Voces Hispanas

Voces Hispanas 2023

2023 Voces Hispanas Event

Voces Hispanas “New Stories to Tell” inaugurates a landmark research initiative for the five counties in Northeast Florida by gathering the testimonies of Hispanics and their historical, cultural and economic contributions spanning the last 100 years. 


First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Event Details:

Date: September 18, 2023
Time: 10 AM – 12 PM
Cost: FREE


Jacksonville City Hall
117 W. Duval Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202


The Voces: New Stories to Tell collection seeks to expand the scope of Hispanics represented. The goal is to interview at least 100 more Hispanics from the greater five county area. All Hispanic communities in Northeast Florida are invited to participate, from long term Minorcans or Floridanos to newcomers, we want to hear your story about how you arrived here in Northeast Florida.


History of Voces de Hispanos (Voces Hispanas)

Voces de Hispanos Oral History Collection was originally created in 2021 for Jacksonville Historical Society’s (JHS) Hispanic Heritage Month meeting. Unfortunately, scant information existed—and Dr. Karimi decided to create an oral history research study. She received the historical society’s blessing and the oral history project was born.

Phase 2 began in May 2022 when Dr. Karimi partnered with the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Together they created the “More Stories to Tell” collection that was under the umbrella of the “Celebremos lo que Somos” initiative. This partnership increased the scope of Latinos represented from Duval County to St. Johns, Baker, Clay, and Nassau Counties.

In 2023, thanks to the FCHCC, “Voces Hispanas” created a museum quality exhibit honoring Hispanic leaders of NE Florida. The leaders selected have made significant contributions to the Hispanic community over the past several decades. We’re excited as the City of Jacksonville will be hosting this special event on Monday, August 18 to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month. At last count, the Voces Hispanas collection numbers close to 70 interviews and closer to our goal of 100 voices.


Ing. Clark Vargas, P.E.

Clark Vargas


Ing. Clark Vargas, P.E., from Barranquilla, Colombia, moved to the United States in 1960. His mother’s dual citizenship facilitated the family’s migration, which she obtained through her American-born father—a gold miner who immigrated to Colombia.

Vargas graduated from Englewood High School in Jacksonville, where he played football. He earned his Master’s degree in Engineering from the University of Florida and served as an officer in the U.S. Army’s 249th Corps of Engineers from 1966 to 1969. A registered professional engineer, he was licensed to practice in 17 states.

Deeply committed to community service, Vargas held leadership roles in various organizations. He was co-founder and past president of the Hispanic American Business Association (HABA), a past president of the Rotary Club of Southpoint, President of Character Counts, Jacksonville and founded and chaired the North Florida Hispanic Leadership Alliance.

He dedicated 10 years to the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, serving four years as chairman. His civic roles were numerous: He was past member of Jacksonville Environmental Land Selection Committee; Member of Duval County Water Quality Coordinating Committee (SWIM). The U.S. Small Business Administration also recognized Vargas for Minority Enterprise Outstanding Performance in 1988.

Vargas was an alum of the Jacksonville FBI Citizen’s Academy, class of 2006 and past president of the Gateway Rifle and Pistol Club and the Florida Sport Shooting Association. In 1989, Vargas received an invitation to try out for the U.S. Olympic Pistol Team. Vargas developed the “No Blue Sky” concept for outdoor shooting ranges that kept the projectiles on the range property and provided a quiet neighborhood-friendly place for people to go learn or improve on shooting skills. From that time on, Vargas was sought out as an Outdoor Shooting Range Designer and Engineer and Subject Matter Shooting Range Expert. Incidentally, he designed well over 1,000 ranges across the country,

Vargas enjoyed sport fishing, shooting and family life. His wife Norma survives him as do four children and 8 grandchildren.

Ken Amaro

Ken Amaro

Ken Amaro is the newly elected representative for Jacksonville City Council District 1, securing a Republican majority in the March 2023 election. With a career spanning over 40 years in broadcast journalism, Amaro brings a unique skill set to his new role in public service.

Amaro was born and raised in the Virgin Islands and his father and grandfather were from Culebra, Puerto Rico. He moved to Jacksonville in 1976 to attend Jones College, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Management in 1980 and many years later the college honored him with an Honorary Doctorate.  He began his professional journey as a part-time reporter at WTLV, eventually rising to the position of On Your Side Consumer Reporter at First Coast News. In this capacity, he specialized in investigative reporting that exposed scams and fraudulent business practices, thereby safeguarding the interests of consumers.

