After a redrawing of the districts in the different states was carried out throughout the country, which were rethought under the 2020 Census, the Latino community in the state of Florida seeks to annul the maps that will be approved this week, as they point out that they do not allow the necessary and timely representation to address their problems.
And while it is true that more than a quarter of Florida's population is Latino, no majority Latino districts are being created, said Kira Romero-Craft, director of the Southeast region of Latino Justice, who noted that the new 28th Congressional District has been mapped to be majority "white."
"Constitutional amendments passed in 2010 in the State of Florida are failing to adhere to the Voting Rights Act by diminishing Latino power and failing to create Latino-majority districts," he stressed during a panel of experts conducted by Ethnic Media Services.
The Florida State Legislature is finalizing its redistricting maps, with 40 seats in the state Legislature and 28 in Congress. The proposed state Senate district map, however, would give Republicans a 23-17 advantage over Democrats and would allocate 16 of the 28 available House seats to the party, including the new District 28.
"We continue to press the Legislature to comply with the Voting Rights Act and make sure that the creation of majority-minority districts is done whenever possible," Romero-Craft said.
In that regard, he explained that minority communities in the state, "have not been given the opportunity to testify on behalf of our communities that have had unprecedented growth, to ensure that the legislature listens to underserved communities and that they have the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice."
For Cecilia Gonzalez, a voting rights activist from Osceola County, Florida, this is a reflection of what is happening where she lives, saying, "The redistricting process happened behind closed doors. People were discouraged or outright denied access."
The Latino population makes up 55 percent of Osceola County's population, yet there is not enough representation to make their needs heard.
"We realized that Latinos don't really have a voice in our government. Even when we have some Latinos in office, we are excluded from the decision-making process," he stressed.
He added that the Latino community must stop being a topic in the conversation and become part of it. "We want to be involved in the redistricting process to make sure those red lines are drawn accordingly."
In turn, he explained that most immigrants want to feel a sense of belonging to a community and the way this can be achieved "is when you are surrounded by people like you, and when you choose the people who fight for your needs".
"We need to create a victory that allows Latinos and candidates other options that let us feel like we belong; and the reality is that until we have a free process for the election of districts, we are not going to have fair representation and our fight is not going to end," she stressed.
For Johanna Lopez, who serves on the Orange County, Florida school board, having her community properly represented at the state and federal level is critical to receiving adequate resources, especially when three-quarters of school-age children in Orange County identify as Latino, while 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, equal opportunities. We are here to contribute and receive the services we deserve," he said.
In light of this, he stressed that not involving communities of color in the redistricting process "is an unprecedented abuse of power," because in the next 10 years there will not be fair representation for communities such as Latinos.
"Our voice is often diluted by the needs of the surrounding Caucasian communities, with whom we do not share the same challenges and needs," he said.
Before any redistricting, he explained, "in order for our voices and our needs to be heard by our representatives, we need substantial and easily accessible public hearings".
Father Jose Rodriguez, vicar of Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church, whose parish serves many undocumented immigrants and Latinos, detailed that the election lines artificially divide the community, diminish the voice of the Latino community, and prevent neighbors from being able to unite their voices to be heard.
He added that the redistricting efforts by the state of Florida constitute a conscious effort to erase Latino voting power.
"This feels like an attack on our community. It makes it seem like we don't exist. They are making us disappear off the map," he said.
"If you diminish our people and divide them among the different districts, their votes are diminished and they don't have the same standing that their neighbors are. I'm really worried that in the future, redistricting is going to get worse and so they will find other ways to diminish us."
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