Luis sent me this essay on the Elian kidnapping and subsequent march on Calle Ocho. It was so perfect and heartfelt for the sad anniversary of that black day thirteen years ago that I asked for his permission to publish it. I think you will cry and feel a little pride in who and why we are. “Unlikely Patriots” was originally published right before the 2000 presidential election. –Pitbull
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Remember the miracle that brought him alive to the shores of Liberty on the most revered of American holidays. Remember Freedom.
That was the thought on everyone’s mind that day, one week after the raid.
Seven days before, on Holy Saturday, the trust between a government and the people that it served was shattered in the streets of Little Havana. Brute force and assault weapons were used to violate not only the day, but the Constitution and the dreams of millions as well. I was violated that day, even if I wasn’t present at the humble neighborhood where Lazaro Gonzalez fought the massive assault on the right of a little boy to live Free, I felt every blow. And though my tears were caused by rage, the rage was brought about by the sight of the exploding canisters, and the terrified face of a child being ripped from the home and the family he’d come to love.
How do you feel when your world comes crashing down around you? How do you express the incredible pain of betrayal? How do you rage against a behemoth?
I knew there was something terribly wrong as soon as I heard the telephone, it was too early on a Saturday and everyone knew not to wake the children.
The message was short and the voice strained, I don’t remember exactly who called, it may have been my brother, it may have been my father, but I remember the message.
“They took him, they took Elian.” It was a matter of fact statement delivered in a passionless voice.
I ran downstairs and turned on the television, and the images there are ones I know I will never forget. It made me nauseous to watch the endless loop of tape, but I watched it through eyes swollen with tears. I screamed silent screams and with clenched fists threw punches at nothing, I wanted to hurt the morning like the morning had hurt me.
Then I heard the news reporter say the words that brought me to the streets of Little Havana on April 29. I heard him talk about the “defeat” of the Cuban exile community in Miami, there was a hint of a smile on his face and the pain and rage took on a new form. They became a fire.
What went on in the streets of Little Havana the Saturday after the raid went largely unreported. There was no live coverage.
The same media that a week before had stood on twenty-four hour alert reporting the most minute development on one of the most controversial news stories of the year, was conspicuous in its absence. It didn’t really matter, it was expected.
Two hundred thousand citizens walked Calle Ocho to make a statement. Young and old together like never before.
My family walked that street with me, and so did men, women and children from all walks of life, from every step in the social ladder and of every age. What had been thought to have destroyed our morale had served to make it stronger and to unite it, and it brought our young people back.
I came to America on a similar day thirty-two years before, a child of eleven. I was instantly at home here. Forget the struggle of language, eleven-year olds find ways to communicate and they are fast learners. I practiced hard at sounding like I belonged.
I was in love with the idea of America long before our arrival, a place where the fear didn’t exist. The fears that only those who have lived it can fully explain or understand. End even as a child I had felt it. I heard whispered things about people in trouble, and in jail. I knew not to speak out and I knew not to say the kinds of things that could bring unwanted attention.
I knew not to listen to the things taught at school. I knew of the shortages in everything a family needs to live, I knew of the risks my parents took to support us. I knew of the Committees, the neighborhood snitches who gained status by turning in people like us on trumped-up charges.
I knew they watched us with special interest, we could be a prize and a promotion, and we were “worms”.
I longed for America even then, my whole life revolved around going there and I was anxious to leave, ready to start a new life in the wonderful place my parents would detail to me each night. I was ready to stop being a “worm”. Even a boy of eleven can dream of Freedom.
Four generations of us stand firmly planted on this soil now, many are buried here and this is home to us, and it will remain that way even after the inevitable change in Cuba comes. That change will come from within, an explosion of Freedom that no one will be able to stop, because Freedom is a gift from our Creator which will not be denied forever. When that day arrives we will be ready to lend whatever assistance may be necessary, but this family stays here and it stands ready to defend this country and the ideals under which it was founded.
And so we came to find ourselves on a Little Havana street; two hundred thousand unlikely patriots in an unusual setting. An event organized in less than a week by a solitary radio station. They called it a “March for Dignity”, but it was a rally for Justice and an answer to the reports of our demise. It was an indictment of the illegal and unconstitutional actions of the Clinton administration, and a call to arms.
I was awfully proud of my people that day, as I was throughout the entire Elian Gonzalez saga. We brothers, we parents and grandparents. We sons and daughters of the people who gave it all up in the name of Freedom, honored them that day. We marched for the tens of thousands who chose to brave the treacherous straits, and died rather than living without Freedom. We marched for the millions still behind. We marched for the ones buried here and there who will never witness a Cuba free from oppression, the ones who didn’t witness the shame brought to America by the Clinton administration. We marched for the right of even the youngest among us to live free.
And a little child lead the way.
History may pay little attention to the rally on April 29th. As little attention as the dominant media but, if they failed to notice they both will have failed in their duty to report. They will fail to see one of the defining moment in the History of my people; the day we walked the path of Freedom on a road traveled by Americans before us.
We stood, two hundred thousand strong, under a clear blue American sky. On that day we drew a line in the sands of History. We stand behind that line today. We are poised and ready for our moment to seize the day, waiting for our opportunity to answer the unjust charges brought against us by the administration and the media.
Ready to show the world who we are.
Next Tuesday, in the first Presidential election of the Millennium my community will rally, and in numbers that will surprise even the best informed pollsters. We will make our voices heard in this, our new home, and like the Americans we are we will make our choice known. Our choice will be the answer to those forces who labeled us as zealots. In the name of America and Freedom we welcome that label.
On election day, as the sun sweeps across our nation, look for us on the front lines. We stand ready, and we will not falter. We welcome that opportunity.
And we will, overwhelmingly, vote for George W. Bush.
A boy of eleven once loved the dream of America in a land where everything America stood for was officially hated. Today, the man who once was that boy loves the realization of the dream.
On election day, my thoughts will be the same as they were the day I walked with unlikely patriots on a street in Little Havana.
Remember Elian and Let Freedom Ring.