Gracias, Mr. President. Gracias.

Since Ill be out of town for my birthday this weekend, my mother wanted to do something special for her baby boy as a birthday gift. “Come over for lunch tomorrow,” she said. She didnt have to tell me twice, there’s nothing like my mother’s cooking.

I arrived a few minutes after noon, just as President Bush began his Inaugural Address. Both my parents were sitting intently in front of the tv, the volume up, as usual, blaring through the house like a typical Cuban household. The aroma emanating from the kitchen had taken over the whole house, second only to the sound of the President’s words.

I dont recall ever sitting down with my parents to watch a Presidential Inauguration before. But today, and maybe it’s because I’m older, reaching a milestone of numbers in my life, something was different. Although I’m sure they have seen and heard many Inaugural Addresses in their lives as American citizens, there was something almost palpable in their home. They were both rapt by the image of President Bush up on the tv screen.

I sat with them and listened to the President’s speech – which was interrupted only a few times by my father translating certain statements for my mother. He had a smile on his face, my father did. And mom would just nod when her President said something she agreed with.

I admit there were a couple of moments where I actually fought back tears. Here I am just a few days short of turning 40, sitting in my parents house in Miami, Florida, USA, listening to words from the President of the United States that I’m sure my parents have longed to hear for so many years. Beautiful, righteous words.

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.

Oistes, fidel? my father says. Did you hear that, fidel?

America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

Jailed dissidents? I look over at my father and can swear I see a tear somewhere in those blue eyes.

“Dad, did you just hear that?” Goosebumps run their course up and down my spine.

Si,” he says. “Y fidel tambien.”

I cannot help but think – no, Im sure – that statement the President just made is aimed directly at fidel castro. The same man that took so much from my family, the same man that would have had my father killed. And it feels as if the President of the United States of America is there alongside my father, patting him on the back, telling my my old man “Dont worry, Jesus. I got your back. I’m here and I’ve had enough.”

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.

Dad nods, lets out one of his trademark ‘Aha’s.’

And I hear the Presidents words and see my father’s reaction and all I could think is “My God. What could possibly be running through his mind this very instant?” Is he remembering those months he spent in one of castro’s gulags? Is he remembering his sister, whom it is believed committed suicide because she could no longer take the separation from her family and was told that she would never, ever, be allowed to leave the island? Is he thinking about what his life, our lives, would have been had there never been a fidel castro?

So many years of pain have my parents endured. And longing. And anguish. From the stones and bottles physically thrown at us as we left our town in Cuba to the stones and bottles of an ideology thrown at them relentlessly for over 40 years and by the very same man responsible for their plight. So many years. And maybe, now, finally, a glimmer of hope.

America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

This time dad looks me straight in the eyes and says “You know he’s talking directly to el barbudo, no?”

Si, Papi. I know.

Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

“Que cosa mas linda,” dad says. What a beautiful thing. He turns to my mother and says “La libertad le viene solamente a los que la amen.”

Mom takes a deep breath, almost a long sigh. She’s holding back because it’s her baby boy’s 40th birthday.

Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Este si es un presidente!” My father’s beaming with pride.

Yes, dad. He certainly is a real President. Tremendo Presidente.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.

Somehow, putting the words future and Cuba doesnt seem like an oxymoron anymore. Over 40 years without a future can make a destiny seem entrenched.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”

My soul is screaming God Bless America and Viva Cuba Libre at the same time. Dad stands up, turns away from me and wipes a little something from his eye.

El fidel debe de estar encabronado,” he says to mom and me. And he’s right. If castro is listening to this, which he undoubtedly is, he must be pissed.

And it occurs to me that this need my father and mother feel, this yearning for castro to be gone and to be gone by the hand of President Bush, is purely selfless. Neither my father nor my mother will ever return to Cuba. Never. Not to stay, not to visit. Never. This is their home now. Has been for many many years. They are, in their hearts, real Americans.

They want castro gone not as revenge or retaliation. They want him gone because they know how the people of Cuba suffer. They have lived it, suffered right along with them for decades. They know what is truly behind the facade of smiles of the Cuban people.

But there is another reason, too.

They want castro gone for me. And for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They want us to be able to stroll down the avenue where they met. Sit at the park bench where they first held hands. Or see their initials carved into the tree whose canopy shaded them when they first kissed. They want us to see and know and experience where we all came from. To appreciate it, learn from it and hopefully become better people because of it.

And when that day comes, when I am finally able to see the home where I was born, my parents will remember this Inaugural day of beautiful righteous words and imagine themselves alongside President George W. Bush. Dad will pat him on the back and say “Gracias, Se?or Bush. Mi Presidente.”

20 thoughts on “Gracias, Mr. President. Gracias.”

  1. *sniffle*
    Amazing. And wonderful.

