This month as we continue to spotlight leaders in our community that have made significant changes for the better, we look at a public servant that has paved the way for Latinos and women by using her spirit of service. It’s her way of saying Vamos Tampa Bay!
“What’s little itty bitty me doing here,” asks Margarita Gonzalez as she chuckles.
She talks about her time standing at the sidelines inside Raymond James Stadium at the last game where the Bucs played the Browns. She was honored by the Bucs organization and the NFL with this year’s national Hispanic Heritage Leadership award. It’s not her first award. She’s been honored for decades worth of public service that started with her own life experience.
“I was going to use that to help the citizens of Tampa,” said Gonzalez.
Born in Cuba, she came to Tampa at the age of 12 as a refugee. Many don’t understand the hardship she saw at such a young age.
“Your memories are different from the memories of a 12-year-old girl that had to live on rations cards, that knew about injustice, people being killed with no reason,” remembers Gonzalez.
She worked hard to learn English, went to school, and graduated from Hillsborough Community College.
“I took classes at Dale Mabry when they were building the first building,” she said.
And later University of South Florida. From there she worked for the state, then Port Tampa Bay. In 1987 Mayor Sandy Freedman convinced her to come to the City of Tampa and work in community relations.
“There was a need for, especially Hispanics, to learn about the opportunities and services that the city provides,” sae said.
Her work to better her community was not always easy, calling herself a triple minority.
“I’m Hispanic, female, and short,” she jokes. “And in many cases, I was the only female and Latina in a boardroom,” says Gonzalez.
Even then, just cause she was in the room it didn’t mean she had a voice. When pitching ideas for projects many times she took a backseat.
“In some cases, I would let them present it for me, cause I knew it would have a better chance of being approved,” she remembers.
Now as an honorary chair of the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association she mentors other Latinas helping them realize they need to be involved while maintaining their professionalism.
“Everything that we do we have to be professional about it so we can be taken into consideration,” she advises.