Season three of Knights Do That, UCF’s official podcast, returns with its third guest, Professor of Sociology Fernando Rivera, who is the founding director of the Puerto Rico Research Hub. Rivera has been studying the movement of Puerto Ricans to the Central Florida community for over 10 years. He has studied the differential patterns of health among Puerto Ricans in the United States by analyzing different social indicators, such as perceived discrimination, residential segregation and socioeconomic status and their impact on Puerto Rican health.

Here he shares insight on the Puerto Rico Research Hub’s local to global impact, the impact Hurricane Maria has had on Puerto Ricans in the five years since the storm and the importance of UCF’s Hispanic Serving Institution designation.

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Fernando Rivera: To our listeners, I’m pretty sure that you know a Puerto Rican that lives in your community or is your doctor is your professor. You follow some music. You went to a restaurant. All that sort of thing.

That imprint of the Puerto Rican community here in Central Florida; if you haven’t noticed it, look around you’re going to find it.

James Evans: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Knights Do That. UCF is recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution – an HSI – and Sept. 15 marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Who better to have on the show than Professor of Sociology, Fernando Rivera – the founding director of the Puerto Rico Research Hub.

We’ve got a great episode ahead discussing how the hub is not only empowering students, but the Puerto Rican community. Central Florida has a large Hispanic population which has grown in recent years especially in the five years since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. With more than 27% of Knight’s identifying as Hispanic, UCF reflects the makeup of the Sunshine State. We’re a national and global leader in researching Latino culture and sociology. Today we’re discussing what all of this means and why it makes UCF the place to be.

James Evans: We’re just going to jump right into the questions if that’s OK with you and we’ll go from there.

Fernando Rivera: Yep.

James Evans: Love it. Awesome. Alright. Fernando, you have been with UCF for 17 years. When you decided to join the university you were a postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers in New Jersey. Can you share your story and why you chose to join UCF and come to Orlando?

Fernando Rivera: Yes, absolutely. First of all thanks for having me. That was around 2004-05. I was doing a postdoc. It was the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers university. And I knew that there was a growth of the Puerto Rican population in Central Florida. I had small children at the time. I knew, what better place to raise a family (than) in a sunny warm place with all the theme parks and all the amenities out there? It became really attractive looking at those demographic changes that this was going to be the place where there was going to be a potential area to expand my research.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And at the same time … at those years  the Department of Sociology and Anthropology were together and (then) they split. And we started doing a Ph.D. program in sociology. That was also a draw.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: We have a growing new exciting Ph.D. program that I could be part of making sure that it was successful. This starts  in some way to make it a very exciting place to be. And I even recalled that there were about 42,000 students.

So, I’ve seen the growth of what we have today even though it was large at that time, right? It was very exciting to see what was going on. And I’ve been able to experience that growth, able to raise my family and do my career here at UCF.

James Evans: Can you indulge me a little bit? You knew you wanted to expand your research. You knew the population was growing in Central Florida for the Puerto Rican demographic. Did you ever expect or plan on the research hub? Did you, at that time or any time soon after, start envisioning something like the hub how did that come about? Where did that idea come from?

Fernando Rivera: There was that evolution of what is the hub, right? I start doing my research publishing articles, what faculty do.

James Evans: Gotcha.

Fernando Rivera: I think it’s around 2010 that we started seeing his growth continues to happen. Right? And following Puerto Rican politics, the financial situation was not great. You start seeing a lot of movement of people to Orlando. And I remember I was part of a group of researchers that we did a special edition for a journal from the Center of Puerto Rican studies over at Hunter College. And it was about Puerto Ricans in Florida.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: It was, “Hey this is an area of research that we need to emphasize.” And we have a bunch of researchers doing that work but it was in its very infancy in terms of looking what are the patterns out here? And I think that was the beginning of looking at this.

This is one of those blessings that we have of being in the geographical area that UCF. I don’t need to come up with a new research idea or anything like that. People are coming here. And if you think about all the population movements, right? know Cubans in South Florida in the 60s and the 80s and all that growth of that research. Same thing with Mexican Americans in the west.

Even Puerto Ricans in New York in the 40s and the 50s, right? Those institutions that were there kind of like took the ropes in terms of, “Hey let’s analyze what’s going on with this community. What can we, and how can we, apply that to our research?” And I think that was that was the start of the evolution of doing that.

