Miguel Perez, 64, always wanted to be a journalist from as young as he can remember. Since moving to the U.S. from Havana, Cuba as a refugee, in 1962, he has accomplished that dream – and then some.
In 1978, he graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and has worked as a reporter at The Miami Herald and The New York Daily News. He has also been a Spanish-language radio talk show host for the award-winning “Sin Censura,” as well as a political analyst for Telemundo. Today, he still writes a syndicated column and teaches journalism at NYC’s Lehman College.
“I had an uncle in Cuba who was a reporter – he was my role model – I wanted to be like him,” says Perez. “I was teaching myself journalism before I got to school by analyzing articles – it was an obsession of mine…I was lucky to do all this other media, but writing is my first love.”
He says the teaching opportunity opened up to him about seven years ago, and he quit full-time journalism at that time to teach full-time, but his love for writing kept him writing his syndicated column weekly, and another idea developed as well – his Hidden Hispanic Heritage project.
“One thing that motivates me is to educate people, and not even the average American knows about the Hispanic contributions to the U.S. – not even the average Hispanic knows…American history is taught when the British arrived – everything that happened before that is ignored,” says Perez, explaining that Hispanics played a heavy role in the U.S. 200 years before the British. “That is the theme of my work.”
He decided seven years ago that he would devote one Hispanic history lesson per column. The past year and a half, he took a sabbatical from teaching so that he could devote himself to traveling the U.S. and writing about the history tour.
“I was on the road for 47 days and traveled around 9,000 miles,” says Perez, who resides in Union City, NJ. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in my life.”
He says he’s going back to teaching at the end of this month, but he’s already begun researching more historical sites to visit next summer.
“This history project has become my passion,” says Perez. “I did my last weekly piece this week. Now, I’m going back to monthly till the book is finished. I still have three major states to cover – Florida, New Mexico and California. Maybe I should go to Alaska – there’s a glacier named after the Spanish there.”
As far as what piece of advice would he tell his younger self if he could right now?
“I would do exactly what I did but one more thing – script writing,” says Perez. “With all I know about history now, I wish I had written a couple of movies. Where’s a movie about Thomas Jefferson? He was an amazing person, and I’ve never seen a movie about him. There’s so much more to tell than fiction. And another thing I’d like to do is [Hidden Hispanic Heritage] as a TV series. If Anthony Bourdain could go around talking about food , I can go around talking about history.”