While serving as a journalist, he has been nominated for three Florida Emmy Awards and also won two Emmy Awards. In addition, in 1998, he was named Consumer Advocate of the Year and won a National Gabriel Award. He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award and also won the School Bell award for his outstanding contribution to increase public understanding of educational issues. From 1979-1989 he won the Florida Medical Association awards, Associated Press award, and the Florida News Maker award.

Beyond his media career, Amaro has been an active participant in various business and educational boards. He has served on the Greenwood School Board of Directors, the Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, the Learn to Read Board of Directors, and the Florida Theater Board of Directors. among others. These roles have provided him with valuable insights into the intersection of business, education, and community service.

Amaro is married to Rosalyn, his wife of 43 years, and they have four daughters and three grandchildren. In his free time, he continues to contribute to his community as an Elder and Sunday School Teacher at the Philippian Community Church.

Dr. Norberto Benitez

Dr. Norberto Benitez

Originally from Santa Clara, Cuba, Dr. Norberto Benitez immigrated to the United States at the age of 12, with his parents and sister. They were fortunate to leave Cuba, but lost everything once they informed the Cuban government they wanted to leave. His father was placed in a work camp for over two years, seeing his family for short intervals at a time. The family settled in Miami, and their father instilled the values of hard work and civic pride into his son and daughter–values that led both children to complete medical school and become physicians.

In 1987, Dr. Benitez entered private practice by purchasing a small pediatric office in Neptune Beach from Dr. Aleyda PiRoman. Over the next 18 years, the practice merged with Jacksonville Pediatric Associates and expanded to include three offices. In 2005, Dr. Benitez fulfilled a long-standing dream by leaving his senior partnership position at JPA to open 24/7 Pediatric Care Centers—the only 24/7 private pediatric practice in the United States—dedicated to providing round-the-clock care for children.

Dr. Benitez is a 1980 graduate of Universidad Central del Este in the Dominican Republic. He completed a one-year family practice internship at St. Joseph Medical Center in New York and a three-year pediatric residency at University Hospital in Jacksonville. Beyond his professional achievements, Dr. Benitez is also involved in missionary work in several countries, including Peru, Panama, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Jamaica. Notably, he provided medical care in Haiti, arriving just 10 days after the devastating 2010 earthquake. He also founded Bright Eyes Uganda, an initiative that has been instrumental in enacting positive change in Uganda.

In addition to his educational and experiential background, Dr. Benitez maintains affiliations with several professional organizations. He is a member of the Northeast Florida Pediatric Society, the Duval County Medical Society, and the Florida Medical Society. Additionally, he is involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and has served as the past president of the Arlington Rotary. In the late 1990s, a great need arose to provide resources and care for indigent Hispanic children in Jacksonville, Dr. Benitez expressed his concern along with others in the Hispanic community and in 1998 was appointed to the first Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board under Mayor John Delane. Dr. Benitez is the proud father of five children and has five grandchildren. He resides in Jacksonville Beach with his wife, Anna.

Ann Browning Masters, Ph.D.

Ann Browning Masters

In 2015, the Florida Historical Society Press published Ann Browning Masters’ collection, Floridanos, Menorcans, Cattle-Whip Crackers: Poetry of St. Augustine, which is now in its second printing. Her poetry has been featured in various anthologies and journals, presented at history and literary conferences, recognized at the Florida Folk Festival, and archived in the Florida State Historical Archives. Dr. Masters continues to share her work through the Eckerd College Road Scholar Program.

For her commitment to promoting St. Augustine’s Spanish heritage, Dr. Masters was knighted by the St. Augustine Easter Festival in 2015. In March 2023, the Menorcan Cultural Society appointed her as St. Augustine’s Menorcan Poet Laureate.

A 12th-generation Floridana, Dr. Masters is a native of St. Augustine. Her heritage is rich and diverse, including Floridana roots that trace back to Spanish settlers from Florida’s First Spanish Period (1565). She is also a descendant of the Italian, Greek, and Menorcan colonists who arrived in St. Augustine in 1777 during Florida’s British Period.

Dr. Masters holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, Master’s and Specialist’s degrees in Counseling Education, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Leadership, all from the University of Florida. Her doctoral dissertation was honored with both the University of Florida College of Education’s Kimball Wiles Outstanding Dissertation Award and the Education Law Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award.