And I started bugging different people right. From my chair of my college to –

James Evans: Absolutely. Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: the dean to whoever I could talk to to push this idea. The demographics of the area was changing. Even the demographics of the student body as well. At that time, I used to teach intro. Those mass intro courses give you a glimpse of the generational shift of students, right?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And I started seeing like, “Hey there’s a change out here.” And once in a while when I started there were few students that identify as Puerto Ricans.

Then as I grew alone there were more and more and more. This is also something that students might be reflecting upon as well, right? And so with that representation what does it mean? What do we need to do? That was the evolution of all of this.

James Evans: That’s really amazing. That’s really fascinating. And you have a depth of research under your belt and a wide range of topics regard the Puerto Rican population. I have two questions with that.

Fernando Rivera: Sure.

James Evans: The first is what drives you to do this interdisciplinary deep dive?

Fernando Rivera: When I was doing my postdoc and one of the things I was researching upon, I’ve looked at mental health issue surrounding the Latino community. And one of the things at that time we didn’t have the data source to tease it out, right?

James Evans: Mm-hmm

Fernando Rivera: And one of the things that we started pushing at, are there differences between the Latino subgroup ethnicities? The life experiences of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans and Cubans and other groups might be similar but they’re different at the same time.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: There was this national databases and surveys that we can start teasing out. That was sort the beginning of looking at this and what are some of the connections out here? And I’m a sociologist. I look at the structure. Where do you fit within that structure? And whether you can be part of that structure or not. What are some of the barriers or what facilitates that integration into society?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Looking at that it crossed over into different disciplines and even the postdoc that I was in, it was interdisciplinary postdoc. I had psychiatrists, anthropologists, historians and sociologists. You name it. That made a shift in my mentality, right?

Because when you go to grad school you have to be trained in your specific academic field but then you start saying how can I apply this with the lenses that I bring from my academic discipline but start listening to other disciplines as well? And that’s I think what became  this interdisciplinary view. And I’ve always been a fan of saying, “Complicated problems require complicated solutions.”

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: And we have a tendency to say, “This is what is going to solve this problem.” Doing my research, I can tell you that is a process of different mechanisms that we have out.

There’s a plurality of answers to the research questions that we have. And I think that put that interdisciplinary boundary out here. But a lot of it, the training and look at other perspectives out there, that was a very good transformation into my thinking and the advantages of having that postdoc experience.

James Evans: Oh absolutely. When you’re listening across disciplines, you’re always going to have more information. You’re always going to have a better, more holistic understanding. I know that especially for a researcher that you really appreciate that but from somebody who can look at that research and know that it’s well tested and well founded. I can appreciate that as well. My second question there is how has it shaped your understanding of your culture and heritage?

Fernando Rivera: That’s a very good question. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: We had this perception we are us citizens and the ways portrayed in the Puerto Rican media is like, “Oh people are talking about Puerto Rico all the time in the U.S.” And the reality you come here is like, “Hey nobody’s thinking about us.”

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: And that and that’s not only for Puerto Ricans. That’s for every single group, right?

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: That’s not to say that it’s so unique but I think that was kind of like that understanding what’s happening out here in terms of what is my place within this new society that I’m trying to integrate?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: From that personal experience trying to understand what are some of those roles out here and whether people have an easier time or a more difficult time in making a contribution to their community. From the research, we know that about your third generation everybody becomes part of the community that you live in.

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: Regardless of the difference and all that stuff. One of the things that I wanted to put with the research up as well is that this is a blueprint for other communities that might come or might not come out here.

To have that understanding and I think that was driver of trying to understand my own personal experience and utilizing my research to try to understand. And then it just blew up from there and service spending to different ways.

James Evans: Have you had any interesting student experiences? You understand how it’s affected your understanding of your heritage and culture? Have you seen anything interesting or something you want to share from students, fellow faculty members,anything like that?

Fernando Rivera: Absolutely. One of the things when I was an undergrad was ,I had great mentors that saw something in me that I didn’t see myself.

James Evans: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: And I try to do that with my students and my students tell me like, “Hey what you saw in me, why did you take a chance on me? You didn’t have to.”

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And I think that issue of mentorship and paying it forward and I’m seeing it right now. Some of my Ph.D. students now are faculty and now they have their own students.

