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The business owner is one of six candidates running for the mayoral chair in the Florida city. Two more candidates are also Puerto Rican women.

The population of Kissimmee, Florida has grown 29.75% since 2010, according to the most recent census figures. Jackie Espinosa, who is running for city mayor, thinks this Central Florida city was not ready for the increase in the population and is determined to change that.

“Unfortunately we do not have decent representation. When taxes were raised, Latinos were losing their homes, and there was no one to explain to them that they could make an appeal,” Espinosa told The Americano.

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As a resident and business owner, Espinosa has seen first-hand many of the problems that affect the city and its communities, Latinos in particular.

Born in New Jersey from Puerto Rican parents, Espinosa is part of a historic race for the mayoral chair. She is one of six candidates — four of them Latinos — including three women of Puerto Rican origin.

On August 18, Espinosa will face two compatriots in the primaries: business owner Lisandra Román and city commissioner Olga González. Community activist Freddy Villanueva, school teacher Alvin Codner, and city commissioner Angela Eady are also in the race. Of the six candidates, two should remain after the primaries. 

“In the primaries, if a candidate gets 51% of the votes, the process is over and they’ve won the election. But it’s difficult with so many candidates. The vote is very divided,” explains Espinosa.

Inmate release programs, mental health, homelessness, and domestic violence are some of Espinosa’s priorities. Small and medium businesses are also an important consideration for her platform. With her husband, she owns seven businesses in Kissimmee.

The candidate and her husband, Jorge Espinosa, who is originally from Colombia, moved to Florida in 1991. The Latino community was smaller, so it was difficult for them to settle down. They experienced discrimination. According to Espinosa, the Latino communities back then represented 16% of the population, compared to the current 62%. 

Espinosa had experience as a realtor, so when the couple arrived, she studied to get Florida licenses. She obtained four licenses, as title insurance agent, real estate broker, mortgage broker, and state educator.

They established their own businesses, like Florida Mortgage Pros, The Real Estate Gallery, Jaslene Residential & Commercial Division, and Florida Mortgage Academy, where they trained agents in Spanish and Portuguese.

The entrepreneurial couple ventured into other fields of business. They opened a dance studio, Adanse Dance, as well as the Chandeliers Ballroom & Event Center. The Kissimmee Diner and Matador Tacos & Tapas Bar followed. 

All of them are managed by the family. The Espinosas have two daughters, Jazmin and Jaslene.

“It takes a village. God has been very good to me. He gave me a good husband and my family a lot of grace,” says Espinosa, who met her husband in elementary school. In June, they celebrated 32 years together.

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A Political Career

Parallel to her business career, Espinosa has been part of Kissimmee’s Planning Advisory Board, and the Affordable Housing Committee. She has also served as board secretary of the counseling center The Transition House — Osceola from 2019 to 2020.

Espinosa says she aims to work for all Kissimmee residents, especially Latino communities.

“I want Latinos to be valued. People need to understand that Latinos are not uneducated simply because they don’t speak English,” the candidate affirms.

For Espinosa it’s inconceivable there are still Puerto Ricans who arrived in the wake of Hurricane María in 2017 and “are still living in hotels.”

She believes there is an unwillingness on the part of the government to resolve the issue. “There are hundreds of Hispanic families living in hotels and motels. It’s really difficult for them to come out of that situation. The government doesn’t give them hope,” Espinosa says.

The mayoral candidate believes these families lack the information they need to become integrated into the workforce and says they need orientation regarding courses and job opportunities. 

“People in the United States fail to understand these new residents must be provided with services and information in Spanish. Fighting against Latinos, or asking why they are here, is not going to help. They must be given resources and empowerment so they can be constructive members of society,” Espinosa sentences. 

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This story is part one of the series “Know Your Candidate: Kissimmee Mayoral Race.”