In fact, in the early days of Castro’s rule, before he came out as a Marxist, they even entertained going back permanently. But, of course, communism took root in Havana, and that became impossible too. I am sure that on their worst days they wondered if it would ever get better.
Then the miracle we know as America began to change their lives. By 1967 they had saved enough money to buy a house within walking distance of the Orange Bowl, where on Sundays they would make extra money by letting people park on their lawn. My older sister was in ballet; my older brother, the star quarterback at Miami High. But it wasn’t just their lives that changed, it was also their hearts.
They still spoke Spanish at home and kept all the customs they brought with them from Cuba, but with each passing year this country became their own. My mother recalls how on that terrible November day in 1963 she wept at the news that her President had been slain. She remembers that magical night in 1969 when an American walked on the Moon and she realized that now nothing was impossible, because, you see, well before they ever became citizens in their hearts, they had already become Americans.
It reminds us that sometimes we focus so much on how immigrants can change America, we forget that America has always changed immigrants even more. But this is not just my story. This is our story. It reminds us of the words etched on the marble above the rostrum of the Senate: ‘‘E Pluribus Unum’’—out of many, one. Now, no one should dispute that, like every sovereign nation on this planet, we have a right to control who comes in. But unlike other countries, we are not afraid of people coming in here from other places.
Instead, inspired byour Judeo-Christian principles, we Americans have seen the stranger and invited him in, and our Nation has been blessed for it in ways that remind us of these ancient words: God divided the sea and led them through and made the waters stand up like a wall. By day he led them with a cloud; by night, with a light of fire. He split the rocks in the desert. He gave them plentiful to drink as from the deep. He made streams flow out from the rock and made waters run down like rivers.
He commanded the clouds above and opened the gates of heaven. He rained down manna for their food and gave them bread from heaven. Our history is filled with dramatic evidence that God’s hand is upon our land. Who among us would dispute that we Americans are a blessed people? In the harbor of our most famous city, there is a statue of a woman holding a lamp, and at the base of that statue is a poem that reads: Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp! . . . Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!