José Rosario, an Artisan Turned Landscaper Can’t Wait to Get Back To Work

coronavirus florida unemployment

At 60, this entrepreneurial Boricua is not letting coronavirus-driving unemployment mess with his hopes and his love for nature.

By Angela Lang

April 15, 2020

At 60, this entrepreneurial Boricua is not letting coronavirus-driving unemployment mess with his hopes and his love for nature.

After 13 years of working on Agueybana Awards and Gifts, his arts and crafts shop in Levittown, Puerto Rico, José Rosario, 60, didn’t want to have another job indoors. Six years ago, when he moved to Tampa, Florida to escape the rising crime rates in his neighborhood, he tried to continue with his craft business unsuccessfully. A year later, he started to work in Busch Gardens, the popular theme park in Tampa Bay.

“After spending many years in my office, with a computer, I wanted to be out, work outside with nature. So in the interview the employee of human resources asked me what I wanted to do and I said landscaping. And he said to me, ‘are you sure?’ And I said, ‘yes, I want to be there watching the butterflies, listening to the birds and admiring nature.’ And the guy asked me again, ‘but are you really sure?’ And again I said, yes. I should have read between the lines. It is hard, hard work. Last year I almost died, because it gave me a heat stroke, the body shut down due to lack of water, but I survive!” said José, with humor. He has been with the company for five years.

On March 16, as part of the many measures to control the spread of COVID- 19, the theme park had to close. It has approximately 4 million visitors per year.

“They call it furlough, that you got unemployed but you can receive unemployment benefits. I understand that they will call me when the park reopens,” he explained. Only the caretakers of animals are considered essential workers and allow into the park.

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Natural from Chicago, of Puerto Rican parents, when Jose was 21 he went on vacation to Puerto Rico, and met his wife, Sandra García. They had two children.

In their shop in Levittown, they celebrated their mutual love for arts and their admiration for traditional cultures like the taínos, Puerto Rican natives. They used their motifs and techniques to work with wood and ceramic. They also had petroglyphs, and got inspired by the flora of the island and horses.

“We participated in craft fairs and then we started with the awards and it was going well. But criminality led us to move. Crime in our area was getting worse and worse. There were a lot of drugs, they killed a guy in front of my house and that was the drop that spilled the glass. We were also seeing that the economy was being affected. But what drove me to leave was the crime, because sometimes I left my wife alone in the business and I was afraid that they would rob her, ” said José.

When the couple arrived in Tampa, where one of his sons lives, they started to work on their crafts, but didn’t have the same success as in Puerto Rico. Their other son lives in New York.

“I’d tried here the arts and crafts, but it’s not like Puerto Rico. The problem here in Florida is that here artisans come from everywhere, especially during high season, artisans from cold estates come here. So they already have a lot of events, they put on their business, it is really very saturated. Maybe I should participate in one of the events, but I tried it in another way.”

José loves to work so he hopes he can return to work soon, surrounded by nature.

“I like to work, I would rather be working than at home. If I stay home I have to do something. I haven’t worked for three weeks, but surely there will be a lot of work when we return.”

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