What Am I Exactly?

January 1st, 1959.

Fidel Castro and his scruffy band of soldiers march into Havana, Cuba.  Without that event, I could not be here writing this to you today, even though that day is a very sad one for many Cubans, especially in my family.  That was the day a ruthless Communist took control of my family’s homeland.  Many in my family fought side by side with these scruffy, bearded Communists, not realizing at the time their real plans.

Within the next 5 years or so, most of my family would flee their homes.  Their homes in Cuba would be ransacked looking for contraband and their lands would be confiscated.  Some would be jailed for speaking against the government.  Some of their best friends would be executed.  The executions and confiscations would not come as a result of due process, or court proceedings. There would be no attorneys fighting on their behalf, the judges and juries being the same scruffy bearded men, coming down from the Sierra Maestra mountains to exact their brand of justice on the people of Cuba.

Fast forward about 7 or 8 years.  Struggling to make ends meet, a young married couple live in a small apartment in New Jersey.  He works in a gas station while trying to finish law school.  She does her best to take care of two children.  Life is difficult. They work hard to deal with a new culture, a different society.  All the while, they long for their paradise island.  They vow to go back, to right the wrongs of the bearded Communist.  Yet every year as an exile, they know it becomes harder to realize that dream.  It will become much harder in a few more years, when she will give birth to two more babies.  She wonders if these children will have to go to war, as she watches the events unfold in Vietnam.  Both father and mother have seen enough senseless violence in their lives.

1985.

He is a senior in high school.  Following in the footsteps of his father, he is very much interested in politics, and world events. He can’t wait everyday to sit in Mr. Stienberg’s Government class.  This is the class where they talk about the differences between Communism and Capitalism.  This is the class where he is learning how this great country works.  He can’t help but wonder about the place his parents came from.  He is a loner in school.  It is hard for other kids in this school – a small school in a rural location – to relate to this half-Cuban half-American kid.  Many find him strange – a “Latino” that doesn’t talk like a Latino. Many don’t know he is Cuban, and he often has to deal with derogatory language by kids that don’t know he is Cuban. He struggles to establish his identity.  “What am I exactly?” he asks himself?

Then one day, Jeb Bush and Dante Fascell come to the school for a debate.  It was set up by his favorite Government teacher who is a long time friend of Dante Fascell.  It is a great day. The two politicians respectfully debate a number of subjects, including Cuba.  There is no clear cut winner between the two politicians, but one thing is very clear. The little half-Cuban half-American kid was changed that day. He saw first hand what makes this country so great. The free exchange of ideas. There were no government officials in the room ready to execute or jail anyone. There were no threats of revolution. There was no fear of retribution for saying the wrong thing.  This was Democracy in action, and the impressionable kid in the back would never be the same.

Soon after high school, he voted for the first time.  Since then he has voted in many elections. With each election, his identity has become stronger and stronger.  He is an American.  He is not a Cuban-American.  He is an American.  The Cuban Revolution was a sad day.  But it got me here.  I am a part of the greatest country in the world.  My parents and my family came to this country as a result of that violent revolution, and struggled to achieve the American dream.  I just thank God every day that in this country, we get to express ourselves and change the system through our votes.  Let’s not forget that.

Now go and vote!

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