It is often said that the United States of America is a “melting pot” of nationalities, customs and cultures welded through an abundance of diversity which defines the very fabric of what it means to be an “American.” Throughout the world, our politicians, secretaries of state and presidents have all boasted and included this aura of embracing diversity when promoting America’s policies abroad.
But is this really true?
There is an old saying in politics: “Perception is reality.” It is based on the premise that if you repeat a lie (or half-lie) and make it look real and tangible, the average citizen in the United States will believe it. This is precisely the type of political maneuvering we need to eradicate in this country in order to truly ignite real change for the middle class, the less fortunate and the needy.
Florida’s Orange County and the Orlando area are not the exception. I live in a county that has established what many experts have described as legal segregation within its school system. After moving to Central Florida from my homeland of Puerto Rico almost two years ago, I have come to realize the shocking truth about income inequality, insensibility towards blue-collar workers and the systematic racism still very much alive in Florida and throughout the South. As a history nerd throughout all of my school years in Puerto Rico, I thought racism and segregation had vanished after the Civil Rights Act was signed in the 1960s as a result of the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr, Jack and Bobby Kennedy and ironically, the labor movement. After two years of living in Florida, I was so wrong.
I live in a county that possesses the 10th largest school district in the entire nation and yet its workers and teachers are among the lowest-paid in the entire country.
I live in a county whose school superintendent, Barbara Jenkins, is awarded a higher salary than the Vice President of the United States, and yet that very same school district administration which she leads consistently claims there are no funds to grant a raise to ALL our teachers and classified employees across the board.
I live in a county which distributes resources unevenly, by assigning more funds to schools located in mostly white rich neighborhoods, while schools in “Little Puerto Rico,” Eastside Orlando or African American neighborhoods have deteriorated facilities and significantly less resources.
I live in a county that excessively evaluates and purposely does not incentivize high-quality experienced teachers to continue to teach in a lot of the schools in those communities, resulting in little to no academic progress in those schools for its students, who are mostly minorities.
I live in a county and state that has institutionalized what everyone here knows as the “Pipeline to Prison,” where our children are receiving poor and unequal access to high quality public education and are even evaluated differently depending on their race, therefore contributing to the continuous increase of citizens who are filling our prisons, which again, are mostly minorities.
I live in a county and state that strips convicted felons from the right to vote, even after they have done their time and have become productive citizens in our society.
I live in a county whose school district maintenance managers prohibit Puerto Ricans and Latinos from speaking Spanish among themselves or at the workplace, verbally abuse them through racial slurs and grant the overwhelming majority of promotions to white workers, many of which have much less seniority than our Latino workers.
An alarming number of Latino workers in Orange County Public Schools have filed federal (EEOC) charges against the school district for racial discrimination, and yet, the school district administration has done NOTHING and these shameful acts of bigotry and racism at the workplace continue to occur.
The time has come for not just Latinos, but all citizens of Orlando and the entire state to stand up and fight to eradicate these injustices once and for all. We can all do this by joining our workplace labor union, and if one does not exist, create one. We can generate change by organizing both at the workplace and within our communities through organizations like “Organize Now,” which will then harness the greatly needed power that would be influential and impactful within the political decision-making process and cause big money interests that control our local governments to shake in their boots.
The more we UNITE and the more we let go of FEAR to demand RESPECT, the more POWERFUL we are to generate the true CHANGE this county, state and country needs in order to finally live up to this nation’s constitutional promise of “A more Perfect Union.”
RESPECT for Latino workers in Orlando AHORA!
Through solidarity, ¡SÍ SE PUEDE!
Phillip Arroyo is currently a Juris Doctor student at Florida A&M College of Law in Orlando, Florida. Mr. Arroyo was selected as the only Puerto Rican to serve in the 2012 White House Internship, having worked in the office of the Vice President Joe Biden, where he analyzed domestic and economics issues while at the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillipArroyo.