POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Hispanics are the largest minority group in Polk County. They make up about 20 percent of the Polk County population, according to the 2017 American Community Survey.
It's the reason the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC for short, a national civil rights organization that's been around for 90 years, has started a council in Central Florida.
- LULAC Council of Central Florida #7265 created on January 1
- Council helps with affordable housing, voter participation
- LINK: LULAC Council's Facebook page
- More Polk County headlines
The LULAC Council of Central Florida #7265 was created on January 1.
President Ray Pena said it already has assisted a Puerto Rican couple, who encountered numerous wait lists when searching for affordable housing.
"In some places they tell us two months, and in others two years," said Jose Cruz Prieto.
The husband and his wife depend on disability checks. They left the island thinking they were approved for an apartment, only to be denied when they showed up for the keys due to a discrepancy in their background check.
They were left scrambling to find a hotel and ended up spending $1,500 to stay in one for two weeks, until they found an apartment.
"I'm trying to be strong so my kid and she can be in a better place, because it's not easy what they do to us. It wasn't easy," Prieto said.
The couple said they are glad LULAC formed a council in central Florida to help others in their situation. Pena said affordable housing and increasing voter participation are chief concerns.
"Here in Polk County, there is a segment of our own society that has been forgotten about. And that's why we're here," Pena said.
Ana Rivera, the council's vice president, said many Latino new comers don't know where to go to get help.
"There's just a climate going on right now that makes it hard for a lot of Hispanics to speak up about how they feel," Rivera said.
The group plans to host a summit that will focus on immigration.
"The summit is 'Destination Citizenship' which is all about immigration. How to pass your American history exam so you can become a citizen. How to speak English," said Rivera.
Two of the largest groups they believe are in need of help right now are Hurricane Maria evacuees and the Venezuelans moving in.
The group will have its official swearing in on April 5, at 5:30 p.m. at Florida Polytechnic University. Its general membership meetings will be quarterly.
So far the organization has 10 members. Membership is open to people of all races.