An active participant in heritage organizations, Dr. Masters is a founding board member of the Los Floridanos Society, which promotes fellowship among descendants of settlers from St. Augustine’s First Spanish Period (1565-1763). She has also been a long-standing member of the Menorcan Cultural Society, a heritage association for descendants of the Italian, Greek, and Menorcan settlers who came to St. Augustine in 1777. Furthermore, she has served on the Board of Directors for the St. Augustine Historical Society and continues to serve as a member of its Journal of History Editorial Board.

Andres del Rosal  

Andres Del Rosal

Andy del Rosal serves as Vice President of Product Innovation & Liquid Quality in Bacardi Limited’s Global Supply Chain. He is responsible for spearheading product innovation, encompassing research, development, and the introduction of new spirits and packaging. Andy collaborates closely with Bacardi’s Maestros (Master Blenders and Distillers) to maintain the high quality of the company’s esteemed spirits.

In his role, Andy enjoys the best of both worlds. He engages with Bacardi’s ever-changing creative landscape, planning for the future and enabling brand teams to develop exciting new products. Simultaneously, he’s committed to preserving Bacardi’s rich history and heritage by supporting the development of the next generation of Maestros, thereby ensuring unparalleled quality in Bacardi’s offerings.

Andy began his career with Bacardi in 1994 and has held diverse roles ranging from Quality and Production to Bottling and New Product Development. He took a 5.5-year hiatus to work at Cargill in Minneapolis, where he led the Beverage Applications Lab, and at Pernod-Ricard in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, as the Director of New Product Development.

In 2020 during the Covid 19 pandemic, when a dire need for hand sanitizer arose, Andy initiated dialogue between the Spirits industry and Dr. Robert Califf, head of the FDA. He mediated with the FDA for the Spirits industries to legally create hand sanitizer for first responders in Florida and Jacksonville. Andy also perceived a worldwide shortage of hand sanitize existed. He led Bacardi’s global effort to create hand sanitizer at the company’s various facilities worldwide to administer the badly needed product to first responders.

Currently based in Jacksonville, Florida, Andy is happily married to his wife Robyn of 29 years. They have seven children (4 sons and 3 daughters) and 5 grandchildren. 

Dr. Andres Gallo

Andres Gallo

Dr. Gallo was born in Argentina and relocated to the United States to attend graduate school. He is the Earle Traynham Professor of Economics and Director of the International Business Flagship Program at UNF’s Coggin College of Business and is also the current Director of the GlobalMBA program at UNF. Dr. Gallo developed double degree programs in Spain, France and Germany, and other international opportunities for students at UNF.

Specializing in international economics with a focus on Latin America and economic development, Dr. Gallo has authored more than 30 research papers and frequently presents at conferences. His research interests extend to the political economy of property rights in diverse contexts, including the U.S. patent system and biotechnology. In his scholarly work, he often employs econometric techniques to address a range of research questions.

Dr. Gallo is an accomplished educator, offering courses in international economics, econometrics, economic development, study abroad programs, and Latin American economics. He has lectured at several universities globally and has led study abroad courses to countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Guatemala, Spain, and Ghana.

Dr. Gallo boasts an extensive educational background that spans multiple countries and institutions. He earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to his graduate studies in the United States, he completed a course in Sciences and Economics at the prestigious Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Furthermore, he holds a Licenciado en Economía degree from the National University of La Plata in La Plata, Argentina.

Dr. Gallo’s accolades include the Supply Chain Management Research Award from the Transportation and Logistics Flagship Program at the University of North Florida, the Kathryn Richard deRaismes Kip Fellow, Coggin College of Business, University of North Florida award for 2009-2011, and several Transformational Learning Opportunities scholarships and grants for study abroad programs and research awards for both developed and developing countries.

Dr. Gallo has held various academic and administrative positions throughout his career. Currently, he is the Director of the International Business Flagship Program at the University of North Florida’s Coggin College of Business and is also the current Director of the GlobalMBA program at UNF. He has served as Chair of the Department of Economics and Geography and has held professorial roles at Universidad Austral.

Dr. Gallo’s academic journey also included positions as a Graduate Research Assistant at the College of Computer Engineering and the College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Additionally, he has functioned as an Assistant Professor and Researcher at the National University of La Plata in Argentina.

With a comprehensive and distinguished academic and professional background, Dr. Gallo continues to contribute to the fields of economics and international business, combining scholarly rigor with a commitment to educational excellence.

