TAMPA — The Hillsborough Hispanic Man and Woman of the Year are top administrators in local government who share a deep affection for the community they have helped shape during their careers.
Anthony 'Tony' Morejón, 60, Hispanic liaison with Hillsborough County, has spent years advocating for the local Hispanic labor force. Adriana ‘Adri’ M. Colina, 49, administrator with the city of Tampa's solid waste program, has served as a role model while working her way up through nearly three decades as a city employee.
The two will be honored by the Hispanic Heritage Committee of Tampa during a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown hotel.
From his childhood in Manhattan and the Bronx, Morejon has been drawn to helping others. He lived with his maternal grandparents and uncles in a house where Spanish was spoken. He learned to read English at the Catholic elementary school he attended.
“In the school, there were very few Latinos," he said. "I remember a big-eared, skinny kid who came from Cuba and I was his interpreter."
His mother Rosa Rocío and father José emigrated from Cuba in 1956.
“Back then, my dad was her boyfriend and wanted to get married, but he gave her one condition: 'I marry you, but let's get out of here because something horrible is going to happen here."
The family moved to Tampa in 1970 and Morejón attended Pearce Middle and Leto High schools.
“At that time there were few Hispanics," he said. "Look at it today. Incredible."
Hispanic enrollment at Leto in the Town N' Country area is now 76 percent.
Morejon studied psychology and graduated from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga before returning to Tampa and finding work with a food company. Later, he got a job as a social worker with the state and then the county.
In the mid-1980s, Hispanic co-workers suffering from discrimination and abuse would approach him there.
“Several people went to me because they were treated in other offices like animals," he said. "People knew that I was not going to give them anything, but I was going to treat them right.”
Morejón helped form a group called the Employee Hispanic Council. The council conducted a study that showed few Hispanics worked for the ciounty, they made less than other workers and had little chance of advancement.
“That study came out in all the newspapers and it was shocking for a lot of people because they did not like the idea of integrating Hispanics."
Morejon went on to help advise others advocating for the Hispanic community, including Marilyn Álvarez, Hispanic liaison with the Sheriff's Office.
“When I was not sure, he told me: ‘You can do it, I believe in you," Álvarez said, recalling how Morejon made introductions for her. "Tony is an icon in this city. He is a true leader in this community and I am his apprentice."
After 35 years, Morejón retires this month from a county job that serves as a platform from which he has worked in a host of other arenas, including the Latino Coalition of Florida, Hispanic Services Council and Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and the Love and Hope Organization.
“I retired, but this has not been a job as much as it is a calling," said Morejon, a father of three who enjoys fishing and shooting sports. "I'm going to take a break for a short time."
Politics, he said, may be in his future.
As Hispanic liaison, Morejón instituted a series of seasonal seminars on hurricane safety and has worked to help restore Democracy in Cuba, inspired by people like Roberto Pizano of Tampa.
Pizano, 80, a Cuban political prisoner for 18 years, spoke highly of his friend.
“The good things that happened in the community, Tony has done it. God willing that the one who replaces him, now that he retires, can match him."
Adriana Colina, Hispanic Woman of the Year, has built her life on three principles — pride in her family roots, a spirit of service, and a love for Tampa.
"Tampa is unique, and I love being part of it," she said. "It is an honor and constant motivation. "
Colina, administrator since 2015 of the solid waste department and environmental program, started working with the city of Tampa 29 years ago. She and her Cuban-American husband Carlos Colina have two grown daughters — a family that she describes as the driving force in her life.
"I love helping people and I try to live my life to make a difference in the community," Colina said. "I do not want the day comes to come when I’m no longer here, nothing happens. I want to make a difference. "
She is the third generation of a family of Spanish, Cuban and Italian immigrants — the trio of influences that helped shape the community of Ybor City and Tampa. She also attended Leto High as well as St. Leo University, where she received a degree in human resources management.
Despite her many years on the job, handling communications, public relations, finance and personnel at high levels, she said she still approaches each day with passion and dedication.
"I am part of a family that was made in Tampa. In this city is my heart and work that I love so much."
Colina supervises the work of 90 employees involved in waste disposal, recycling and incinerator energy production for some 15,000 homes.
"The recycling process is a very complex job that starts from the moment our trucks leave at 4 a.m.," she said. "That says a lot about the commitment and the spirit of work of our employees."
In the early 2000s, working Mayor Pam Iorio, Colina launched the citizen television program ¿Que pasa Tampa? to showcase the Latin flavor of local history, people and traditions.
She has also worked with the mayor's Hispanic Advisory Committee, serving two terms as director. She has been honored by the Latin American Fiesta Association as First Woman of the Year in Community Service and by the city as 2005 Josephine Howard Stafford Woman of the Year, an award based on a vote of city employees. She was the youngest official to receive this award.
In regard to the nature of these and other awards that highlight her career and professionalism, Colina said that they encourage her to continue working.
Her leadership skills distinguish Colina, said Mark Wilfalk, director of the city's Department of Solid Waste Services.
"When you think of Adri Colina, you think about her devotion and dedication," Wilfalk said. "Everyone has their responsibilities at work, but she is definitely very special because she has an initiative that is exceeded only by her passion and commitment."
Amber Margarejo, a friend of Colina since she was 6, said she is amazed by all Colina is able to accomplish: "I do not know where she gets the time to do so much and for so many. Maybe because it's in her nature."
Contact Myriam Warren at [email protected]