The Many Facets of Hugo Forest "Nothing is too hard. one can do what they want to."
BY KACIE GAZTAÑAGA
For most, working one’s way up from spending nights at the Fairbanks airport to being a successful Anchorage business owner would be accomplishment enough in a lifetime. However, in the case of Argentino Hugo Forest, it is only the hook that pulls in whoever is lucky enough to hear his life story. As a young man, Hugo dreamed of leaving his native Argentina and exploring the world. After years of working in the construction industry in Argentina, a factory job in the US was his ticket to a new life. He moved to New Jersey for this position, and soon after founded a very profitable restaurant. But—“there is always a ‘but’,” he notes—though the money came quickly, it was spent at an equally rapid pace by a young Hugo who was living large in the United States. Low on cash and knowing he needed a new start, Forest left his future to fate and spun the globe to decide between two drastically different options: either go to the Congo, where there was a need for mine workers and mercenary soldiers, or go to Alaska, where there was money to be made working in oil. As you may have guessed, his finger landed on Alaska, and he was off. His February arrival at the Fairbanks airport proved a rude awakening. With fifty dollars to his name, no contacts in Alaska, and nowhere to stay, Forest soon questioned his decision to move across the country. “I wanted to run away,” he now jokes, sitting inside a cozy Anchorage café. Luckily, Hugo says, the airport police had pity on the poor new arrival who had no other place to stay. Daily, he walked an hour and a half in the bitter cold to the city center, which was much smaller in that day. He found kindness in the person of a local Mexican restaurant owner and thereby landed his first job in the Last Frontier. Quickly learning the tricks of the trade, he filled in when a head cook position opened up. Forest often worked fourteen-hour days, not wanting to leave since he had no place to go. It did not take long for Forest to learn of an opportunity to work on the oil pipeline. While doing a side job as a bouncer at a Fairbanks bar, he saw pipeline workers coming in and spending copious amounts of money. Fascinated, he applied and got hired on in the oil fields. During a whirlwind three years with the company, Hugo worked at each pump station on the pipeline, from Barrow to Valdez, seeing much of interior Alaska that even many lifelong Alaskans never experience. He recalls temperatures sometimes dropping as low as 80 below, in stark contrast to the environment in Argentina. Upon leaving the pipeline, Hugo followed a friend’s recommendation to search for work in the much bigger city of Anchorage. Forest began to work in construction, cleaning, painting, and contracting. In his spare time, he coached in youth and adult soccer leagues, revolutionizing the sport in Alaska and attracting attention from governors, legislators, and the national and international communities. His team, Spanish Plus, won the state title fifteen years in a row and was the only one from Alaska to make it to the semifinals of the US-Under 20 semi-professional tournament. Hugo’s years of dedication led Alaskan teams to tournaments in Europe and to host national soccer tournaments in the Last Frontier. As Forest’s wife was from Puerto Rico, the couple and their children often spent their winters on the island. It was there that Forest became involved in coaching and dared to question why Puerto Rico had no team in the World Cup. Boxing and baseball were much more popular in Puerto Rico, so Hugo had to be creative to field a complete squad. His innovative idea was to recruit Puerto Ricans who played at universities in the US. In 1994, the same year that soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona was kicked out of soccer for doping, Forest led the Puerto Rican team to the qualifying rounds of the World Cup USA94. The island’s team, The Blue Hurricane, had never before reached this level of the tournament and has not since. “I have always thought that dreams become reality,” claims Forest, as confident today as ever and still full of optimism. After three years as a coach, he was named to the office of the general manager of all of the national teams of Puerto Rico. A dedicated civil servant, Forest has given much of his life to serving his community. He adopted his new home in Anchorage and never looked back. He helped create a local chapter of LULAC, the United League of Latino American Citizens, which works to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States. He also founded the Latino Lions Club in Anchorage and served three terms as president. In that role he did extensive work for communities in need. His dedication earned him the recognition of many members of State government, including past governor Bill Sheffield who named him Man of the Year. A proud Alaskan, Hugo is well known here for creating his Telemundo series Latinos en Alaska. The weekly program explores Alaskan life, as well as travel outside of Alaska. Hugo films what he thinks is fascinating, and hopes to engage Latinos living in this state in the wonder that is all around them. During the show’s twelve-year run, Hugo and his team have traveled as far as Barrow, and have even filmed the Iditarod from a helicopter. The program has also featured interviews of political figures such as the Secretary of State, the Governor, and some senators. Hugo says proudly that he feels today’s political candidates look for the Latino vote, which he feels has become more important due in part to the work of programs like his. Although he created the series, Forest is most often behind the scenes, preferring to leave the on-camera work to his friends and his daughter. His drive to make dreams into reality is contagious. His 12-year-old niece Victoria has been a national karate champion for the past three years. She trains three to four hours daily and will be going to the Pan-American games this year, and possibly even the Olympics. His son, Alain Hugo Forest, competed in the Olympics with Puerto Rico’s national men’s soccer team, and then for five years as a professional player in South America, until a broken leg ended his career. Forest now spends his time running his contracting business North Pole Contractors, Inc., which he founded thirty years ago. When asked what he plans to do with the rest of his years, Forest reported that he feels it is time to relax for a little while, although he quickly added, as soon as he finds something that sparks his interest he will dive in all over again. Hugo ended the interview with these words: “Nothing is too hard. One can do what they want to. I have done everything I wanted to do in my life.” Hugo seems to have found the secret to maximizing the life in his years.
PROUDLY POWERED BY SOL DE MEDIANOCHE CO. Sol de Medianoche is a bimonthly publication of the Latino community in Anchorage, Alaska