James Evans: Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: And they’re keeping doing kind of like that same tradition. ,could tell you I still communicate with students that I had. Students from my intro class like 10 years ago. We still keep up. And it’s a long time approach to this, right?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And it’s just giving that little seed in terms of the impact. But for a lot of them they were like, “Hey thanks for taking a chance on me and providing me at home kind of like a story I could share with the whole COVID thing.”

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: I was in the middle of a research project, so I had to hire some students.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And it was through Zoom – no face to face – not knowing all those type of things.

James Evans: Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: And it turned out that it was a great experience for them and they were amazing students. But being able to provide that experience that is apart from your everyday student experience that  you take your course or you go to work or you do whatever it is that you do. Providing that home, that emphasis, it has made a significant change in their lives. And I continue to hear that. And I think this is some of the things that are so important to me of undergrad research. And providing students with that emphasis that yes, the training that you get in your classes is OK. But remember that you’re gaining a skill set and there’s nothing like applying what you learn in the classroom to real life circumstances out here.

James Evans: Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: And even with the projects that we have had and the opportunities that my students get. They see it right. They see the value of education. They see the value of what they’re doing in the classroom. And I tell them, “Hey you’re accumulating skills. You’re not going to go to employees say ‘Hey I can do a literature review.’ It’s like, ‘No, I can consolidate information into something that you can read very easily.’ ”

And so those experiences have been very satisfying. And I think it’s a responsibility also in terms of this type of mentorship that we need to pass on to the next generation.

James Evans: Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: And hopefully we’ll continue rolling that ball down the hill and getting this compassionate and just being there for students sometimes I think as faculty we sometimes forget about the privilege that we have in terms of going through the journey of learning with our students.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Sometimes we forget about that. It’s so simple, right? It’s just replying to an email just saying, “Thank you.” Just saying the little things that made such a big impact on students’ lives.

James Evans: Oh absolutely. And I think that’s because you’re on the other side of it, right? You’ve gone through the educational experience and now you’re pushing forward academia. You’ve had that experience. You’ve had that gratitude for a long time leading up to it. And now that you’re on the other side of it sometimes you’re so caught up that taking that moment to breathe a little bit with the students really makes the difference.

Fernando Rivera: Absolutely. Absolutely. It does.

James Evans: That’s amazing. As you and I both know UCF was designated in 2019 as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and continues to hold that designation today. We’ve interviewed Cyndia Morales Muñiz ’13EdD, director of HSI Culture and Partnerships at UCF, about this topic and in greater length on episode nine of the podcast.

UCF received this designation, you founded the Puerto Rico Research Hub and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico within 18 months of each other. Can you walk us through that year and a half for you?

Fernando Rivera: Yeah absolutely. And talking about the continuity, I was on Dr. Muñiz’s dissertation committee, so we worked very closely as well.

Yeah, that transition between 2017 and roughly 2019 when we got the designation was probably a period of growth not only for myself but I think also for the institution.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: At that time I was a provost faculty fellow so I was working closely with the provost. And I remember that that week that Hurricane Maria actually hit.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: We had a speaker from Florida International University giving a presentation about the growth of Puerto Ricans in Central Florida. And the provost at that time did come and attend the the presentation. We’ve got a glimpse of what were some of the issues people here, at UCF and throughout our Central Florida community.

The hurricane had hit and we were expecting maybe two days of no communication

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Maybe this thing is going to blow over. And I remember like, OK, well it’s been a week. Uh well, it’s been two weeks. It’s been a month. And you still haven’t heard from your family you still haven’t heard from your friends.

You don’t know what situation is going on.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Compound that, all of a sudden people started arriving to Orlando, and specifically to UCF.  I remember people coming to my office and I saw the desperation of the situation. It was dire in part, particularly (because) there was no communication. There was no water, there was no electricity, and the ports were being blocked and after the initial euphoria that, “Hey, I survived.” Then it’s like, “How am I going to get food? How am I going to do the things that I need to do?” A lot of people just went off and we had that mass movement of people coming to our area. And again, they came here because already there was a large group of Puerto Ricans already established here.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And then all of a sudden, Central Florida became  this area of recovery for Puerto Rico. And it was one of those things that as I do more research on climate migration and all those type of things it shows you serve the uncertainty of response to these things.

So at the time the governor did declare a state of emergency in the state of Florida to take care of the people coming from Puerto Rico.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Not that it was the first time that it’s been done but it’s very unusual, right?

