerto Rican leaders like you have diligently demonstrated loyalty and commitment to our multicultural community through the hard work in both public and private sectors. Your achievements are a source of pride and inspiration to all of us.”

Centro Director Edwin Meléndez said he was grateful to the city of Orlando for being so welcoming and that he was especially thankful to the Puerto Rican community for their solidarity and support for the 100 Puerto Ricans campaign, which is aimed at encouraging individuals and organizations to record and document their experiences. The Centro contingent at the ceremony also included Dr. Alberto Hernández Banuchi, Associate Director, Chief Librarian and Archivist; Dr. Patricia Silver, a Research Associate who conducts ethnographic research in Orlando; Roseni Plaza, Affinity Events Coordinator; and Melissa Garay, Media Team Production Assistant.

Plaza said that she was excited to continue building relationships in the Puerto Rican community “so that we can ensure that Centro remains a centerpiece to our Puerto Rican legacy as well as the primary resource for reliable research on our journey.”

Palmira Ubiñas Cardona, president and founder of the Hispanic Arts and Culture International Association/Hispanic Poets and Writers, was among the 19 acknowledged at the event. She said she was honored to be part of the 100 Puerto Ricans campaign, which she called an “incredible” initiative because “it is dedicated to compiling valuable information of Puerto Ricans making history in the United States.” She’s blessed, Ubiñas said, to have the opportunity to “passionately” serve her community through the arts and cultural work.

Zulma Vélez-Estrada, a political activist who has received numerous accolades for her tireless engagement with Florida’s Puerto Rican and Hispanic community, said she was “proud to be a Puerto Rican and a member of 100 Puerto Ricans.”

The other Central Florida leaders acknowledged for joining the campaign were:

José Iván Aldea, a businessman and professor who has worked as campus director for the Ana G. Méndez University System and has served as professor at multiple universities in Puerto Rico; Pedro Brull Torres, an award-winning artist known for his interest in depicting Puerto Rican culture and the former art director for WKAQ-TV in San Juan; Dora Casanova-Nelson, publisher and CEO of La Prensa newspaper in Orlando; Bob Cortes, who has been active in the political and business community and was elected to the Longwood City Commission in 2009 and as deputy mayor in 2010 and 2012; Amaury Díaz, an accomplished Orlando-based artist known for his landscape paintings; Ingrid Figueroa, who has 34 years of clinical experience with children and adolescents and is currently the Central Region Children and Adult Mental Health Director with the Department of Children and Families/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Office; Betsy Franceschini, a businesswoman, community leader and activist for the rights of Puerto Ricans and Hispanics who currently serves as the Florida Regional Director for the Office of Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration; Dennis Freytes, a U.S. Army veteran who has been active in the campaign to secure the Congressional Gold Medal for the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry, also known as the Borinqueneers; Dario González, a prominent writer who is also a veteran of World War II; Josephine Mercado, the founder of the New York-based breast cancer outreach nonprofit First Saturday in October and founder of the nonprofit Hispanic Health Initiatives; Alicia Ramírez, who serves as the Office Coordinator and Hispanic Affairs Advisor for the City of Orlando’s Hispanic Office of Local Assistance; Dr. Juan Pedro Rivera, a physicist, mathematician and engineer for NASA, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and other companies; Evelyn Rivera, an advocate for students who speak English as a second language and for developmentally disabled adults and children; Florida State Senator Darren Soto; Anthony Suarez, who has had a varied and accomplished career as an elected official, activist, radio host, legal editor and captain in the U.S. Army Reserves; Lizette Valarino, an advocate for culture and Hispanic communities who founded the Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund of Metro Orlando; and Dr. Martha Veléz, a performing artist and scholar who is the creator and producer of a bilingual show and producer of six of her music albums.

Sponsors of the event were Centro, Hunter College,  Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (Orlando campus), the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida, WellCare, Aarom Rodriguez of Aarom’s Catering Services and Fiesta Party Rentals & Events.