Wilfredo “Willie” J. Gonzalez

Wilfredo "Willie" Gonzalez

Wilfredo J. Gonzalez currently serves as the Chairman of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Prior to this, he was the District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in North Florida, a role he held from December 1996 until his retirement last year. Under his leadership, the district saw a steady increase in government-backed lending activity since the 2009 economic downturn. Gonzalez also served as the District Director for the SBA’s Washington D.C. office from 1994 to 1996.

Before joining the SBA, Gonzalez held various leadership positions, including Associate Administrator for Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development at the SBA, and Regional Director for the Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency in Atlanta, Georgia. He served in the Bush and Clinton administrations and was appointed Staff Director with the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights; Associate Director of EEO and Civil Rights with the U. S. Department of State. His career began as a HEW Fellow in 1976, and he served as Country Director of the Peace Corps in Ghana and Deputy Director in Bogota, Colombia.

Gonzalez earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Puerto Rico, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He also attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Gonzalez serves the community through his membership in various boards and organizations including the Regional Community Institute (RCI) of Northeast Florida, Inc.; the Sheriff’s Advisory Board of the Police Athletic League (PAL); the Board of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens; the SBDC Advisory Council; the UNF Student Affairs Community Council; the Community Advisory Board for WJCT (PBS); the Board for Visit Jacksonville; and the Northeast Florida Global Cities Initiative. 

He previously served on the Board of Trustees of the University of North Florida, the Citizens Forum of the Florida Bar, the Judicial Nominating Commission for the 4th Judicial District, the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity (HABIJAX), the North Florida Hispanic Leadership Alliance, the Board of Directors of the National Council on Community and Justice, the Jacksonville Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board, the Florida State Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the oversight committee for the Better Jacksonville Plan, and the Sports & Entertainment Commission for the City of Jacksonville.

In 2014 Gonzalez received the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award from the Jacksonville Jaguars® and the Founder’s Award from Latina Style Magazine.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Gonzalez lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Rocelia, and their three children.

Tomas A. Jimenez Sr.

Tomas Jimenez Sr.

Tomas A. Jimenez, from Camaguey, Cuba, comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. His grandfather originated Jimenez Brothers Enterprises in 1922 and the family operated heavy machinery dealerships and distributorships for Cuba with products from Ford and International Harvester. Their company catered to government officials at the highest level, including President Batista, large plantations and landlords of large farming operations. They enjoyed an affluent lifestyle and hobnobbed with elites at all levels of government, industry and society. In the 1950s, the Jimenez Brothers began importing heavy machinery through the Port of Jacksonville from the M.D. Moody Company, based in Jacksonville. This business relationship and friendship proved invaluable in later years. After the Cuban Revolution, the family lost their everything. Tomas and his mother escaped Cuba in 1961, when he was 14 years old and the family joined his father in Miami.

The family relocated to Columbus, GA, where they were the town’s first Cuban family. His mother was employed as a hotel maid, his father worked as a mechanic and Tomas labored at odd jobs after school, leaving little time to sleep, much less study. Despite the hardships, Tomas nurtured an entrepreneurial spirit, which he inherited from his father and grandfather. Many of his father’s prior contacts with American companies, like The Moody Company served Tomas well and he re-established these business alliances. In the late 1960s, he began importing cars to Latin America and Puerto Rico, eventually founding Jiménez-Bellisario Enterprises when he married into the family of the Bellisario’s of New York. He moved to the River City in 1984 with his wife Lynda and their two-year old son, Tomas, Jr. While his family grew, his political activism also grew. He received numerous accolades from Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W, Bush along with honors from Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress. Active in the Republican Party of Florida, he’s been recognized for his outstanding achievements by Governors Jeb Bush, Crist, Scott, and DeSantis and other local and regional notables. Jimenez also developed strong relationships with Jacksonville Mayors John Delaney and Alvin Brown.

Jimenez’s influence in the Jacksonville community over the decades has been palpable as his past accomplishments of community service and political activism are receiving honor and recognition present day. On June 19, 1998 Mayor John Delaney issued an Executive Order creating the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board at the behest of Tomas Jimenez. He served as chair of the advisory board until 2002. As a member of the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory board, he undertook a project with Anhueser-Busch to send humanitarian aid to victims of Hurricane Georges in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In 1998 Tomas created “Achieving the Dream” Scholarship program for young Hispanics in Duval County. Since 1998, Jimenez-Bellisario Enterprises have awarded in excess of $600,000 to the scholarship fund that Jimenez created years before. The Achieving the Dream Scholarship Program is presently under the yoke of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In 2019, Resolution 2019-781-A was adopted to honor the 21st anniversary of the founding of the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board and on January 28, 2020 a ceremony was held by the Jacksonville City Council to honor Mayor John Delany and Tomas Jimenez. In 2014, Duval County Resolution 2014-705-A was adopted honoring Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business Contractors for constructing Duval County Unified Courthouse Project. Tomas received recognition for his participation. And last, but not least, in September 2013, Tomas was the recipient of the Mayor’s Hispanic Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded by Mayor Alvin Brown.

