The End of a Dream

A week ago I was sitting in a small auditorium listening to my daughter read a story. A true story she wrote about her father and his incredibly courageous journey to this country. Her story was not only well written, but truly heartfelt and not surprisingly, she was selected as the winner out of the entire sixth grade.

My husband was 19 years old when he made the decision to leave behind his family, friends, basically the only life he had known up until that point in hopes of the chance to make a better life. Ernesto was born and raised in Havana, Cuba and though his life by Cuban standards was not necessarily poverty stricken, it was not the life he was dreaming of. In fact, many may even say he was one of the luckier ones, from a well-known family. Nonetheless, Cuba was plagued with communist ideals and lead by a dictator who oppressed the people, offering little opportunities for a young man who had no intention of being part of the military.

There is no way to truly understand how hard life was (and still is) in Cuba, especially when compared to a nation such us ours with our excessive comforts and infinite opportunities. Even under the best of circumstances, a future there is not a promising one for a young man. So in 1991, Ernesto, armed with only a dream, set out on a mission to make a way to a better life.

He and several other like-minded young men began preparations, which consisted of building a boat and gathering what little amount of provisions they could find. Absolutely no one could know of their plans … not family or friends. No one. They were forced to hide out in a small room, the size of a large closet, for nearly a week waiting for the right moment … that moment when the conditions were the best they could be for a safe launch.

In the dead of night, the young men left the safety of the small room, removed the boat from it’s hiding place, placed it onto a truck and headed to the shore. Conditions seemed to be in their favor, unfortunately the only condition that was not, was the wind. Without wind, the makeshift sailboat had very little chance of success. They stayed outside of the boat pushing it as far out as possible in hopes that they would not be detected. By first light, land was still visible in the distance making it likely that they could be seen. Luckily the wind began to pick up and they were finally on their way in search of their new home … their new lives.

The journey would not be without its perils. They had only crackers and water for sustenance and were forced to ration the crackers, as they had no idea how long their journey would take. Even though right below them, and often visible, was a wealth of fish and other sea life, they were focused on navigating and had no time or supplies for fishing.

As their journey continued, they had no idea the dangers that lay ahead. In the middle of the night, a storm approached and within moments they were in the midst of a life or death situation. Tumultuous waves, pounding rain and howling winds engulfed the tiny sailboat and they were now at the mercy of the sea. Their boat capsized throwing them into the water. What was once the bottom of the boat, was now the top and they clung to it for their lives, unsure of how they were going to survive.

By morning, the storm had finally let up. In the not too far distance, they could see a buoy and they began to paddle. Once they reached the buoy, they tied the boat to it and were then able to turn the boat over and climb back in. Although this solved one problem, they were left with the inevitable fact that what little bit of remaining food and water they had was now gone. If they did not make it to land soon, they would certainly not survive.

That night they saw a dome in the sky, which comes from the reflection off the lights of a city or town. They knew they were close to land. All they needed to do was make there before they starved to death.

Early the next morning, a welcome sight approached. It was a large, commercial fishing boat. In 1991, they did not have to be on land- they were safe! They rescued Ernesto and the other young men, feeding them and contacting the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard arrived to greet the boat, pick them up and take them to the Coast Guard station, where they were clothed, fed and questioned for several hours before being transported to a containment facility.

They spent several days at the containment facility answering additional questions, receiving vaccinations and receiving food and basic necessities. They were required to have an American family sponsor them, which for Ernesto meant having a family of one of the other young men sponsor him as he came to this country alone, with no known family. Once he walked out the door that day, his real journey began … to become an American citizen … to live the American dream.

Ernesto worked hard over the next years, learning the language, learning a trade and several years later earning his American citizenship. He continued working hard building his own successful company and was now a vital thread in the fabric of our society.

How do I know all of this? Fifteen years ago, I met this amazing man and two years later, we were married. We have two incredible children that know their dad’s story and it inspires them everyday to work harder and never give up. They believe in their father and everything he stands for. They believe that if you have a dream, you let nothing stand in your way, for that is exactly what he did.

Now, imagine your children seeing on the news: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” from a presidential candidate, and now President Elect -young minds, which are fully aware that their father is an immigrant. The exact first words from my son’s mouth were “I’m so glad my daddy got here before. He probably would have to go back to Cuba now.”

Just a week ago I was sitting in amazement as my daughter shared her story with love and admiration in her eyes and today I am sitting here in fear. Fear that this may be the last story of its kind. The last story a daughter or son will be able to share of their parent’s journey to the United States, which has been made up of immigrants from its first days, to build their own American dream. The last story of hope, faith and belief in a country and its core principles that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

This is not to say our country is not in need of some serious immigration reform, but we need to step away from the “all or nothing” mentalities of the opposing sides. There needs to be comprehensive, thoughtful policies in place which allow the government to protect the US from those who would enter the country to inflict harm, while still allowing those to enter who seek a brighter future. Without it- closing the doors completely and ending dreams- there will be no more stories like ours- and how sad that would truly be.

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