TAMPA, Fla. - Mario Perez left his country to create a better life for his family and follow his dream of becoming an artist. Through hard work and perseverance he found the American dream.
Perez gets excited when he talks about his art studio. He built the fortress as a way to express his love of painting.
"I created this space here, which is for me, a treasure. This is my, my, my castle," Perez said.
His life started in a small town in Cuba.
"I came from a political background that was socialism. So they raised us in that ideology. So I was very involved with that kind of ideology as a child in school," Perez said.
As Perez got older and had children, his political views changed. In 2004, he entered and won a Visa lottery to come to the United States.
"When you are a father, you start thinking a little deeper. What the future can bring to you? Because you need your, you know, to support your family. You need to provide, you are thinking of your children," Perez said.
Perez was an established art teacher in Cuba. When he came to the United States, he needed a steady paycheck, so he signed up for the Syracuse NY Reforge Program. They help find housing and jobs for refugees to help them acclimate to their new country.
"In Syracuse, I started working in insulation construction company, because I didn't have English. My English was very, very poor and very basic," Perez said.
He had a hard time adjusting to winter in Syracuse and decided to move to Tampa in 2009. In 2012, he graduated with a mater's degree in Guidance Counseling, but he never forgot his first love: Painting.
"I decided to go ahead and start painting more for me. And you see some of the pieces here that are more related to my own language," said Perez. "So it's a way to communicate, to connect with people."
That connection he has with his artwork led to Perez being selected as the Hispanic Heritage 2022 Contest Poster Winner. The long and winding road for Perez got him the recognition his artwork deserved.
"You show that potential you have inside? You do not allow the, you know, life and the routine of work defeat you, rebuild, show the treasure you have inside you," Perez said.
Untouched riches that lead to a life of passion and contentment. Currently, he works as an Academic Advisor and Liaison for the Arts programs at Hillsborough Community College.