From 2006-present day, Jimenez serves on the Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises Board of Directors. He was originally appointed/commissioned by Governor Jeb Bush. Tomas connects with many first offenders and strives to advocate on their behalf so they may learn skills to earn gainful employment in society after they leave the prison walls. In this way, the cycle of poverty will be broken and they will become upstanding members of the community. In his spare time, he enjoys golf and spending quality time with his wife Lynda, his family and grandchildren.

Constanza López Baquero

Constanza Lopez Baquero

Constanza López Baquero is a U.S-born Colombian educator, researcher, and artivist whose interdisciplinary work spans trauma, memory, and the transformative power of art and community engagement. She serves as an Associate Professor at the University of North Florida (UNF), where she specializes in teaching Spanish language, as well as Latin American culture and literature.

Dr. López Baquero holds a doctorate in Hispanic Literatures from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her extensive research interests include 20th and 21st-century Latin American Literature, women’s literature, autobiography, testimonio, gender and violence, cinema, human rights, migration, the Hispanic experience in the United States, and youth subcultures, particularly hip-hop culture.

Her germinal manuscript, “Trauma, memoria y cuerpo: el testimonio femenino en Colombia (1985-2000),” garnered her the Victoria Urbano Critical Monograph Award in 2010 and was published two years later. This work was also honored with the Monserrat Ordóñez Award by LASA Colombia in 2014. She has authored multiple scholarly articles and has presented her research both in the United States and internationally.

Her most recent work, “Reterritorialization of Spaces of Violence in Colombia: Collective Efforts,” is slated for publication in 2024. This project is the culmination of a decade of meticulous fieldwork in Medellín and Bogotá, examining how hip-hop, poetry, urban art, and community-building can create dignified spaces and experiences within the city.

At UNF, Dr. López Baquero directs “Voces y Caras: Hispanic Communities of North Florida,” an oral history initiative involving students of Hispanic heritage interviewing their relatives and local community members. Over its 11-year run, the project has amassed approximately 200 interviews, which are showcased during Hispanic Heritage Month at the UNF Art Gallery.

Drawing inspiration from Latin American women activists, she also orchestrates the annual community event “Embroidering for Peace and Memory.” Here, participants from across campus unite to stitch messages of peace and tales of human rights violations onto white cloth. Since its inception in 2012, this initiative has generated around 600 embroidered pieces in over 13 languages, spotlighting the cultural richness and social engagement of both UNF and the broader North Florida community. In addition to these projects, Dr. López Baquero co-leads the annual International Poetry Festival at UNF. Through this platform, she has invited renowned poets, rappers, and filmmakers from Latin America, enriching the cultural fabric of the campus and the surrounding Northeast Florida community.

Jorge Lopez

Jorge Lopez

Jorge Lopez serves as the Vice President of Sales for iHeartMedia’s Hispanic brands in Jacksonville and Tampa. He brings expertise in business development, strategic marketing, digital media, and multidisciplinary team management to his role. With over 35 years of experience in sales and media, Jorge has been committed to supporting and guiding local businesses in achieving their objectives.

In 2018, Jorge was honored with the Hispanic Leadership Award in the Business category. He chaired the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board from 2021 to 2023 and currently serves as a board member of the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. During his tenure in Jacksonville, he has been instrumental in launching more than 12 radio stations, including the city’s first 24-hour Spanish radio station in 2003. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Jorge now resides in Florida with his wife and children. In his leisure time, he enjoys relaxing with his family and golfing.

Indira Moran

Indira Moran

Indira Moran was born in Santiago, Chile, to a humble family of six. She never experienced voting in a democratic election in Chile due to General Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, which began in 1973 and led to thousands of human rights abuses.

In 1980, Indira moved to Washington, D.C., on an H-2 Visa and worked as a nanny. Unfortunately, she endured labor abuse and was never paid. After leaving this job, she faced unemployment and homelessness. Despite her hardships, she volunteered as a preschool assistant teacher and an assistant for ESOL classes. In 1985, she married Sean Moran, gained legal status, and they eventually moved to Virginia with their two children: Paulina and Cristina.

