Latin Times Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with the Honorable Mayor Olga Gonzalez, recently -Olga is one of our 2019 Latina Movers N Shakers! Latin Times Magazine: What part of Florida do you live in – are you from Florida? If not – what brought you to Florida?
Current Mayor of City of Kissimmee, Florida
Olga Gonzalez: At this moment, I am living in Kissimmee, brought here by an accident I had, which resulted in having four surgeries on my knee. I own a Time Share and spent a lot of time in Florida, so I did not have to think of where I was going to move too after my accident. Because of my accident, I lost lots of trust in Attorneys; they sell their souls for money, that would be another story, that has led me to try and fight my battles on my own.
LTM: Tell us about where you were born and raised and where your family is from
Olga Gonzalez: I was born in Harlem Hospital, In N.Y. City. I was brought up in 112 St. between 0 Madison and Fifth. In a neighborhood, full of diversity. There were Italians, Irish, Blacks, Hispanics, and Jewish, Gangs, drug pushers, big time prostitution. In the midst of all that we took care of one another. My parents came here from P.R. My father running from his Spanish descent familia because they were white and my mother was black skinned, they did not want my mother, so my parents took a boat to N.Y. We lived in a building owned by a slumlord. One day I remember my father and a friend caught what genuinely had to be more than 50 rats out of the basement in the building we lived in. Because besides living in that tenement we had to keep it clean, to live a decent life. Somewhere in the Daily News, there is a news article with a picture of my father and his friend standing on lots of rats, and I could never forget that. After my father’s death, we moved to the Bronx, where I lived until I moved out here to Kissimmee.
LTM: Tell me about what you do for a living
Olga Gonzalez: At present, I am the Commissioner of the City of Kissimmee, placed here believe it or not by God. I am a GM, retiree. They retired me in 1995. I say they retired me because that is how the system works, they have their ways of working things out for their benefit, but in this case, it worked out for my benefit. After many years of working in GM, I got involved in the Union, UAW, local 664, where I became an EAP Rep. I took care of the employees with their family problems, I connected them to the correct agencies that would help them with whatever problem they had, that could interfere in their job production.
I am also running for Mayor of the City of Kissimmee and that I have my Doctorate degree in Divinity. I am a Dr. lol
LTM: Tell me about what organizations you are a part of
Olga Gonzalez: After I was given early retirement, I decided to open a non-profit Org. God put in my heart, that the same thing I was doing in GM, why not do it in the Community. I took three years Capacity Building classes with Esperanza USA, situated in Philadelphia. I picked up a Resource book from United Way, and started visiting all the agencies that were out there to help the constituents of the community. Whence was the Commence of Church and Community Assistance Program, Inc. I started to work with DCF, when they started with the applications on the computer. We became the largest agency filling out forms for DCF; I am even in a group picture on the Links bus line. Church and Community became the biggest One Stop Center in Orlando. I united with a group of ladies, which together, founded the Org. at the time called Hispanos Trabajando Juntos, for the mere fact, that the Hispanic population was growing, but there was no organization understanding Hispanics needs. We developed this group that I took advantage of because, in the later future, they were my connections, I was at every meeting so that they could see my face because for one reason or another I was going to be knocking on their door. Church and Community grew unbelievably all the Org. Partnered with me. We didn’t have to go anywhere; everyone wanted to join CCAP. We worked with the Dept. of Health. Had diabetic workshops, gave furniture, help families stay in a hotel until we worked with them, we worked with the working poor, gave out 1500 boxes of food a month, and we did so much more.
LTM: Tell us about the biggest highlights of your career
Olga Gonzalez: I truly have so many highlights in my Career, first was being recognized, by a Church as a guardian angel, after God for taking care of a Lady for 10 years with Alzheimer, her son worked with me in GM. in 2008, I was recognized by Governor Charlie Crist, as a Point of Light. I was also recognized by Hispanos Trabajando Juntos, also Mujer Destacada from el periodico La Prensa. Highlights of my career, because I have always worked behind the scenes. I believe in not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. I have never thought it necessary to let people know what I do. God will take care of that. I have always worked behind the scenes, so to be given these awards was exceptional because God used someone else to feel the wanting to share what I am doing, not having to be me.
LTM: As a Latina leader in the community, business or other…what has been your biggest challenge and how have you been able to overcome it
Olga Gonzalez: As a Latina woman, brought up in Harlem, honey, I have been confronting challenges all my life. In school alone, I had this girl that used to hit me and bully me all the time, because my mother was black and I was white in a black school, she thought my mother was my Nanny, not my mother. I loved the movie Imitation of Life; I am sure many people can relate to that movie. I remember having to ride the bus in the back, because of the color of my mother. Challenges, to me, are now just a part of life. I will not let the obstacles that stand before me become a Goliath that I cannot defeat, with God, all things are possible. I learned about overcoming the challenges when God became real to me; He showed me that with Him, all things are possible. I know it to be true because I have lived it. The biggest challenge placed before me has been, fighting HOA, with the help of God, and the people who worked with me, I was able to take down a whole BOD, and then put money back into the pockets of 153 homeowners, by merging the Sub-division with the Master, now am on the BOD, of the Master. They tried to do something unfair, and it turned back on them, and I landed on the BOD, of the Master Association, something that for sure they did not want, because it was them I was fighting against from the very beginning because of their involvement, with the HOA, I took down. As I said, I have had to become what God wants me to be at the time. He wants me to be. At that time, I had to be my own attorney. At the verge of my merger, I went to a prominent name attorney to review my paperwork, and this attorney asked me who had done all the work that I had in my binder. I admitted that I had done it and he couldn’t believe it. By the way, he kept my paperwork; I paid him $1,200.00, then he tells me he could not help me. His overpriced advice was I needed to get an attorney, that would tell me what I wanted to hear. I later saw him at my swearing in; he was wearing a big smile, I told him, I had gotten the merger done, and I didn’t need an attorney to say to me what I wanted to hear. I am still fighting the BOD; they had me investigated for misappropriation of funds. I also have a recording where the president of the board said they all turned against me because I was trying to take out the management company, who is controlling everything. Still a big challenge for me, but I will continue to fight it.
