Proud To Be An American
As I walked into Middletown Elementary to cast my vote last week, I took a long breath and reflected on a national election many years ago – Kennedy v. Nixon – December 8, 1960.
That’s the day my mother and I arrived at Miami International Airport after a short flight on a Pan American DC-7 from La Habana, Cuba, the place of my birth. I was 13 years old, in 8th grade.
Fifty years have gone by, most of them pretty darn good.
n Married for 41 years to the same woman, whom I dearly love.
n Four loving, healthy children, four loving, healthy grandsons.
n A long, productive career in education.
n Half a million miles, plus, on motorcycles, mostly safe and enjoyable.
n Freedom. I’m free, in this free country, where many opportunities have been opened to me, a beggar refugee.
Many other Cubans have arrived on these shores seeking freedom, among them Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican, who is poised to take the gavel for the House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs for the next Congress.
Ileana also arrived in the United States in 1960, at the age of 8. The Pan Am DC-7 that carried her to Miami from Havana, (where her father had been a prominent member of the anti-Castro violent resistance), was one of the last commercial flights to leave Cuba.
"We thought it was just another revolution in the homeland that would blow over in a matter of weeks," she told The Washington Post in 2007. "The weeks turned into decades, and here we are. Pan Am went bankrupt, and the Castro regime is still operating.”
Then there’s Dr. Carlos Eire, theology professor at Yale University, and one of the Operation Peter Pan children who arrived in this country with his little brother in 1962.
It was "almost like dying" when he boarded a plane to fly from Cuba to the United States. "When you can't ever revisit your childhood haunts, it's like death. My life ended. I didn't ever see so many people again. Cuba now is more a memory to me than a real place.
"I was so tired of explaining to people why I left Cuba. One or two out every thousand non-Cubans have no clue what is going on in Cuba. It was the Elian Gonzalez case that pushed me over the edge. It came way too close to my personal history. I came to this country without my parents, and the Cuban government intentionally prevented my parents from coming with me."
Carlos Eire says that, had he stayed in Cuba, he "would have never cast a real vote." He is disappointed that most Americans fail to realize that Castro's regime is "a complete military dictatorship where the people are denied all freedoms."
Like Mr. Eire, I regard these United States as my home. Would I ever go back? Not under the present conditions. Not to live, not to visit. I’m an American, proud as hell to be one, and grateful for its hospitality, its goodness, and its warmth. It’s real. I feel it.
It was a tingly feeling as I fixed the “I Voted” sticker on my dress shirt on November 2nd. I love being an American. Thank you, my fellow citizens, for the last 50 years. I’m proud to share this wonderful country with you.