From 1988 to 1992, Indira worked for the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She was later employed by a nonprofit in Prince William County focusing on mental health, social work and immigration issues. As an activist, she co-founded two organizations, HOLA and VACOLAO, which addressed immigration rights. The Prince William County supervisors appointed her to the County Health Authority Board. In 2003, former Governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, (Now Senator Warner) appointed her to both The Latino Advisory Commission to the Governor and the Virginia Medicaid Board. She served in these positions until 2005.

After relocating to Florida in 2005, Indira worked with the Department of Children and Families, the University of Florida Pediatric Center, and Lutheran Social Services. In 2018, she was employed as a Community Resources director for a legal team focusing on immigration law. She continues to volunteer and serves on the boards of NEFIRA and The Friends of Augusta Savage Art and Community Center.

In 2017, Indira became a U.S. citizen, fulfilling her long-held dream to vote. She remains an active member of the Clay County Democrats and was selected for the FBI Citizen Academy in 2023.

Jorge Peña 

Jorge Pena

Jorge Peña, a native of Honduras, launched his orchestral career with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra immediately after graduating from Johns Hopkins University. During his academic years, he served as the assistant principal viola for both the Maryland and Annapolis Symphony Orchestras. Twenty-six years ago Peña joined the Jacksonville Symphony, which has been the cornerstone of his musical tenure. In addition, he spent summers at prestigious festivals like Tanglewood and the Grand Tetons Music Festival prior to founding the St. Augustine Music Festival.

Throughout his career, Mr. Peña performed and collaborated with some of the most esteemed conductors and performers of his time, including Leonard Bernstein, Roger Norrington, Seiji Ozawa, Ray Charles, John Denver, Itzhak Perlman, and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Driven by a deep passion for classical music and music education, Mr. Peña expanded his roles within the classical music world. He is equally comfortable performing orchestral and chamber music and occasionally stepping into the role of a soloist. More recently, however, he began spending time on the podium as a conductor.

Mr. Peña’s 2014 appointment as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra marked his transition into the educational/conducting field. Under his guidance, the organization has grown to include two main youth orchestra ensembles and two chamber orchestra ensembles. He also initiated several educational programs aimed at nurturing and developing nationally recognized music students. His leadership extends to pioneering board initiatives like the purchase of high-quality instruments and providing iPads for sheet music to the entire Symphonia Orchestra.

Chamber music holds a special place in Mr. Peña’s career. Alongside his wife, Korean cellist Jin Kim-Peña, he co-founded the St. Augustine Music Festival. Celebrating its 18th anniversary in the summer of 2024, the event is the largest free chamber music festival in the United States (www.staugustinemusicfestival.org). As the Artistic Director of SAMF, Peña leads its chamber orchestra and serves as both clinician and director of the conductor-less orchestra. His mission is to make exceptional classical music concerts accessible to all. He often performs with his wife and their daughter, violinist Gabriela, as the Trio Peña. As the General Manager of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia, Mr. Peña has played a pivotal role in elevating the orchestra’s status as the premier regional orchestra in Southeast Georgia. His leadership has helped continue a streak of sold-out concerts that began with his appointment.

Ed Perez

Ed Perez

Ed Perez emigrated from communist Cuba to the United States as a young teenager. Arriving penniless, homeless, and unable to speak English, he transformed his life through hard work, determination, and faith. After a 42-year career as a CSX IT Executive, Ed retired and has since dedicated his life to mission work in Northeast Florida and around the world.

Throughout his life, Ed has served on over two dozen non-profit boards and participated in over 40 international mission trips, contributing as a translator, negotiator, and laborer. In recognition of his local and global impact, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Trinity Baptist College. Additional honors include being named one of “The Twelve That Care” by Channel 12, receiving the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award from the NFL, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Office of the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board, and the Diversity Impact Award from the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Ed has held the position of Past President for several organizations, including the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board, Clara White Mission, MAYO Community Research Advisory Board for Northeast Florida, and Hope Haven Clinic and Family Center. Currently, he serves as a board member for City Rescue Mission, the Board of Trustees for Trinity Baptist College, the Advisory Board of Gordon Conwell Seminary, the UNF Community Outreach and Awareness Committees, and the Florida Regional Council.