LTM: How important is being a Latina to you
Olga Gonzalez: I was born in NY, but I would visit my parents country. I learned how to speak the language and learned to love my culture. I tried to learn as much as I could about Hispanic history and culture. Learning not only about Puerto Rican culture, but also Spaniard culture (as my fathers’ parents were from Spain), and of course Cuba, as I am married to a Cubano for 39 years. I also have a Dominican daughter in law and live in a country that every day it is turning more Hispanic. I am very proud of being a Latina woman, I am proud of my cultures, which are all beautiful from our folkloric dances, to our foods, music, and art. I love being able to tan easily, because of the texture of my beautiful, now brown skin, I have developed with the years. No matter what challenges I go through, it will not take away from me the fact that I am a strong Latina woman fighting for the rights of all. I love to be bilingual; it is so funny because you cannot tell what nationality I am, because I do not have a Spanish accent, but I speak both languages, fluently.
LTM: What is your favorite type of music, and what is your favorite song?
Olga Gonzalez: I love all kinds of music, my favorite song is Rose in Spanish Harlem, because I feel like a Rose that grew in Spanish Harlem, and was picked by God to make a difference in many lives.
LTM: IF you can go back to let’s say 18-21, what are some of the pivotal decisions that you have made that you would do differently
Olga Gonzalez: I truly don’t think that I would change anything, because of all the transitions that I have gone through has made me the woman I am today, oh wait a minute I might have become a lawyer, but a truthful one. Lol
LTM: What do you think some of the best career choices are for young Latinas
Olga Gonzalez: I believe that there is no position that a Latina cannot accomplish if she wants it. I believe we need truthful attorneys, but truly every career is out there for the taking, lots of challenges will stand before us, but those are there so we could fight them to open doors for others that are coming behind us.
LTM: Tell us about what kind of projects you currently have going on
Olga Gonzalez: I have lots of programs going on all the time, seeking some good sponsors. In March, we had a wonderful activity for Women. It is called Able Women Empowerment Expo and Awards, where we recognize women that are working for our communities, but no one knows about them. We also award students from Colleges that are doing an outstanding job in their school, also helping the communities. We are now seeking space while working in the streets with families. We continue to work with the working poor, who are the most affected people in our communities. The non-profits that are supposed to be working with families, apparently forgot how to do their jobs, because the only one really benefiting are the non-profits that are supposed to be helping, the majority of their income goes to admin, and truly leaves nothing for the cause. So, they are always out of funds when people go to seek help. I go around different areas with a Truck Load of blessings. We are working now on a back to school activity, and I was donated 1790 Khaki pants for school kids. I am continually looking for ways to help the people in need and will continue until God says so.
LTM: What can we expect to see from you in the future
Olga Gonzalez: In the future, if it is God’s will, I will be the next Mayor of Kissimmee. Many people ask me why I want to change from city Commissioner to Mayor. I feel it’s my time to step up into the next leadership platform, and I feel that as Mayor of the City of Kissimmee, I can make a bigger difference in our community.
LTM: What is your comida favorita
Olga Gonzalez: I love all kinds of food, I cook them all. I have learned to cook, from PR, to Cuban, like my son in law says not because you made mom, but this is good. Not to brag, but I am a good cook, from making pernir to congrie. yuca con cebolla y ajo. My friend would love for me to open a restaurant, but that is not on my agenda, even though I cook for lots of activities.
LTM: What famous person do you most identify with and why
Olga Gonzalez: Truly the only person I can identify with, believe it or not, is Martin Luther King, because I just want to see justice for our people, and I know with God all things are possible. Martin Luther King, fought for justice for all minorities, no matter what the color of the skin, it is about righteousness. So funny that I speak about justice I was talking to a young lady that runs a non-profit, which I told she was truly not a one-stop center, and she told me quote,’ you are a Mercy person, and I am a Justice person’, how is there Justice without mercy.
LTM: What did I miss? Tell me something you want us to know!
Olga Gonzalez: I have gone through much more than you can imagine, in my journey I met the man that changed my life for good. His name is Jesus Christ. He leads my path, has given me the boldness, and authority to stand before anyone, because I stand in the truth. He is the way the life and the truth. I am in this world, but I am not of this world, with Him all things are possible. I live for Him, and then my family. I have four wonderful children; He has given me 14 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. He has blessed me with a wonderful Cuban man that, accepted me with three children, and helped me become the woman that I am today.