For trio of ‘brothers,’ the Cuban-American journey is one of gratitude

Gratitude was the theme Thursday when a trio of brothers — two blood, the third by spirit — were honored at the 20th anniversary lunch of FACE, Facts About Cuban Exiles.

“I’m thinking today about how grateful I am,” said Carlos Alvarez. “My father gave up his law practice, my mother gave up her language, for their children’s success,” recalling the family’s 1960 move to Florida. “And thank you to the Americans who reached out to help,” recalling a teacher and others who helped the then 10-year-old navigate a new universe.

Though he had loved baseball as a boy, Alvarez said, he quickly adopted football, becoming a record-breaking star at the University of Florida dubbed “The Cuban Comet.” When UF and the Miami Hurricanes met in 1969, the stadium was filled with Cuban Americans cheering their compatriot. “It made me proud that I can be both American and Cuban,” he told the crowd of 300.

Also honored was his brother, Cesar Alvarez, senior chairman of the powerhouse Greenberg Traurig law firm. Referring to Tom Brokaw’s book about the World War II generation, he said: “We as Cubans have our own greatest generation, those parents and grandparents who sacrificed for us to be here today. I ask that we thank them and remember them.”

Introducing him was co-honoree and a man he called another brother — healthcare entrepreneur and philanthropist Mike Fernandez, a friend of 40 years, who spoke of his own journey from the U.S. Army to business success, failure and renewal — all thanks to the opportunity afforded when his own parents moved to the U.S. “Thank you,” he said, “for recognizing my parents through this vehicle.”

FACE was established in 1982 during the Mariel boat lift, when Cuban Americans faced increased prejudice. It continues to highlight extraordinary accomplishments by Cuban Americans and combat erroneous perceptions.