In 2016, he founded Three Grains of Rice Missions, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing homelessness, aiding women in crisis, and supporting children in need through various forms of community outreach.

A graduate of Lifework Leadership, Leadership Jacksonville, and the Northeast Florida Regional Leadership Academy, Ed is committed to collaborating with local Hispanic pastors to enhance the health and wellbeing of the Hispanic community. His non-profit has facilitated the distribution of food, clothing, athletic equipment, and medical supplies internationally. In the St. Augustine area, his volunteer teams have repaired 19 homes and built 7 apartments for the homeless, in addition to upgrading the Trinity Rescue Mission and Hogar Crear facilities. Ed holds degrees in Economics, Business Administration, and Psychology from Milligan College. He has studied comparative religion at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and engaged with local Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim communities to foster interfaith understanding. A compelling motivational speaker, Ed’s “American Dream” narrative emphasizes that true success is not solely about personal wealth, but about enhancing the quality of life for the entire community.

Jose “Pepe” Perez

Jose "Pepe" Lopez

Born in Cuba, Jose “Pepe” Perez immigrated to Miami as a young boy, where he discovered his passion for music. While still in high school, he formed a Latin band called Los Antiques. As the director and lead guitarist, he led the group of young Cuban musicians to local fame with their hit song, “Vaya Cayendo Una Lagrima,” resulting in numerous gigs and several album recordings. They were famously known in Miami as The Latin Beatles.

After high school, Perez pivoted towards academia, attending the University of Florida. He earned a Bachelor of Design in 1973, followed by a Master of Art in Architecture in 1975, and a degree in Structural Engineering in 1976. Despite his academic pursuits, music remained a constant in his life. The proximity of the Music building to the Architecture Building at UF allowed him to form another band, Catarro. The band became a local sensation in Gainesville, performing at nightclubs, fraternities, sororities, high school proms, and homecomings.

Perez began his professional career in architecture in 1976 with Norwood Hope Company as an Intern Architect/Project Manager. He later served with Pan American Consultants in a similar role in 1978 and joined N.H. Fredman & Associates as a Project Architect in 1979. Craving the creative freedom of entrepreneurship, Perez founded his own firm, Jose M. Perez/Sole Proprietor, in 1981. The firm underwent several evolutions, becoming Perez-Suarez and Associates, Inc., and later Perez Associates Architects, Inc. In 1991, he established his current company, PQH Group.

Over the past four decades, Perez has been a visionary in the architectural field. He initiated numerous projects with the United States Post Office in 1986 and has since created over 60 buildings and renovations across Florida. His firm has expanded its services to include master planning, interior design, and full construction administration, securing contracts with prestigious Florida firms like JEA, the City of Jacksonville, and the Florida Department of Transportation.

In addition to his professional achievements, Perez has been an educator, serving as an Adjunct Professor at the University of North Florida since 2011. He teaches a Building Construction class in the Construction Management program.

Perez is also a community leader. He is one of the original founding members of the Hispanic American Business Association, which he helped establish to combat discrimination against Hispanic businesses in Jacksonville. His advocacy led to a landmark change, making Hispanics eligible for city contracts. He has served as a trustee for the JAX Chamber and has been involved in various other boards and organizations, including a term on the State Historic Marker Council. He and his wife enjoy traveling and spending leisure time with their family and grandchildren.

Judith Rodriguez

Judith Rodriguez

Judith Rodriguez is an Emeritus Professor at the University of North Florida (UNF) and a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist. She earned her PhD in Anthropology from Rutgers University, along with an MA in Nutrition/Higher Education and a BS from New York University. A native of New York City, she has resided in Jacksonville since 1983 and has been actively involved in education as well as local community service projects and activities.

At UNF, Dr. Rodriguez served as both faculty and Chairperson for the Department of Public Health and the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics. She played a pivotal role in initiating several academic programs, including the BS Program in Dietetics, MS Dietetic Internship, MS Online Dietetics Professional Studies, MS Online Dietetic Internship, the Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway, and the Advanced Practice Doctorate in Clinical Nutrition Programs. She has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles and consumer publications.