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: That that would be like the governor declaring a state of emergency for something that happened in New York or —

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: Roughly along those lines. That allowed for a lot of the local agencies to give out help out here. The governor at the time actually said, “If you come from Puerto Rico and you want to finish your education we’re going to give you in state tuition.”  And I think that was a big draw. Then all of a sudden, students started saying, “They said in Florida you can have instate tuition and that’s a significant reduction.” And I remember dealing with all the applicants and making sure that people had that.

And I heard stories  hat people went to fast food joints that had some type of internet connection and trying to get all those type of things. But like I was saying in terms of the growth and we knew we had a lot of Hispanic students and now it was the idea of how do we serve this student population out here?

Absolutely. And I think Hurricane Maria was one of those big tests in terms of that. And I’m happy to say that UCF as an institution did provided the resources that welcoming atmosphere. And some of my students that ended up eventually at the Puerto Rico Research Hub, they ended up graduating. They found a home at the.

I could say some of them are working in Puerto Rico. They went back, they’re enrolled in medical school or some of them are here. They’re still working with me. That was a good opportunity to test that out in terms of how we’re serving this specific group of students out here.

I think Hurricane Maria would serve this reintroduction to the Puerto Rican population that we already had in Orlando and remove any doubts. There’s a large segment of the population out of here and that we need to help it out. And I think it was a test for us as a potential Hispanic Serving Institution. And you see in 2019 we had the official designation and we continue to do so under the leadership of Dr. Cyndia Morales Muñiz.  I would say now it sounds very calm and relaxed but those were very trying times in terms of dealing with everything at the personal level and then dealing with it at the institutional level.

But at the end of the day I think UCF did answer the call and I’m happy that we were able to put everything together and start the research up and we continue to make sure that our students get those benefits and that we can answer that call that hopefully is the blueprint to answer the call for other situations that might arise in the future.

James Evans: Absolutely. I mean it’s hurricane season right now so who knows, right? It’s Florida. It’s, to me, it seems like every even year we have something going on right. That seems to be the count. at least for my personal experience though it’s one of those one of those times for sure. And as a student who’s going through classes right now who’s soon to graduate in a couple years, I have friends, I have classmates who have come to the university exactly for that reason, from Puerto Rico. They’re like, “I came during high school had my like last two years of high school education. And then I came to UCF, Hurricane Maria hit us hard and we had to figure that out.”

And so it was one of those things I really wanted to think about and make sure that I gave you the space to really talk about there because it matters so much right. That experience. And especially for somebody like you who had two three weeks no communication, plus everything else that happens after that the recovery that takes so long. And then we have the research hub and then the designation right after that. That’s a really tough timeline, a tough beginning, but that’s a really interesting transformation, right? Being able to hear that story and understand where it all comes from, that’s the valuable part of all this. That’s why we do the podcast, is to share those stories to share that empathy and make sure people are hearing that, right? What did it take to get the hub going?

I know we’ve talked about it a little bit but what went into that?

Fernando Rivera: We had the year of the provost.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And eventually we had the year of our dean and it became we need to do this now. We had students coming in, there was a big emphasis in the community and there was this conference in Miami and there was this other institution that wanted to jump ahead and do something similar.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: We could brag that we are the only university in the state of Florida has something dedicated as to the study of Puerto Ricans. And I remember having the conversation with Dean (Michael) Johnson, who is now our provost —

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And said, “Hey, we need to do this.” We put our heads together created our website, created the mission with the marketing team at the College of Sciences as well.

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: And we put it together. I know I had the research experience to do that, but this was another level. In terms of what is it that we going to do out here, we started very humble out here but even in our (nearly) four years now. We’ve been able to have a big impact in the community.

And I remember being featured in the local newspaper on the front-page of the Sunday edition. I think that was a big coming out in the world of the research hub out here. And every week I get a request from somebody.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Either from the community here in Central Florida, from people in Puerto Rico, to people everywhere. We have made our mark and it serves the responsibility of carrying that torch.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And we have been able to advocate for people that necessarily don’t have a voice. But through our interactions that we do, we are able to bring those up. We’ve been up in Congress. We did Puerto Rico baseball day at UCF.

