After living in Orlando for more than 30 years, the property inspector reflects on how the problems faced by the Latino community have evolved.
FLORIDA — When Jorge Pérez arrived in Orlando, in 1995, his expectations were quite different from what he found.
He thought circumstances would be similar to Miami, where there’s a large Latino community. Instead, he faced intolerance toward Hispanics.
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Pérez, born and raised in San Juan, says it was difficult for him to fit in Orlando because few Hispanics lived there at the time. “Hispanics seemed to be hidden.”
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Pérez witnessed co-workers being laid off just because they spoke Spanish during work hours.
The self-made property inspector knows the Latino community still faces discrimination, but also thinks the current situation is far better than what he experienced during those early years.
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“Nowadays you walk into stores and hear music by Latino artists; you hear people ‘bochinchando,’” Pérez says, explaining how when he arrived in Orlando there weren’t even Latino police officers. “Now we have Latino police chiefs.”
When he moved to Florida, Pérez had been living outside of Puerto Rico for almost 10 years. He moved with his mother, Angelina De Jesús, to Rhode Island after his parents divorced. It was the mid-’80s; he was 17 years old. He studied at Providence College and studied to be a property inspector.
After much hard work, Pérez now owns two companies in Orlando: Florida Best Inspectors, and Florida Mitigation Agency. He lives in Hunters Creek, a suburban area of Orlando.
Pérez honed his professional skills while working to take care of his daughter, Natasha, as a single parent. She was four months old when he divorced, and his ex-wife had health problems. He has taken care of the child since then.
He remembers how he would take Natasha to school with a hairband in his hand. He didn’t know how to style hair. School teachers helped them out.
Pérez says he also didn’t know how to cook, so he would buy meals for a whole week at once. “When Natasha was in high school, I found many plastic containers around the house; she told me teachers brought her food because they knew I couldn’t cook.”
Now Natasha is 21 years old and studies medicine at the University of Central Florida. Pérez is also the father of a 13-year-old boy named Sebastian.
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A Self-made Floricua
Pérez dabbled in fields like event production and radio production while he worked as an inspector; he was also interim president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida.
He says he got ahead in a city like Orlando only through hard work. He hasn’t taken a vacation in 10 years.
“Dominicans and Cubans come here to work. Many Puerto Ricans don’t know the language; they give up and go back. But the work opportunities are there,” the entrepreneur affirms.
This proud father of two knows many Puerto Ricans in Orlando. Many have come to him asking for advice, counting on the expertise that comes with living in a place for a long time.
“They call me and say a family member is moving here. I advise them about schools, realtors. I inspect their houses. Six months later, they tell me they’re happy and set up.”
Pérez comments there are many Puerto Ricans who come to Orlando feeling overwhelmed by the political problems in Puerto Rico. He says many of them have no interest in voting in local Florida elections, even though they have every right to do so as American citizens.
“They leave Puerto Rico and arrive here in despair; they don’t trust anyone. If Puerto Ricans would actually vote, the community would have a lot of power,” Pérez concludes.