ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Like so many members of the Latin community of Central Florida, District 4 Commissioner Maribel Gómez Cordero was born on the island of Puerto Rico. She lived there most of her life until 1997 when she moved here with her family and to earn her Master’s Degree from Webster University in Clinical Mental Health Counseling specializing in Marriage and Family.
She put her knowledge to good use even before working in politics, specializing in crisis counseling. She worked as a case manager and dependency unit supervisor at Children’s Home Society and the Department of Children & Families, and as a clinical therapist in Life and Work Solutions.
She won the 2018 elections against Susan Makowski, and is aspiring for a second term when the current one ends in 2022. She has focused her job on victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, as well as the homeless. In 2019 she was honored with the key to the city of Ceiba, Puerto Rico, her hometown, for her work within the Hispanic community.
PHOTOS: Orange County Celebrates the Work and Culture of Hispanics in ‘Noche de Esperanza’
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Orange County Government closed Hispanic Heritage Month with “Noche de Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope,” a gala that honored youth leaders of the Hispanic community and celebrate the culture.
The celebration also included the Hispanic Youth Leadership Awards (HYLA), a brainchild of Yetzenia Negrón, president of the Hispanic Heritage Committee of Greater Orange County. This year’s HYLA was the third edition of the awards that, to date, have recognized 23 youths from around Orange County.
“In my heart I envisioned us coming together as a community to truly honor the youth who are excelling, who are truly contributing to everything we truly represent as Hispanics,” Negrón told FNN News. “In my heart, I wanted to provide them with that platform. When I first came to Orlando it was a fresh start for me, coming from a community that was ridden with violence and crime. I found myself in Orlando wanting something different, and Orlando gave me that fresh start.”
“I decided to work with my community, to work with my youth, in violence prevention work, to show them that they don’t have to lose their hope, they can hold on really tight to their esperanza, to their hope, and excel,” she added.
The Hispanic Youth Leadership awardees (above) include volleyball star Isabella Umpierre, 13, who volunteered sewing masks for the community near the beginning of the pandemic; climate activist Lorena Sosa; Daniela Tavera, who works actively to help immigrant families find opportunities for civic engagement; Mia Nicole Rivera, winner of the National Hispanic Recognition Program by College Board; Giana Santoni, who volunteers for multiple non-profits like Relay for Life and hand On Orlando; Estrella María Marolla, a frequent volunteer in her church feeding the poor; Valerin Arias, aspiring Gospel R&B artist and future physician’s assistant; and Faith Sutton, creator of the “Loving Our Trail” youth community clean up that helps Orange Blossom Trail clean.
The organization also gave scholarships to Sebastián Montalvo and Sebastián Peralta (above), who will both attend the University of Central Florida to get Bachelors’ in Economics and Electrical Engineering, respectively.
TV news anchor Nancy Álvarez (above) was also awarded the Hispanic Service Award for her reporting and her public speaking, as well as for her job at working against domestic violence and for special needs children in school.
“The community leaders being recognized tonight, besides being of Hispanic descent, have one additional attribute in common, and that is, esperanza, hope,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings (above) in his opening remarks for the evening. “Even in the face of adversity, they all look at life with optimism. They convert challenges and obstacles into opportunities, focusing on the good things to come. It reminds me of a quote by Jonas Salk, that says hope lies in dreams and imagination and the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”
The evening was hosted by Univision journalists Hazel Ortiz and Ambar Rincón, and had presentations by Venezuelan dance group Isladanza and Latin Passion Dance Academy, as well as a recital by Opera Orlando.
Juan Carlo Rodriguez is a politics and entertainment reporter for Florida National News, as well as the Content Coordinator for FNN News en Español. | email@example.com
Article was corrected to reflect that this year’s Hispanic Youth Leadership Awards was its third year, not the first.
Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Doctor Raúl Pino
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – During the pandemic, one voice has stood out during the press conferences that Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings offers to give updates, not only because of his considerable expertise but because it is both in English and Spanish: Dr. Raúl Pino, the director of the Florida Health Department for the county, the first Latino to do so.
His paused and well-mannered style of delivering information has made him a valuable source of information in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. He has often been at odds with the mandates imposed by the Florida government, but at one time he had to confront a very different–and more dangerous–government.
Pino was born in Ciego de Ávila, a small city in the center of Cuba. His mother was a housewife that raised the family and his father was a Supreme Court judge. At 12, he was sent to boarding school, forever away from his family, and when he could he would visit his grandmother, a rural curandera (healer) that actually inspired him to study medicine.
He enrolled in medical school at the University of Havana, where he got his Doctorate in Medicine. He wanted to learn how to treat burn victims, so he enlisted in the Army, the only place where he could get that kind of education. He also trained as a plastic surgeon in the Naval Hospital in Havana. Like so many Cubans, after a while, he decided he needed to leave the island, so one night he and a group of people would try to escape by boat.
In an interview in 2020, he told how, right before he would leave, a woman approached him insisting that he took her blood pressure. At first, he tries to blow her off, but the woman is persistent. He goes to take her pressure on the right arm, as is the custom in Cuba, but she directs him to her left, pulling up the sleeve of the sweater she’s wearing. On her arm, she has written a message: “Do not talk, be quiet, they are listening, do not leave, they are waiting for you.”
Pino was arrested later that night and detained for five days. He was interrogated but not harmed; nevertheless, when he was released he was discharged by the army. Without a job, he didn’t know what to do, until a friend told him about a program in the US Embassy that offered relocation to the United States to Cubans who were either kicked out of their job or dissenters. He applied, got elected, and he, his wife, and two children moved to Connecticut.
There he had to work several odd jobs, including picking berries, before being able to continue his studies, graduating from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine with a Master of Public Health degree. He eventually worked his way to the city, first being hired as an epidemiologist by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CTDPH), and eventually getting to be, in 2015, appointed Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
In 2019, Pino heard that Dr. Kevin Sherin had retired after 20 years of service in Orange County, Florida, so he decided it was time to relocate. In May of the following year, the Pinos made the move, and the doctor was shortly thereafter appointed Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, where many have considered his ability to speak with the growing Hispanic community of Central Florida essential to navigating the pandemic.
Juan Carlo Rodriguez is a politics and entertainment reporter for Florida National News as well as the Content Coordinator for FNN News en Español. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight: Commissioner Mayra Uribe
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – In a 2020 interview, Commissioner Mayra Uribe said that her passion for politics came from her mother, an immigrant like her father, both of who came to the United States escaping the conflicts in their native Argentina and Colombia. Unfortunately, Uribe’s mother passed away before she became a commissioner, so she says she dedicates her work to her memory.
Uribe has lived in Orange County all her life, married to her husband of over twenty years, Kevin Sutton, a radio host and director of Boot Camp for New Dads, a fatherhood nonprofit program. They have two children, a 17-year-old daughter, and a four-year-old boy. Before getting into politics she ran her own business and has been involved with the Girl Scouts. Her first political job was as an aide to Senator Bill Nelson.
She won her first term in office in 2018, after an emergency election following Pete Clarke’s resignation in an eventually failed bid for Orange County mayor. She sought reelection in 2020, going precisely against Clarke, in a race that was not without controversy, with Uribe even accusing Clarke of stalking her. She won reelection with almost 59% of the vote.
Her main issues are transportation, the environment, education, and economic growth. She has worked for fair taxes, affordable housing, safer neighborhoods, support and resources for better education, and sustainability. She was critical at the beginning of the pandemic to get accurate COVID-19 information in Spanish for the Hispanic communities of Central Florida, to the point that now most press conferences on the subject now have a Spanish interpreter.