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: So we partnered up with Major League Baseball to bring their clinic here at UCF. We’ve done conferences. We have provided a lot of opportunities for students to engage in research.  We’ve been able to fund some of their research and give them those research opportunities. Every time September comes, I get the media interviews, “Hey how are Puerto Ricans doing in Florida? How is Puerto Rico?”

So, we have created. This research hub that actually provides this expertise that wasn’t there before. And I think that’s the important thing of the things that we do right now. And like give you the elevator pitch for the hub, right?

James Evans: Go for it.

Fernando Rivera: Yeah. We are the center of activities dedicated to the study of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico at the University of Central Florida. And we do four things. We do obviously research, because I’m a professor. That’s what we do. The majority of our research right now emphasize(s) on health issues and disaster-related issues.

The second thing that we do is provide opportunities for students to engage in research. I’ve been blessed to have a wonderful group of student researchers that have gone on to grad school, medical school, they have jobs in the community,  applied (to) job, all those type of things. It’s been wonderful.

Another thing that we do is we do outreach. We do those kind of things. We also have a podcast that we do, and we do different media appearances and all those type of things. We’re making sure that we give that voice and partnerships. We cannot do it alone.

And we’ve been grateful to have the support for all groups in the community from the nonprofit sector to other research institutions throughout the United States, local elected officials and different groups throughout the community out here. We’re creating this and being able to provide that home for a lot of people.

And sometimes the request is like, “Hey, where do I get admission information?” And I just said like, “Hey, go to admissions out here in financial aid here. [If] you have any more questions just let me know.”  We’ve been able to provide that. Being kind of like that middle person between the community and the institution has been important as well.

And I can tell you every time I go to a public event people just say, “Hey, my daughter went to UCF. Hey, my son went to UCF. Hey, what do I do to get to UCF?” So I think that sense of creating that door. That speaks to our Hispanic Serving Institution designation as well. We are opening the doors for the next generation of scholars and researchers.

I’m glad that we’ve been able, through research, (to) make sure that they’re part of our community.

James Evans: That’s what we want to do. And I think that’s the best part about it. That leads me right into my next question, actually. What does the hub mean for the Puerto Rican community at UCF? In Central Florida? But also for the world right? Like this research will further the entire world community. What does that look like?

Fernando Rivera: I see this as a public good. At the end of the day, this is a state university. Yes, I’ve been able to create this, but this doesn’t belong to me.

James Evans: Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: This belongs to the public and I’m pushing to see like, “Hey there’s a public good that people should use.”

And I think that’s an important reminder of what we do right. What good does it do to do research that I’m just going to keep to myself? And changing the way we view scholarship as well, right? Obviously, the world’s a moving target and things continue to evolve but I think we’ve been able to provide that blueprint of what other groups can do as well.

Right now, more and more we’re seeing that academics are stepping out of their bubbles and sharing more of what they do and see the value of what they do and the impact that they can have in the community. And I think right now, I could tell you anybody that wants to know about Puerto Ricans in Florida they come through the hub.

We have created that reputation. And that’s not only for the media but that’s for researchers, that’s for partners, that’s for everything that we do.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And I’m so glad that obviously I didn’t do this by myself. It’s sort of the institutional support from UCF and the students and the staff and everybody that has contributed to this.

So, we are kind of like at that point that we can make a real impact out here.

James Evans: Absolutely.

And now the next step is how do we learn from the experiences of this community? and how do we tie them up to other experiences throughout the world?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Hurricanes are not exclusive to Florida. Hurricanes are not exclusive to Puerto Rico, right? We need to get out of those bubbles and try to understand what are some of the things that other countries are experiencing, right? As we see more and more in terms of the potential issues with climate change and issues of drought, can we talk to our Middle East and North Africa partners that have dealt with this for centuries?

It’s something that’s happening right now in the West Coast of the United States. But, potentially, water is going to be important. One of the things that we have been able to create, we have a great relationship with the consulate of Japan in Miami.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: People say, “Japan and Puerto Rico. What’s going on?” But if you think about it, [they’re] island nations dealing with hurricanes. Typhoons in that part of the world.

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: An aging population. What do you do out here? And that potentially for Florida might be an issue as well. Energy resources, right? What do you do when you have to import all your energy sources and a major crisis happens, right? And you start seeing. So, the next step. How do we look at those similarities and learn from others, right? And also from our Caribbean partners, as well. And for me, my vision is (for) the hub to become this research gateway at UCF for Latin America and the world.

