TAMPA — Two Tampa residents have been chosen as Hispanic man and woman of the year by Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc.
Lawyer Daniel Alvarez and activist Norma Camero-Reno will be honored at a gala today at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. The gala is part of Hispanic Heritage Month festivities, which also raise funds for scholarships for Hispanic students.
Both have stories that inspire others.
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Multitasking has always been part of Camero-Reno’s agenda.
The mother, lawyer, activist and human rights advocate is the voice of many Venezuelans of the Tampa area.
Camero-Reno, 64, was born in El Tigre, Anzoategui, Venezuela, a small town known for its petroleum reserves.
Volunteering and hard work are at the core of Camero-Reno’s personality, but helping Hispanic immigrants adapt to American society also is important to her.
“I love community work, it definitively fulfills me and has contributed to my personal growth,” said Camero-Reno. “I have always been this way; the activism goes back to my childhood years when I lived with my mother and siblings.”
Camero-Reno is the youngest of a family of eight that overcame the obstacles of growing up in a developing country. “Doña Patricia,” her mother, better known as “Mama Chicha” among residents of El Tigre, has been her motivation and role model.
Memories of people living under difficult circumstances have shaped Camero-Reno’s personality.
“What I lived back home seemed natural to me,” she said. “The strict upbringing, in the sense that there was no excuse not to help a neighbor or people who were in need, marked me profoundly.”
Camero-Reno came to Tampa 30 years ago, long before Venezuela’s internal crisis exploded and former president Hugo Chávez took power. She views her country’s sociopolitical downfalls as steps that have alienated the nation.
Her concern for Venezuela’s internal crisis led her to create MOVE — Movimiento Organizado de Venzolanos en el Exterior, or, in English, the Organized Movement for Venezuelan People Abroad. The group protects Venezuelans in the United States through initiatives such as the approval of Temporary Protected Status.
According to the U.S. Census, there were 41,000 Venezuelans in Florida in 2000. By 2010, the number had grown to 102,000.
Camero-Reno studied law at Santa Maria University in Venezuela and has completed her masters in International Law at Stetson University. She has worked and collaborated with entities such us Catholic Charities, League of United Latin American Citizens and Hispanic Advisory Council, among other non-lucrative organizations.
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Daniel “Danny” Alvarez smiles at his office cleaning lady with the same enthusiasm he does when he greets the president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He treats all people with the same amount of respect and cordiality, according to Javier Torres, a Venezuelan lawyer who works with him.
“Danny housed the foundation in this place,” said Torres, executive director of Migrants Foundation, a nonprofit organization. “Everyone comes to Danny for advice: police officers, judges, business owners, all kinds of people.”
Alvarez said the world of law wasn’t his first career choice.
“I took a left in life, and then a right and I ended up in the school of law,” he said.
Before attending Stetson University College of Law in 2004, Alvarez, 41, studied journalism at the University of Florida, then worked as a reporter at The Miami Herald from 1990 until 1996.
His work ethic and exposure to different scenarios defines who he is today.
“Danny is a great guy and professional, but I think that what makes Danny Danny is how down to earth and sincere he is,” said Luis Viera, a Tampa attorney. “He is a humble man and very down to earth and decent. That is, he works hard to honor his heritage as a Cuban American and as a son of Cuban exiles. He carries that in his heart, and aspires to give that to his children.”
Born in Miami but raised in Texas, Alvarez reminisced how hard it was for his family to relocate to Miami after the petroleum recession in 1985.
According to Alvarez, he and his brothers used to live comfortably and went to private schools until his father lost it all; back in Miami they had to sleep in grandma’s living room.
“I remember me and my brothers running and jumping in order to get the best spot of the bed because it was falling apart,” Alvarez said with a smile. His grandparents used to tell them stories about Cuba and the reasons why they left once Fidel Castro took over.
In 1997, Alvarez decided to join the Army.
“Ever since I was part of the Army, I had the need to give others everything you are,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez is the president of the Sheriff’s Hispanic Advisory Council and has been involved in the community in many ways, including as director of Migrants Foundation Inc., director of Hispanic Affairs for Rick Scott’s campaign and a member of Casa Cuba.
He decided to open his own law firm in 2011, where he encourages colleagues to share his views about the importance of serving the community.