Locally, Dr. Rodriguez has been involved in a wide array of community projects. She collaborated on an In-Service and Training project focused on the Sociocultural Aspects of Nutrition and Nutrition Assessment, and a Community Education Grant Program aimed at addressing cancer disparities. Her efforts also extended to Nutrition Education in a religious setting, a media campaign for obesity awareness and prevention (both in Spanish), a community partnership to combat obesity and health risks, and initiatives targeting metabolic syndrome in adults of Northeast Florida. She has also contributed to an Hispanic Health Series for health practitioners and local leaders, an Affirmative Action Recruitment and Retention project, and a study on factors affecting the persistence of Black native and transfer students. On an international scale, she collaborated to provide study abroad experiences in Belize and Italy and contributed to a project in Senegal. She served on the board of the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations. Many of these initiatives have led to published works, four examples of which are listed below.*

In Jacksonville, Dr. Rodriguez has served on several advisory boards, including the Mayo Women’s Advisory Board, the Mayo HOPE2 Advisory Board, the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board, the Duval County Hispanic/Latino Health Council, and the boards of JCCI and Catholic Charities. Nationally, she is a Past President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) and continues to volunteer in various capacities. She has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Jacksonville Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board (MHAAB) Leadership Award in Health Care, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Medallion Award, and the UNF Distinguished Professor Award.

*Saenz, C, Rodriguez, JC, Salinas, M, White, RO. “HOPE2 Addresses Hispanic Health Inequity in Northeast, FL: A Call to Action to Local and State Officials. A Commentary,” Florida Public Health Review. 2021; 18.

*Watkins, J, Christie, C, Rodriguez, J, Torres, M, Brown, K. The Dynamics of Globalization and Non-Communicable Disease Risk in a Sample of Culturally Diverse Belizeans. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences. 2022; 4(3):35-46.

*Rodriguez, JC, Beverly, L, Correa-Matos, N. Development and Pilot Testing of a Low Literacy Handout for Hispanic/Latino Caregivers to Promote Breastfeeding and Introduce Age Appropriate Foods for Infants. Florida Public Health Review. 2008; 5:93-94.

* Santibanez DJ; Rodriguez JC; Wilburn ST. Hispanic/Latino health issues seminars: a holistic approach to increasing cultural competency among health care professionals. J Nutr Educ Behav 2006; 38(5): 319-20.

Derby Ulloa

Derby Ulloa

Derby Ulloa was born in pre-Communist Cuba and left for the United States in 1960 at the age of 15. Unlike most Cubans who settled in Miami, Derby and his two older brothers arrived in Madison, Florida. They were treated like local celebrities, being three of only six Cubans in the town at the time. Their relocation was temporary, as their parents sent them away to avoid the risk of being sent to Russia for indoctrination under Castro’s regime.

Prof. Ulloa retired in 2006 after a 38-year teaching career at what is now known as Florida State College. Formerly called Florida Community College and Florida Junior College, Prof. Ulloa instructed courses in Drawing, Painting, Design, Sculpture, Ceramics, and Art Appreciation.

He holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Florida State University and has completed postgraduate work at the University of Georgia, the Georgia Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy, Jacksonville University, Flagler College, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Instituto Allende in Mexico. Additionally, he has taken numerous workshops at prestigious art schools and visited most major museums in the United States and Western Europe.

During his tenure, Prof. Ulloa served as the longest-serving faculty member in the Art Department and was instrumental in its growth. His lobbying efforts with the College President led to the establishment of the South Gallery. The Photography courses and Sculpture program were introduced under his leadership, and he single-handedly developed the curriculum. He also contributed to the performing arts by creating the curriculum for Ballroom Dance classes at FSCJ. Moreover, in his thirties, he was elected President of the Jacksonville Jaycees.

In 2018, he received the Arts and Culture Leadership Award from the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board. That same year, the national organization ACT for America honored him with the American Patriot Award for his years of service in defense of the United States.

Prof. Ulloa is a professional sculptor renowned for works such as “River Runners,” life-sized bronze sculptures located on the North bank of the River Walk in Jacksonville. He was also the official portrait sculptor for the Fla-Ga Hall of Fame inductees for 15 years. One of his pieces, a caricature sculpture of Bob Hope as an elephant, is part of the Bob Hope Art Collection displayed at the Library of Congress. He also created a bronze bas-relief for the Frederick Delius Memorial at Solano Grove, Florida.

His academic training spans both figurative and non-figurative art forms, a rarity among sculptors. Prof. Ulloa is proficient in a range of materials, including clay, plaster, bronze, marble, steel, wood, reinforced Portland cement, synthetic resins, and mixed media. Since 2006, all his works bear the label “Crafted in the USA.” Prof. Ulloa resides on a 3.5-acre nature preserve in Northeast Florida with his wife, Ann, where he also has his home studio.