Jorge Rivera, a New York native, has lived many lives over the years as an actor, electrician, hospital translator, firefighter, host of the St. Augustine Tonight show, world traveler and more. His life can serve as an inspiration to many to pursue passions fearlessly and at all costs.
Those who live in the nation’s oldest city can typically be labeled as eccentric and diverse, although those characteristics barely scratch the surface when describing the life of Jorge Rivera, a well-traveled humanitarian and local talk show host.
Rivera is known around St. Augustine as the local online personality. He hosts the St. Augustine Tonight Show and started producing content with First Coast.tv three years ago. The journey to get to where he’s at now in his career didn’t start off the way most would typically expect it to. While sitting at Dos Coffee & Wine, sporting a red beret that he got from East Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall and an assortment of jewelry across his body, Rivera began recounting his story.
Rivera was born in New York and was raised traveling back and forth between Puerto Rico and the city. After having spent most summers back in New York, Rivera moved to Orlando, Florida, and started his life-long journey centered around the theater and helping others. Shortly after moving to Orlando, Rivera went through schooling to become a firefighter.
“I had worked when I was younger as a translator in emergency rooms,” said Rivera. “I always found myself working around people that needed help.”
When he was young, Rivera remembers expressing an interest in the arts while in high school. After putting off his love for painting and poetry while in Florida, a friend suggested that Rivera apply to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After auditioning and being invited to the Academy, Rivera moved back to New York to try his hand at acting.
“I started my life as an actor when I moved back to New York and began auditioning for off-Broadway shows,” said Rivera. “I was part of playwright circles, I worked with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, and when I got to my late 20’s I saw that there wasn’t really a future in what I was doing so I became an electrician for the New York Public Library.”
Rivera moved on to work with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as tech help for private screenings. Through this job, Rivera was able to meet some of Hollywood’s biggest names in the film industry including Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Brigitte Nielsen and Sofia Loren.
“While working there, I kept going to evening workshops for acting and met an amazing group of friends,” said Rivera. “Then around 1989 when the AIDS epidemic and homelessness issue was going on in New York, I started losing a lot of friends. Many of them were passing away and dying and I started to ask myself if I really wanted to stay in New York.”
After some consideration, Rivera, then 34 years old, quit his job and sold his belongings so he could start traveling around the world for a year. With the money that he got from selling his things, Rivera bought a car and started driving to San Francisco.
“I met so many kind and interesting people,” said Rivera. “I stayed with a lesbian colony in D.C. and they would invite me to watch them play rugby. Man, those girls were tough. I also stayed with some farmers in Oklahoma and stopped in Nashville and Memphis and went to see the Grand Canyon. After a few months, I made it to California.”
San Francisco was not Rivera’s final destination; he was saving up money to buy a one-way ticket to Japan. After securing a ticket from a friend he made in Chinatown, Rivera flew to Tokyo and kicked off his journey across the globe.
“When I was traveling through Europe, I worked with an organization called Volunteers For Peace to do a language program for five weeks in Russia in order to better relationships between Russians and Americans,” said Rivera. “So I was there for five weeks in the summer, it was beautiful but it was still communist Russia.”
Through the organization, Rivera was placed in camping grounds to teach English to Russian children who were sick and poor.
“In Moscow, there was a food shortage, so we as students, we would break up in groups and search for food,” said Rivera. “We would meet around 7:30 p.m. and someone had found rice, someone had found a piece of cheese, someone had found a bottle of champagne and some eggs and we’d cook it all together. That’s how we would survive at that time because there was a horrible shortage of food in Moscow.”
After leaving Russia, Rivera left through Scandinavia and traveled through continental Europe, stopping in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall.
“My one year trip ended up being 14 years,” Rivera said. “I stayed in Italy, London, Paris, and I went back into theater working with the universities putting on productions in English.”
In 2003, Rivera married a French woman that he had met in the theater in Germany and moved to Maui, Hawaii, starting a family with his wife, Rachelle. The couple moved to St. Augustine, Florida, when she was six months pregnant so they could be closer to her family.
Rivera and Rachelle separated two years later, and in 2008 Rivera brought his mother to St. Augustine from Puerto Rico to live with him.
“I still have many, many, many cousins and relatives in Puerto Rico,” said Rivera. “This past year we had set up a GoFundMe page to try to get my godfather to the United States because he needed dialysis which he was unable to get in Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Unfortunately, he passed away on Christmas Eve but I’m very thankful that the rest of my family fared well after the storm.”
Rivera fell in love with St. Augustine and realized that no one else had been reporting on the lives of the people that live there. The only coverage that the city got was through blogs and some photography.
“I said to myself, the world is video, why are we still blogging? We need a video blog at the least. So about three years ago I started FirstCoast.tv and I started with an iPhone,” said Rivera. “Then about a year ago I had met so many wonderful people that I decided to start a TV show, a tonight show, and people loved it.”
Rivera hosts the St. Augustine Tonight Show and posts his segments online for the community to interact with. The show has filmed all over town, at the Lightner Museum, at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and at the Corazon Cinema and Café.
“Where it’s gonna go, I don’t know. It’s not making any money but you know, my dad used to say ‘You could do something for love or for money; love lasts much longer.” Rivera said.
When asked why Rivera has stayed in St. Augustine after having experienced the world in ways that many will never get the chance to, Rivera said that he enjoys seeing the city in a new dimension.
“Because of the show, I’ve gotten to experience the spiritual pulse of the city,” said Rivera. “Of course there are still things that need to change in this town, but doesn’t everybody need to change something in their lives?”
Rivera envisions himself moving back to Europe in a few years after he has gotten his fill of St. Augustine and its people.
“People really do inspire me,” said Rivera. “I’ve found so many people that are treasures in my life. I will always be thankful to God for the opportunities he has given me.”