Disclaimer: Excerpt from a more detailed writing of Eugenio’s life.
Translated and edited at HUF in 2017. Contributing Editor: Ashley Collier – HUF volunteer.
“One day, upon my arrival in Broward County,
I felt very lonely, and so did many other people.
It was difficult to adapt to life in Florida. Hispanics did not have
much political influence (if any) and everything was difficult for us.”
In the 1980s in Florida, on Saturdays and Sundays, people would approach me to ask for my help in creating an agency that could defend their rights. They had heard about my previous work and the agencies I had founded, but I refused to do it. The pressure became such that, on one such Sunday, accompanied by a group of friends at home, I formed what is, today, Hispanic Unity of Florida Inc. (HUF). Among those friends were co-founders Miriam Ruiz, José Rodríguez, Ajenol Fernández, María Rivera, and Eduardo Pagan. Sometime after we had already begun our work, the priest of the local San Isidro Catholic Church gave us sixty dollars to incorporate the new agency. Since the population we served was so diverse, we decided that the word Unity was appropriate for the name.
We soon began meeting with politicians at local, state and federal levels, which was a great help in getting HUF off the ground. I took a position serving on the Board of Catholic Charities. Because San Isidro was the only Hispanic church in the county, and the central meeting place for Hispanics, I was able to access funds for community assistance, such as buying food for the poor. For this I owe so much to Dr. William Stone, a dedicated community activist, who lent his time and effort to our cause.
Back then, there was a newspaper called El Heraldo de Broward, which helped us to spread the news of our work and mission. Both English and Spanish newspapers were interested in what we were doing. In the early days of HUF, we operated from my office at the Henderson Clinic. We held our meetings there in the evenings. All of us at the agency were there as volunteers, with day jobs, but our labors saw great fruits: More and more people began to join us, and new leadership developed as we worked to benefit the community, helping anyone who needed our services.
Community service can be challenging. Between 1980 and 1982, amid constant criticism despite their great effort and accomplishments, most community leaders did not last more than a year. Much of their great work went unnoticed, and they were met with insults and harsh critiques. To acknowledge these leaders and encourage their continued work on behalf of our community, we decided to celebrate their contributions.
One Saturday night, we held a ceremony to present plaques of recognition to all who worked in the cause of building a better community. More than 500 people attended, including local, state, and federal government officials. That night, we knew that we were officially on the map of Broward County, Florida. A Congressman, seated next to me, noticed a lady crying. He asked me what was happening, and I explained the sad poem that was being recited in Spanish. The Congressman, who sometimes refused to listen to us in our language, told me, “Eugenio, it is regretful that I don’t speak Spanish so we can understand each other better.”
The political mindsets of many people of power had begun to change. The struggle for this was not easy, but we started to see results; our efforts paid off. At every level, our community was gaining recognition as one being integrated into the welfare of this great nation.
Soon after, with the assistance of our dear friend José (Pepe) Lopez, we at HUF, decided to hold the first Broward County Hispanic convention. Mr. Eduardo Pagan presented a proposal to IBM, that contributed $4,500 to producing the event. With the success of the weekend-long convention, and the respect of people in power on our side, it was clear that Hispanic Unity of Florida Inc. was here to stay. For our dynamic community, this was only the beginning.
Thank you for coming this far! We hope you enjoyed Eugenio’s story.
We now invite you to watch Eugenio’s video interview>> Compliments of Comcast
The “Ellis Island” for new immigrants arriving in South Florida, Hispanic Unity celebrates 35 years of Empowering a New Generation of Americans.
Eugenio Torres is now 75 years young. He is writing his memoirs and continues his work in the community he so deeply loves.