Tomas Jimenez Sr. said his dream came true at the Havana Jax Cafe Thursday evening.
He stood in front of about 25 pastors, business owners and organization leaders at the Jacksonville Hispanic Community Leaders’ first-ever networking event and praised the Hispanic community for coming together.
“When I founded the Mayor’s American Hispanic Advisory Board, that was my goal: to have everyone under one umbrella to help the community,” he said.
Jimenez said he founded the advisory board in 1998, but it was not until Thursday’s meeting that Jimenez would see the unity he dreamed of for nearly two decades.
Dr. Rene Pulido, the president of the Northeast Florida Hispanic Medical Association and the event’s organizer, said a rise in Hispanic populations, technology and shared struggles in America have finally prompted the community to start banding together.
Duval County’s Hispanic population could more than double by 2040, increasing from 60,000 in 2010 to almost 140,000 in the coming decades, according to projections by a University of Florida research center.
“The original Hispanics here have really had to mold themselves to more of a typical American lifestyle, but now as there are more and more of us coming here, we’re starting to enjoy parts of our own culture,” Pulido said.
He said Hispanics in cities such as Miami, Orlando and Tampa have organized and pushed for representation. One opportunity for locals to find common ground, he said, is the State of Hispanic Health in Northeast Florida meeting on Oct. 11. at Havana Jax Cafe, located at 2578 Atlantic Blvd., starting at 6 p.m.
“This is the beginning of Hispanic organization here in Jacksonville, and what better cause to get behind than the actual health of our local Hispanics,” he said.
Jose Rodriguez — one of the many guests who joined the discussion and shared large plates of rice, pork and fried plantains — previewed several findings that will be discussed at the October meeting.
He said the No. 1 health problem facing the Hispanic community is cardiovascular disease, followed by cancer, a variety of accidents and then diabetes.
Rodriguez, who works as a specialty pharmacy consultant in Jacksonville, said he recently filed a request on the city’s website for Mayor Lenny Curry to attend October’s event. He said this would benefit the Hispanic community, which includes people who feel ignored, and the mayor, who could learn more about the people in his city.
“We are not asking for ‘give me grants.’ We are asking for ‘give me the opportunity to work with you, or give me the opportunity to get out there and to make a difference, to do something for Hispanics.’”
Greg Clark, a trainer/outreach coordinator for the Duval County Supervisor of Elections, joined the meeting and offered guests another way to find a voice in their community.
It would be easy, he said, for interested business owners to become official state registrars, allowing them to register their customers as new voters.
Pulido’s chain of medical services on Atlantic Boulevard became a registrar, and he said about seven people register to vote at his locations each day.
From 2006 to 2016, voter registration among Hispanics increased almost 60 percent from about 15,000 to 24,000, according to a report by the supervisor of elections.
“For the first time, I feel like we’re getting a little bit closer to some representation,” Pulido said.