TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa Hispanic Heritage, Inc. recognized Anthony Perez as Tampa Bay’s 2022 Hispanic Man of the Year due to his passion for community service and helping underprivileged youth.

Anthony Perez is a first generation Cuban-American who has spent that last 14 years in Tampa Bay.

“My parents were born in Cuba, came over from Cuba during the Fidel Castro, take over communist [era] during the late 60s,” Perez said.

In Cuba, his family owned a dairy farm. However, one day they were forced out.

“When people say they left with the clothes on their back, it’s literal,” he said. “My family had to leave immediately and all they had were their travel documents. They went to Spain first and they stayed there for two years. My mom shares the story, they ate ketchup and crackers.”

After being assigned a family in Chicago, his family moved to the United States.

“Not speaking English, teenage kids, getting them into school, no money,” Perez said.

However, his parents and grandparents got straight to work and fixed flat tires for a living. Knowing this was the land of opportunity, his family worked hard and eventually opened their own auto part distribution center. Over a few years, the Perez family owned 11 distribution centers throughout Chicago.

“My uncle said you know why I have oil under my fingernails, why there’s oil on my face, so that you don’t have to,” Perez said.

Hard work and dedication were the foundation Perez grew up on. With that in mind, Perez built a life of his own and now has a wife and three children. Perez has been in the banking industry for more than 20 years and currently works as the Commercial Banking Relationship Manager at Bay First Bank.

His family’s story has fueled his passion for giving back to the community and disadvantaged youth.

“There’s no greater gift than giving back,” he said.

Perez has served on the University of South Florida’s Latin Scholarship Advisory Committee, as well as, Tampa Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council. After being named Tampa Bay’s 2022 Hispanic Man of the Year, Perez says he has a renewed push to continue giving back to his community.

“It comes with a big responsibility to continue to move the needle, to continue to put in the work,” he said. “This isn’t a bucket list and you never hear from Anthony Perez. This is another door that’s opening for me , I believe this will continue to let me make a difference.”

Perez recently started his own nonprofit organization called Covered Hearts. It started after he gave an umbrella to a homeless man in Tampa and saw how much it meant to him. With that, he plans to give away 250 free umbrellas a month to those less fortunate. The work with his nonprofit begins this Hispanic Heritage Month.