For the first time, a family and Latinos were inducted the CT Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame this past weekend. The Alverio family were among four inductees who have had the ‘immigrant experience’ and have gone on to notable achievements and who have also made outstanding contributions to their communities.
The Alverio family is Puerto Rican, and although technically are not immigrants because of Puerto Rico’s unique status with the United States they arrived as citizens, but they too share the immigrant experience said the groups’ organizers.
The family was among the first Puerto Rican families to settle in New Britain in the 1950s. At the time, they were the new ‘arrivals’ in this country and faced language barriers, understanding and trying to adjust to a new culture as well as discrimination.
A strong foundation at home, the family says, is how in the ensuing decades Gerardo and Vicenta Alverio and their four children, Yvonne, Diane, Marilyn and Geraldo, went on to play, and continue to play, a significant role in helping to represent and inspire the growing Puerto Rican and Latino communities in Connecticut.
The Alverio siblings credited their success to the strength and encouragement of their parents. “They “always told us, no one is better than you are, and you could be whatever you want to be. We all worked hard for our accomplishments,” said Yvonne who served in the National Guard and has had a successful career working with corporations on workforce diversity and inclusion.
In accepting this recognition as “as pioneers and leaders,” family members thanked the hall of fame organization, which is an outgrowth of the New Britain-based Polish American Foundation, for focusing attention to the challenges that Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups have overcome.
“The wonderful volunteers who work on the Immigrant Hall of Fame understand that through their efforts, they help others understand and appreciate the contributions made to this country by those coming here looking for a better life,” said Diane Alverio, who has gained widespread prominence as a television journalist, in public relations and in the creation of a Connecticut-based online news site that covers Latino and Latino issues in the state.
Her younger sister Marilyn observed, “Looking back at the accomplishments of so many Puerto Rican achievers, how great it is to be acknowledged for my own family’s contributions.”
The first member of the family who was born in Connecticut, Marilyn also expounded on the commonality factor. “While Puerto Ricans do not immigrate to the United States, the immigrant experience is so similar, in that we seek to maintain and celebrate our culture, language and heritage,” she said.
The IHHF Class of 2016, the hall’s fourth, includes three other distinguished inductees: Nicholas DeNigris, a New Britain attorney and Italian-American leader; Na Khalid, a Pakistani-American businessman, philanthropist and community leader; and Roman Nowak, a long-time business leader and philanthropist within Connecticut’s Polish community.
“With each new class of inductees into the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame we are reminded of the rich diversity of our state and the tremendous contribution immigrants and those of immigrant heritage have made to our community,” said Andre Blaszczynski, a Tunxis Community College professor of economics who is co-chair of the IHHF Organizing Committee and president of the foundation.
For the Alverio family and other Puerto Ricans migrating to Connecticut in the 1950s and 1960s, the immigrant experience was not easy. “When my parents left Puerto Rico, they too were looking for an opportunity to get ahead, provide a good future for their children. There were many struggles, it was the 1950s, we were not always welcomed,” said Diane.
A similar perspective was offered by Yvonne Alverio. “We fought to maintain our culture and pride and were always reminded that we were different and not accepted because of the color of our skin,” said the 27-year National Guard Army veteran. “It was a struggle even to find a decent place to live. My father was often told that they did not ‘rent to Puerto Ricans’ and they would slam the door in his face,” she recalled.
“Our ethnic pride and the early experiences we had is what influenced our family to be involved, to speak up and make change happen so that others did not experience the discrimination that we did,” Yvonne said.
Gerardo Alverio, who passed away last year, served in the U.S. Army during War II in a segregated unit that later became part of the 65th Regiment of Puerto Rico, the famed “Borinqueneers,” and earned numerous medals for his service.
In the 1950’s, Gerardo and Vicenta moved with two daughters, first to Meriden, where Marilyn and Geraldo, were born, and then to New Britain in 1956.
The Hardware City has long served as a melting pot for various cultures with Polish traditions and lifestyle very dominant in the neighborhood where the Alverio family lived.
However, there was a certain commonality that emerged between the close-knit Polish and Puerto Rican communities. Diane recalled that one day while her family was to dine on galumpkis, a traditional Polish dish, she wondered what the Polish woman upstairs was preparing for her family.
“Lo and behold, she was cooking rice and beans,” Diane learned.
Geraldo Alverio, the youngest sibling, also has some fond memories of growing up in New Britain. The central Connecticut city “was the only home I ever knew during my formative years,” he said.
This was “such happy times” that were “full of love, family and friends who have become lifelong,” Geraldo said, adding that this upbringing ” provided “the foundation that makes you want to go out and take on the world.”
Both Gerardo Alverio, Sr. and his eldest child Yvonne served in the U.S. Army and went on to achieve success and to serve their community in a variety of roles.
Gerardo worked in manufacturing and later as a youth services officer for the state Department of Children and Families.
The elder Alverios were involved in many local cultural organizing, including the founding of the New Britain Puerto Rican Society, of which Gerardo went on to become president and Vicenta was named as “Mother of the Year” in 1975. She also was honored in 1997 by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund for her efforts to advance women.
The three younger Alverio siblings, also have been and remain champions of the Hispanic population while pursuing notable careers in communications, marketing and in the entertainment industry.
Yvonne Alverio formerly headed workforce diversity for Aetna Life & Casualty and later founded Yvonne Alverio & Associates, a Florida-based management consulting firm specializing in strategic diversity management.
Marilyn has gained recognition nationally for her work in multicultural marketing. This includes founding Ethnic Marketing Solutions LLC in 2003 and the Latinas and Power Symposium. Currently, she is helping the MassMutual Financial Services team build a new digital life insurance entity, and remains a leader in an array of business and community organizations in the Hartford area.
Diane, who was born in Puerto Rico, became the “best known” member of the family in central Connecticut, according to the hall of fame committee, as a former news reporter with WFSB Channel 3, and having worked in various local, regional and national media, such as producer of a national PBS program. She founded her own communications firm, D. Alverio & Co., and for two consecutive years was named by Hispanic Business Magazine as one of the “100 most influential Hispanics” in the United States.
Currently, she is contributing to the Latino community as the founder and publisher of the news website CTLatinoNews.com.
Geraldo Alverio has performed as an actor around the world including Paris, Colombia, the Middle East and Japan. He has appeared in several movies and television series such as “Miami Vice” and “Law and Order” as well as working as a talent coordinator for Phil Donahue’s television program
While the list of accomplishments and contributions by the Alverios is extensive, what Yvonne said makes her proudest about her family “is that we never gave up, we continued to fight for equality for all.” She emphasized, “The struggle continues.”
The Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization, to learn more about it and their mission, please visit: http://www.immigrantheritage.org