Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. will honor a woman noted for her years of help and a man whose work earned him the moniker, "the Voice of Freedom" as the Hispanic Woman and Hispanic Man of the Year on Saturday at the Tampa Hilton Downtown. The lives of Marilyn Alvarez and Mario "Mayito" Quevedo both reflect a commitment to the community. For 30 years, Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. has highlighted the work and dedication of people in public and private life who, like this year's honorees, work with a vision and an effort that goes beyond their careers.
At some point, Marilyn Alvarez wanted to be a lawyer. But the course of her life, filled with unforeseen turns, ended up leading her down a road that not only excited her from the beginning but outlined her vocation for help, compliance with public order and a commitment for others.
That road was none other than the police force.
Alvarez has done a little bit of everything: She's dealt with all kinds of criminal cases, investigated reports of child abuse, was part of an elite team in the war against drugs and was in charge of security at two county schools.
She took time to strengthen her ties with the local community and without searching for stardom. Alvarez established herself as a bilingual police officer who now serves as a contact to the Hispanic community.
The daughter of a Cuban-born couple, Alvarez's upbringing built the foundation for her entry into public service.
Alvarez's parents arrived in the United States on the first Flights of Freedom, a historic time for Cubans who escaped Fidel Castro's communist revolution and settled in the land of freedom with the desire for greater opportunities and a future with democratic guarantees.
The Alvarez family forged their fate in an environment of unity and family respect, but also open to entrepreneurship and the facility to establish businesses linked to fieldwork and heavy machinery.
Marilyn Alvarez worked from a very young age helping her father, Roger, with the family's gardening business. Her two other brothers did it as well.
The work of her younger years made Alvarez understand sacrifice and the importance of decent work, as well as instilling a drive to achieve personal ambitions and projects.
"When I started (as a police officer) I was 24 years old and I still remember life was in my parents' house," Alvarez said. "It was a house where doors were always open. That spirit of help, that spirit of solidarity, I saw it ever since I was a child."
With that imprint and her family legacy, Alvarez graduated with honors in criminology at the University of South Florida in December 1996. A month earlier she had completed her training at the Hillsborough County Police Academy. In March of 1997, Alvarez began her career at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Her first year, far from simple, represented a personal challenge. Alvarez patrolled the streets of Wimauma from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., representing the office as one of the few bilingual deputies.
"I learned a lot and I understood that we are here to help," she said about her early work.
In 2005, her career foundation helped her earn the role of Hispanic liaison for HCSO.
Alvarez said the goal was always to bring the community closer to the police and spread the message that law enforcement works to ensure security, but also to serve the general population.
"It's been 12 years in a position that fills me with pride because it gives me the opportunity to talk about the laws, to spread our programs and make people see the rights they have in the community," she said.
Alvarez conducts seminars and spreads help in programs to prevent fraud and domestic violence, among others.
"Knowing that you helped a person, or resolved a situation or went to the aid of a crime victim, is the greatest satisfaction you can receive," she said.
If there is anyone who knows the history of Hispanics in Tampa, at least the history of the last 55 years, it's Quevedo, a "warrior" whose weapon is the word, obstinate and at the same time sweet.
He's fond of saying, "I say and do what I want."
For many, Quevedo is the voice of West Tampa, where he lives, and a spokesman for Hispanics for decades. He was news director for WSOL-AM for 35 years, founder of the newspaper La Voz Hispana, had his own TV program and is currently a columnist for CENTRO Tampa, a Spanish publication owned by the Tampa Bay Times.
He came to the United States from his native Camaguey, Cuba, after getting in trouble as a 16-year-old student revolutionary. Quevedo once led a demonstration at his school under the motto, "Let the books fall until the tyrant falls."
Quevedo attended his senior year at Coral Gables High School in the hopes that he would return to Cuba and reunite with his family. It was not to be.
From a distance, the young Quevedo saw in photos as the smile on his mother's face blurred.
"You cannot forget the cruelties of life, and at the same time there are beautiful memories. Look at this party of 15 that I went with the ugliest girl in Camaguey," he said smiling while showing the photo of one of the last parties he attended in his hometown.
Quevedo immersed himself in learning communications and eventually landed a radio job in Tampa. His efforts consistently made a positive difference in the community.
"This is our story," he said while showing clippings about a record increase in Hispanics who registered to vote thanks to a radio campaign promoted by Quevedo when he was news director for the WQBN station that's currently 1300 AM.
In 1980, Quevedo and his group brought the nation's attention to the plight of 10,000 Cuban exiles who took over the Peruvian Embassy in Havana. A radio campaign helped pay for a full-page ad in the New York Times to expose the problems in Cuba.
The campaign eventually led to $100,00 in donations.
From 1982 to 1999 he directed La Voz Hispana, spurring more community efforts with articles and opinions.
"Those things you can say and do, can only be done here," Quevedo said. "Freedom is contagious.