    Were black beans and rice (congri,is it?) on the menu today? I’m jealous.

    Happy birthday and have an awesome time on your NY trip, Val.

  2. Isn’t it odd and sad that we Cuban Americans who lost all look at the Inaugural and Bush as something grand but Puerto Ricans who are automatic US citizens with freedom and rights think Bush is the devil?

    Maybe they wanna trade? We will give you the Castro and Raul and Che you all love so much and all the “free” education and “free” medicine you want – and you can now finally get your independance and we will gladly take commonwealth or even 51st state hood for Cuba you ungreatful Jibarito Young Lords you.

    Same goes for Dominicans here in NYC who not only hate Bush but hate the USA while still living here.

    Illegal Mexicans same thing.

  3. Great post Val. Happy birthday and and safe trip to the apple.

    God bless your parents. They are as my mother would say, “jente con educacion”.

  4. Val:

    Awesome post! You summed up what many of us feel. Great work and enjoy NYC. If you pass by Port Chester, please send my regards to St. Johannes Bosco parish (home to many Cuban families in the 60s). El mono estaba chiflando en esos dias tambien.

    Ray

  5. “My soul is screaming God Bless America and Viva Cuba Libre at the same time.”

    Just wait till you see your birthday present, Dear Uncle!

    Have a safe trip.

  6. but Puerto Ricans who are automatic US citizens with freedom and rights think Bush is the devil?

    Just a reminder that not all of us feel this way.
    Only the melones, a handful of us, even claim to want independence; when put up time comes, they vote for continuation of the colonial status they decry the other 364 days of the year. They decry being a “colonized boricua” but when looking at their plans for ‘independence’ they simply replace “Amerikkka” with Eurabia.

  7. God bless you, Val, what a beautiful incandescent story you share with us! I am so inspired. And my heart was leaping with joy at Bush’s reference to Cuba. They are not forgotten!

    Peoples all over the world listened to that speech and felt a deep connection. The Venezuelans and Colombians felt sure Bush had them in his thoughts, too. Bush is a man for the ages.

    h0mi: Don’t worry, we know there are good patriotic Puerto Ricans, I used to know lots of them in New York City. I used to live in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in South Bronx and after 9-11, the American flags hung from every window of that barrio were the longest lasting and most ubiquitous of any I saw in all of the neighborhoods of New York City. The Puerto Ricans put the most up and were the last to take them down. Bravissimo!

  8. Wow…that was simply beautifully written…I felt like I was there with you and your parents. I love this post…I’m so glad Christina linked me over 🙂

  9. Lo Comiste! Val, thanks for the great story. I was watching Bush today with some people, and I was the ONLY ONE cheering at Bush’s comments thinking to myself: “fidel esta cagando en sus pantalones!” So it was nice to find a comment that wasn’t anti-bush. Thanks! (You know, the more I’m stuck here, the more I’m starting to think that Chicago is about as red as China and Cuba.)

    And as for the Puerto Rican comment: though the PR’s that I’ve met here in commie Chi-town are not pro-Bush, that are very patriotic and surprisingly the bulk of them do hate fidel.

  10. Val – being there in person was just as great, although, I wish I could have been with your parents to see their reaction. The President was confident, clear and emphatic – if you stand for freedom – America stands with you! It was a great day and the sun was shining as the President spoke. Thanks for personalizing his words. One day Cuba will be free!

  11. Beautiful and tender sentiments Val. Your folks have a wonderful son. And I’m so glad you have time to write and share with all of us – happy birthday.

  12. Post Inaugural Report

    All in all, I think that the speech itself was a decent effort. If only Bush was as good at public oration as Teddy Roosevelt ot Dutch, it would have been a knock out. But I guess we can’t have everything. Now let’s hope he acts on it. Here is the text…

  13. Val, it is sentiments like yours that make my blood boil.
    Not because of what you are saying, but why you have to say it. Your parents should have never been faced with the choice of fleeing their own country, or dealing with the anguish of a loved one lost to somebody’s political opression.
    On the other hand, your parents have seen the other side of the fence. They don’t take liberty for granted, and I wish that others in this country could experience their plight, if only for a day, and realize the opportunities facing them in their adopted country.
    Thank you for posting, but more so, I am thankful to have been able to share my country with your parents, and I am thankful that you have taken full advantage of what has been offered you, and added the thread of your family’s story to the tapestry that is this country. I am honored to call you my fellow American.
    It is the strength of your family’s story, and those like it, that allows guys like me to persevere on the battlefield, when Freedom must be attained through combat, and chains shattered by the strike of the sword.
    I pray for peace, however, and wish that more people heeded the warnings in your father’s words.
    Thank You,
    Sgt. B., USMC

  14. Maybe the PRs are pissed over Vieques?

    They wanted it, they got it.

    As far as I’m concerned, they can go back to Spain any time they want.

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