Hello, Ocala! Meet your neighbor – Miguel Suarez
Miguel Suarez poses for a photo in the lobby of the Marion County Department of Health Dental Office at the CF Hampton Center in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Miguel “Mike” Suarez lives and works in Ocala, but his life history begins many years ago during the Fidel Castro communist regime in Cuba. Interesting circumstances propelled his ancestors to flee Cuba, under duress, for America, and equally interesting is his own story in this country.
Suarez recounts that both sets of his grandparents were born in Cuba, although in different areas and circumstances. His maternal grandfather was a medical doctor and hid weapons in his office for those who wished to fight against the communist regime. Authorities were closing in on his dealings and he had to be smuggled out of the country to save his life. He was able to escape briefly to Venezuela, which at the time was a capitalist country and friendly toward America. From there, he traveled to America, first to Miami, and then to Baltimore, where he eventually resumed his medical career. After his escape, his wife and daughter had been allowed to leave on the first available flight out of Cuba. They flew to Miami, then on to Baltimore, to be reunited.
Suarez’s paternal grandparents’ escape from the Castro regime was under dire circumstances. You have undoubtedly read or seen on television stories of people fleeing for their lives, trying to reach Miami in a rowboat, with some not making it to their destination. Suarez’s grandparents were one of those stories. When his grandfather was 8 years old and his sister was about 2, the parents of the youngsters fearfully put them into a small rowboat along with their own parents and some other Cubans under the cover of night, while under gunfire, to head for America, about 90 miles away. Sharks surrounded the rowboat as the frightened occupants paddled toward Florida. Two of the boat’s occupants were hit by gunfire and died. They were expelled from the boat. The rest kept going until they were marooned on a desert island in the Atlantic Ocean. There were no other occupants on that small bit of land, nor was there any food or water. For two days they were on the island and burned their clothes to attract attention, hoping to be saved. A passing British submarine saw the smoke and stopped to help them. It was up to the captain whether to take them on to America or back to England, where the submarine was headed. He decided to take them to Miami, partly because they were Spanish speaking and might have a difficult time in England because of the language barrier. They were welcomed into America as war refugees.
Suarez’s mother grew up in Baltimore and his father in Miami. They both later attended Florida International University in Miami. They met there, became friends, then began to date and later married. They had two sons, Miguel and Richard. The couple divorced, and later, his father remarried and had another son, John.
Suarez grew up in the Miami Beach area and went to a Spanish school through the eighth grade, then attended a Catholic high school until graduation. He said he remembers always participating in school programs in drama and the arts. He attended Miami Dade Community College and, since he had always been artistic, majored in theater.
His mother wanted him to try his hand at a career that seemed more “stable” than acting. So, he enrolled at the Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary School in Miami, as he had always enjoyed cooking. He graduated after two years as a chef.
“I loved it, but didn’t work in that field even one day,” he shared.
A friend of his brother told Suarez about a combat acting troop for movies and television. He thought that might be an interesting hobby and started working with the troop on weekends.
“I enjoyed that so much, I went to Las Vegas and, after a three-year program in the field there, earned certification as a theatrical combatant, learning to choreograph combat scenes in every form of combat from sword fights to boxing and anything in between. It is kind of a weird world,” he said.
Once certified, Suarez returned to Florida and started acting as an independent contractor in combative arts. Eventually, he decided to train people in that art and started his own company and traveled all over the country for 22 years. The troop included actors, costumers and a makeup artist, he said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the work slowed. They still perform, but on a limited basis. Suarez said he acted in Hollywood, Florida, recently as King of the Renaissance Fair in a show there. He still loves to do acting work and is interested in doing more.
As fate would have it, the costumer in his acting troop had a daughter named Loni. She and Suarez eventually married. They had a vacation home in Kissimmee but felt they needed a bigger home in which to expand their family. Loni brought a son to the marriage and the pair later became the parents of daughter Clara, who will be 2 years old in December.
A realtor introduced them to the Ocala area, and they loved it. Suarez said he was looking for work and the Marion County Health Department called him in regard to a position they had in their dental clinic. He accepted the job and they moved to Ocala, where they have lived for two and a half years. Loni is an X-ray technician in The Villages.
They love the area for its “quaint downtown area, the interesting breweries and the more peaceful area than in southern Florida,” he said.
“I like my job. It is interesting while life is catching up with me,” he added. “I now have a family. It is new beginning … a new chapter.”
The couple loves to travel and has visited most of the United States, except Hawaii, and many places in Europe. A trip to Scotland to celebrate his birthday is on their list of planned activities.
“I absolutely still have an interest in the arts and hope to continue that in Ocala as opportunity presents itself,” he noted. “Life is an interesting adventure and sometimes the road you follow takes you places you never thought you’d be.”