We start with this. We study this population, but we set kind of like that framework. We start making these connections.

James Evans: Again, looking at that holistic view, right? We’re going from just one small discipline into that interdisciplinary, holistic view. And how are we working with others and collaborating to do that right?

Again, unleashing that potential by finding those similarities, by finding that information or that thought process that wasn’t there before.

Fernando Rivera: I get asked a lot of time from being on a grant with engineering or other type of disciplines because they’re trying see that cross-disciplinary, that holistic view of things that we need to do that. It’s not only about doing the infrastructure, but we create infrastructure for social purposes.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And, if you don’t understand the social aspects of it, you might be a pretty building but are they going to use it or not?

James Evans: Exactly. Yeah, it’s that intersection of  —

Fernando Rivera: Absolutely

James Evans: technology – STEM – and the arts, right? The humanity in the infrastructure. The humanity in the technology. That’s where we really find the difference in the value.

Fernando Rivera: Absolutely.

James Evans: We’ve discussed Hurricane Maria. This episode will be released around the five year anniversary of the storm. Because of this. I’d like to double-click and zoom in on the topic. Can you talk about your research around Maria, the storm’s impact on the community – both on the island and abroad?

Fernando Rivera: Without a doubt. Hurricane Maria was a catastrophic event for Puerto Rico and still to this day the reconstruction is going on. One of the things that Hurricane Maria – it was an awful event, but at the same time it unveiled some of the situations that were already ongoing on the island

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: That lesson learned in a way of, “Hey, we need to really look our communities out here and not only concentrate on the event but what is going on out here? Why were people coming to central Florida before Hurricane Maria?” So, what we learned in terms of that there was a mass migration after Hurricane Maria and the majority of the people came to Florida.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: But what we learned from our research as well is that a lot of people went back. But a lot of people did stay. How do we deal with that?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Tying everything together out here. If these natural phenomenons continue to happen, what do we do in a state that continues to grow?

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: The response to the recovery here in Florida was magnificent. Not without headaches and challenges, but I think we were able to pull the resources to make sure that we had a good response to the people that were coming in. From the recovery assistance center that was open at the airport in Orlando and similarly Miami and other places that really brought about a model of how to confront these realities out here.

Obviously, the impact in our community has been immense at all levels, right? To our listeners, I’m pretty sure that you know a Puerto Rican that lives in your community or is your doctor is your professor. You follow some music. You went to a restaurant. All that sort of thing.

That imprint of the Puerto Rican community here in Central Florida; if you haven’t noticed it, look around you’re going to find it.

James Evans: Yeah, of course. Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: And I think sometimes people don’t realize how fortunate they are that they could have so many experiences here locally. We don’t have to travel that far, right?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: And it’s not only serves it’s Puerto Rican population, but I mean you can get authentic food from almost every ethnicity here in town.

James Evans: Absolutely. A huge reason why I chose UCF was the food, actually. The Orlando area and the food scene is immense.

Fernando Rivera: We have a lot of artists that before they go to Puerto Rico or after they go to Puerto Rico, they stop here, right?

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: From the big artists like Bad Bunny, Marc Anthony, all those type of things. They do come here and that’s been an imprint. And now we have festivals and we have all those type of things.

We have the Puerto Rican Day Parade in April. That’s been a contribution, as well. Obviously, the problems that everyone has in the community is a problem that Puerto Rican community has as well.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: So, inflation and affordable housing, all those type of things. It was very rocky type of journey for Puerto Rico because after Hurricane Maria then there was the political turmoil when they discovered these unfortunate comments with the governmental officials that led to the resignation of the of the governor.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: That was the summer of 2019 or so that you still sort of have those ripple effects of what was going on. Then you tie it up to the earthquakes. That was the beginning of 2020. And now, we know the COVID pandemic also.

It’s been served, not necessarily what you trace in terms of disaster recovery, right? Because it’s been served this a cascading effect of different phenomena out here from financial turmoil to political turmoil to earthquakes to a pandemic to the issues with our relationship with the United (States). But surprisingly enough Puerto Rico has been on the forefront of the COVID response. Yeah, great vaccination rates, a very low death rate. The plot continues to evolve in terms of what does this mean in terms of the future of Puerto Rico

But at the end of the day, visiting the island, things have evolved and continue to go in the right direction. But it’s taking little bit of time. And I think people don’t realize that that’s where we need to start seeing the lessons of other communities as well. After Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, and Louisiana continues to be an area that continues to experience a bunch of storms, but sea-level rise, all those type of features out here. It brings about those issues that we need to understand that sometimes there’s a short term recovery. Sometimes it’s a long-term recovery out there. In September, it’s five years after Hurricane Maria, although there’s been movement there’s still a lot of things that need to be done

James Evans: The island’s been hit nonstop with one thing after the other. It’s hard even for a community that has faced so much disaster and they’ve clearly learned how to properly and effectively respond still.

