While you’re watching the fireworks and enjoying time with family and friends this Independence Day, remember to stop and think about what an incredible gift America has given you: the gift of freedom. And say a prayer for those who are not as fortunate as you and me.
When I think about what this country means to me, it brings tears to my eyes. See, I started my life in a country that was anything but free.
People were dying in communist Cuba when I was a young child, and my parents could see it was only getting worse. My mother knew that the only way I would have a fighting chance in this world was by putting me in foster care in America since we could not leave as a family.
As a parent now myself, I can only imagine the desperation my own mother and father must have felt coming to that conclusion. Years later, my mother would tell me that the hope they felt sending me to America was the only thing that kept them going – especially since my father was put in a concentration camp shortly after I left.
About 5 years later, we were reunited here on American soil. We lived in a small apartment in Jersey City, my mother sewed blouses and my father got a job in a factory. I worked in a florist shop after school to help pay the bills, but we were happy. We were free.
When I started college and planned on becoming a doctor, my father was always reminding me of how happy he was that we were here and I was able to follow my dreams. He was overwhelmingly positive, and the appreciation he had for the life he was able to build here just radiated out of him.
During a time when many Americans were beginning to question government policies and political decisions, my father stood his ground as a patriot. He would say “I am not going to criticize this politician or that … I am blessed enough by the fact that I was given a chance I would never have had. And look at you, my son,” he would say, “Look at you! Look at what you have become. This is America. What more do you want?”
And he was right. We are a country of immigrants, and that’s what makes America such a wonderful place. We are a country founded by people leaving oppression behind for a chance at prosperity. We are truly blessed by God to be here, and that is something worth celebrating every day.
My three beautiful children have a Cuban-American father and a Swedish-American mother. Both of us came to this country to make a better life for ourselves, and the freedom we found here helped us succeed.
I always tell my children the story of my life, not because I want them to feel pity or sadness for me, but because it’s a lesson in what sacrifice is all about. I tell them if you make sacrifices for noble reasons, you will always grow from it in a positive way.
I think that is a principle that is the very fabric of this country. We should always remind future generations of the sacrifices of others that were made for their freedom; the sacrifices made by those who founded this country, by those who defend this country, by those who are continuously working to move us in the right direction.
So as a citizen of this great country which has afforded me the opportunity to achieve my dreams, I say to you, America, happy birthday … and here’s to many, many more!