JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Imagine being named a national top Latin leader and knowing none of it would’ve been possible without your mother’s courage and drive for a brighter future. For Manny Velasquez-Paredes, that’s where his story begins.
“My mother decided to move to the United States when my father passed away, when I was 9 years old,” said Velasquez-Paredes. “So she decided to bring us for a better life.”
While moving him and his older sister from Peru was a challenge, Velasquez-Paredes said, his mother worked hard to make ends meet. In Peru, she had a background in nursing. But without knowing English, pursuing that line of work wasn’t an option. Still, her determination never wavered.
“She would clean peoples’ houses, do babysitting or cooking,” said Velasquez-Paredes. “Whatever she needed to do to make sure that my sister and I had food at the table. It takes a lot of guts to be able to do something like that.”
Raised in South Beach, Florida, Velasquez-Paredes excelled in school and graduated from college. Following his mother’s death in the early 2000s, Velasquez-Paredes moved to New York but returned to Florida last year with his husband and their two children to serve as director of the LGBTQ resource center at the University of North Florida. He’s sat on numerous boards, served as a mentor and has won awards for his advocacy in both the Latino and LGBTQ+ communities.
This year, he was named one of 2021′s Top National Latino Leaders by the National Diversity Council. As a double minority, Velasquez-Paredes knows he has a wider influence. Every day, he aims to instill the belief in others that no matter the obstacles they face, they can rise above and take control of their own destiny.
“What I’m trying to tell them is, ‘Hey, you have a lot of things that are going against you right now because you may be a double minority, you may be Latino and be part of the LGBTQ+ community,’” Velasquez-Paredes said. “But it is up to you to make sure that you educate yourself and that you make a success out of yourself. You can do all of these things; you can achieve whatever the American dream is.”
Velasquez-Paredes appreciates the recognition from his peers but said one aspect makes this feat more gratifying.
“To be recognized within a culture that is, a lot of times, considered not to be as LGBTQ friendly, it’s extremely powerful,” Velasquez-Paredes said. “It shows that we’re redefining what the new norms are.”
Making a difference in the Latino and LGBTQ+ communities and paying tribute to the woman whose sacrifice made it all possible.
To read more about Manny Velasquez-Paredes, visit https://www.unf.edu/lgbtqcenter/LGBTRC_Staff/LGBTRC_Manny.aspx and https://clwe.org/tophispanicleaders/2021/.