You can probably deduce from my name that just like Marco Rubio, I am Hispanic. At the tender age of eight, my father – along with his brother and my grandmother – had to leave everything he had and had known in order to escape the oppression of communist Cuba. My grandfather, a famous musician at the time, had to stay back. He was later able to escape and, upon arrival in Puerto Rico where my family finally settled after a short stay in Miami, he was quoted in a local magazine saying, “If I had not been able to escape, my only option would have been suicide.”
That type of background does something to a man. The stories are never too far from your mind. It never allows you to take freedom for granted. It enables you to realize that the ideas that gave birth to America must be protected. As long as the idea lives, it will serve as a reminder – a loud reminder – of the many ways in which we fall short of it.
Marco Rubio understands that. His recent speech at the Republican National Convention makes me proud to be an American. Not a Hispanic. Not a Hispanic-American or a Latino, but an American. I am beyond tired of those who continue to try to define who I am and what I stand for because of my race. I am an American because I believe in the ideas of our founding.
I am tired of hearing the pundits talk about “what Hispanics believe,” and “what Hispanics want.” Why do they insist on boxing everybody into little groups? Marco Rubio called it a strategy of “Divide and Conquer.” I agree.
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. One of the interesting things about Puerto Ricans is that we are taught at a very young age that our race comes from a mixture of races so that everybody has a bit of Taíno (Puerto Rico’s native Indians), Spanish, and African. The saying goes for anyone who feels himself better than another because of their race, “¿Y tu abuela dónde está ?” (Where is your grandma?). Meaning if you go back a bit, you’ll find we are all the same.
That is why I experienced a sort of culture shock when I came to America and was confronted with a very real effort to imprison me into some kind of politically correct prison. I was deemed a Democrat before I even knew what being a Democrat meant. I instinctively found the pressure repulsive and, if only from within, I rejected it.
I knew I loved America. Not because of the prosperity or the opportunities available to all. It was not really about what I could get. It was about what it stood for; I love America because of the principles that lay at its very foundation. Rubio said it beautifully in his speech:
America was founded on the principle that every person has God-given rights. That power belongs to the people. That government exists to protect our rights and serve our interests. That we shouldn’t be trapped in the circumstances of our birth. That we should be free to go as far as our talents and work can take us.
America is good. Yes, we as Americans continue to fall short, but America stands tall, calling us to live up to its ideals.
We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That Almighty God is the source of all we have. Special, because we’ve never made the mistake of believing that we are so smart that we can rely solely on our leaders or our government.
Our national motto is “In God we Trust,” reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all. And special because we’ve always understood the scriptural admonition that “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”
These are profound statements of unity that should transcend party lines. Oh, how I have longed for more leaders who are humble enough to recognize that they are not smart enough to solve the world’s problems – leaders who recognize we must rely on God and His mercy.
We need leaders humble enough to recognized how blessed we are and who feel the weight of the responsibility that comes with these blessings. We need leaders who value people for who they are as persons and not based on their background, whether racial, cultural, financial, or any other reason. We are all Americans. Not by birth, but by choice.