For many years, Cuban comedian, actor and radio host Guillermo Alvarez Guedes was the undeniable king of Miami’s Spanish-language radio. His profanity-infused jokes and storytelling style dominated the airwaves of La Clasica 92.3 fm, where he hosted Aqui Esta Alvarez Guedes for more than a decade.
His radio show, which ended in 2011, garnered a loyal following of thousands. But it was his ability to tirarlo todo al relajo (make a joke of everything) as well as his larger-than-life personality that made him a star in the South Florida exile community.
Now, almost three years after his death, “Recordando a Guillermo Alvarez Guedes” (“Remembering Guillermo Alvarez Guedes”), an hour-long event hosted by the National Association of Cuban-American Educators (NACAE), , will celebrate the life and times of one of Miami’s most beloved and iconic comedians.
“Alvarez Guedes was a crucial cultural figure in Miami and in Cuba,” said Gustavo Perez-Firmat, 67, who leads the association and is a David Feinson Professor of Humanities at Columbia University. “In Cuba, the question is not ‘to be or not to be’ but ‘eres vivo o eres bobo’ (you’re either bright or you’re a fool) and he was definitely ‘un vivo.’ He had that Cuban sense of humor and relajo. … He helped Cubans during that period of exile;he defined a whole epoch.”
Perez-Firmat, who teaches Cuban-American Culture and Spanish-American Literature at Columbia and is the author of Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, was born in Marianao, Cuba. His family moved to Miami when he was 11.
He remembers growing up listening to Alvarez Guedes’ jokes, anecdotes and stories.
And though he never met Alvarez Guedes, he says he attended many of his shows in Miami and Puerto Rico, where Guedes lived for a few years before settling in South Florida.
“It’s funny but one of the highlights of my life was following him [Alvarez Guedes] around Dadeland Mall because I was too timid to go up to him and say hello,” he said. “Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘As you get older, it’s more difficult to have heroes but it’s just as necessary.’ For me, he’s become one of my heroes.”
During the event, which will take place Thursday at the Casa Bacardi at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables’ campus, Perez-Firmat will go over the Cuban comedian's life and career. Afterward, he will open the floor for questions.
Perez-Firmat, who in 1997 was selected by Newsweek among the “100 Americans to Watch in the XXI Century,” says he doesn’t think there could be another voice to fill the void left by Alvarez Guedes. But he invites younger Cubans to learn about him.
“He was much more than a great humorist; he was a chronicler of Cuban life in Miami and really knew how to capture what it was like to be Cuban in Miami during that time,” he said. “So, I always tell my students to go and listen to those records.’’
Federico Justiniani, 86, a former president of NACAE and a current board member is looking forward to the event.
“We’ve been wanting to do an event with Gustavo [Perez-Firmat] for a while now,” he said. “He’s well-known and well-liked and we’re so happy to have him lead this event about Alvarez Guedes, a Cuban icon who always represented Cuba so well.”
If You Go:
What: “Recordando a Guillermo Alvarez Guedes,’’ an hour-long event to celebrate one of Miami’s most beloved and iconic comedians, Alvarez Guedes.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Casa Bacardi del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos y Cubano-Americanos, Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, the University of Miami, 1531 Brescia Ave. Coral Gables.
Cost: Free but reservations are recommended. Call 305-284-2822.