One thing after the other building on top of each other that takes it takes a lot and it takes a long time to build back from something like that. Infrastructure doesn’t get built in the day.

Fernando Rivera: No and now we have inflation and —

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: all those type of things that really becomes a challenge. When you get a quote for a building from prices for 2019 it’s going to it’s not going to be the same in 2022, right?

James Evans: Absolutely.

Fernando Rivera: In terms of that, I think it has shown the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people, but that doesn’t solve our governmental entities for the responsibility they have towards their citizens.

But it has shown that Puerto Rico has gone through like 20 years of not necessarily favorable events.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: But (Puerto Ricans) keep surprising the world in the way they’re responding and continue to be on a positive trend.

James Evans: I have two wrap up questions for you. What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do?

Fernando Rivera: I would say patience. We live in a world where you want instant gratification.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: All the time

James Evans: All the time.

Fernando Rivera: And I think patience is a virtue. Patience comes with getting older and understanding the world a little bit better. I would say don’t be in a rush to try to figure it out. Everything in your life  is a process. Learn about the process and learn from that. And I would say don’t be afraid of failure.

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Learn from failure. If you fail. I mean you tried. And I think sometimes people don’t try because they think they’re going to fail.

James Evans: That fear of not living up to your expectation when at the end of the day did you learn from it?

That’s the most important thing?

Fernando Rivera: Absolutely. And I would say the last thing is to listen. You learn more not talking but actually sitting back and listening.

James Evans: There’s this great quote. I can’t remember who it’s from. I apologize for that, but it’s listen twice as hard as you speak or listen twice as much as you speak. And it’s the idea that sometimes all you need to do is ask the question

Fernando Rivera: Absolutely. It becomes more important right now. We have so much access to information nowadays.

James Evans: Sometimes too much.

Fernando Rivera: Don’t get wrapped up in a bubble

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: Try to listen to perhaps a point of view that you don’t agree with but see what people are thinking about in terms of that. I think we kind of like polarize ourselves and we don’t listen to each other, right?

James Evans: Yeah.

Fernando Rivera: We try to talk over each other and  rationalize everything to your own perspective. And I think sometimes we need just to sit back and listen and learn from that.

James Evans: It’s hard to be heard when you don’t want to listen to others. Right.

James Evans: Mm-hmm. So my second question then is what’s one thing you’re still hoping to do both personally and professionally.

Fernando Rivera: I would say professionally, can we take this to a bigger audience in terms of that? Those personal ambitions and even professional ambitions of, can it be part of administration? And all those type of things, kind of like a higher level and the lessons that I learned —

James Evans: Mm-hmm.

Fernando Rivera: (and) applied. We have a much of a worldwide impact. I think personally I’m a baseball fan. How do I get to the game? Somehow out here I missed my train like a long time ago, but, hey, you never know in terms of that.

So that’s always kind of like that lifetime dream but I could say, “Hey I’ve been to 24 of the 30 major league baseball stadiums so I’m getting close to the end.”

So after that I don’t know what I’m going to do.

James Evans: Which ones do you have left?

Fernando Rivera: Well, the two in Texas, Oakland, Arizona and Minnesota.

James Evans: Awesome. Thank you so much Fernando for being on the show today.

Fernando Rivera: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.

James Evans: The Puerto Rican community has such a rich story and history that goes far beyond the topics we were able to cover today. At UCF we take pride in our designation as an HSI.

So check out our other social media platforms for more content related to Hispanic heritage month. On the next episode of Knights Do That, Deborah Knox is going to give us the insider scoop on speech language pathology and UCF’s Communications Disorders Clinic.

As always if you’re doing something cool whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about. Send us an email at and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights, Charge On.

Debra Knox: Our clinic is unique because it does have that dual mission to provide speech language and audiology services to the community while also preparing the next generation of speech language pathologists.