The passion to sing and play music came later in life for Riverview's Joe Zuniga.
Born in Miami to migrant workers who followed crops around the state, including Ruskin for tomato season, Zuniga grew up in the SouthShore area.
By the time he was a sophomore at East Bay High School, he found himself expelled for what he called "hanging out with the wrong crowd."
At 19, he returned to his Ruskin Elementary School roots as a truancy officer, but a drug trafficking conspiracy case landed him in prison for five years, followed by another four years of supervised release. It wasn't until 2011 that Zuniga decided to head to Monterrey, Mexico, to start a recording career in a genre of music that made Selena famous.
"I was so mad when I was in prison," said Zuniga, who is on track to graduate from USF in the spring with a bachelor's degree in economics and political science. "I said to myself, 'I'm way better than this. What am I doing here?' I'm trying to make up for lost time."
Zuniga is scheduled to become the first Mexican-American singer to perform at the annual Ruskin Seafood Festival when he takes the stage at 10 a.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5 and all ages are welcome.
"It's awesome," Zuniga said. "I'm breaking barriers. It's gonna be a mix of regional Mexican music."
After prison, Zuniga studied abroad in Wales, earned an associate's degree in business from Hillsborough Community College and now runs a marketing company and a newly-launched fashion company. In 2012 he won a Tejano Globe award as the Best New Artist and was nominated for a Tejano Music award.
He credits his brother-in-law, Jesse, for teaching him how to play the keyboard and his mother, Maria, who died in January, as his main inspiration. You can hear his motivation emerge in his music, including his latest single Que Me Falto, as well as his public speaking engagements.
SouthShore Chamber of Commerce executive director Melanie Morrison is looking forward to Zuniga's performance.
"The chamber formed a Diversity Committee this year and part of the initial discussion in this group was to make our events more diverse," Morrison said. "The music seemed like a perfect place to start.
"I honestly don't think we could have found a better fit for this."
Zuniga is close to launching his first CD and expects to be on Mexican and American radio by next year. You can hear his music at facebook.com/JoeZunigaOfficial.
Contact Eric Vician at [email protected]