This post is not about my stand on the current debate on immigration. This post is about what I think of when I hear or read the on going debate about immigration.
Years and years ago, I met a man from Cuba. He told me the story on how he became an United States of America Citizen, something of which he was incredibly proud and honored to say. He was a Cuban citizens and he tells me that in Cuba, you did not get to pick what you wanted to be when you grew up. You put in for what you thought you would like but it was a lottery. One basically found out that they would be a engineer or a doctor or a teacher or a factory worker. He lucked out and was slated to go to University. He is incredibly smart guy and he was told he was going to be a scientist. Joe (not his real name) said that was great because it meant he would be OK and his family would be taken care of. It was also an honor as his father was a factory worker and his mother took in laundry. Joe’s family was not privileged. And Yes, there were the more privileged. The ones who jobs afforded them certain luxuries. So he was lucky but he did not really want to be a scientist…He wanted to be an artist. And A mighty fine artist he is.
So he was doing well in school and at the time (this was when Russia was still the Soviet Union) he was to go to Russia for university. It was required. One did so much schooling in Cuba but then they went to Russia for a time. I do not remember what length of time he said but he flew in airplane there. He remembers on the way to Russia, they had a layover in Canada. They were all kept together during the layover and there were officials keeping an eye on them the whole way. He said the officials said they were there to keep them safe, but he is pretty sure they were there to keep the students from taking off.
Joe told me how amazed he was at the stuff he saw in that airport. The clothes, the things people had but mostly the food. He could not believe the amount of food. Hamburgers for example. He said the meat in a hamburger was the meat allotment they got for a month sometimes. The shops with large amounts of clothes and shoes and he was amazed. They would line up to get shoes and you got what you got. In fact, Joe said that for most of the stuff they got, it was hit or miss. That in order to make the economy seem good they (the government) would declared something to be made ie Shoes. So shoes were made. A lot of them. and Everyone had shoes. They had no meat. Or pants. but they had shoes.
Anyway they flew off to Russia and Joe said the whole time he was in Russia he could not get the things he saw in the airport of of his mind. He also said that he, while on the airplane, snuck a Sky-mall magazine into the bathroom and looked at it. You can just imagine what he thought of that. The whole time he was studying on how to be a good communist scientist he thought of all the things he had been missing. He did his homework and smuggled lots of stuff about western lifestyle that was not party approved. He decided that his life was not all it could be. That he was destined to be an unhappy scientist working on whatever the party decided he should work on. Joe as unhappy but was resigned to his fate. That is until the flight home.
Again they had a stopover over in Canada (which is important because it was the only stopover that was in the free world.) As they started to land, he decided that he would not be going back to cube. He reached into his overnight bag and retrieved his money and for some reason, a pair of underwear. When the group disembarked, he literally ran like hell. He said he expected a bullet in his back at any moment, but it did not happen.
Joe ran down a hall having no idea where he was going and saw a policeman and followed him into a door. Joe says he ran into the room, slammed the door closed, locked and hid behind a desk. When the officers confronted him he just said help help help no Cuba…the only words he knew.
Well to make a long story shorter, the Canadian officials finally understood he wanted to defect, much to the chagrin of his handlers. He stayed in Canada for a little bit then came to America where he took whatever job he could, including cleaning bathrooms and working up to 5 part time jobs. He took the test and became a US Citizen. His certificate has a prominent place in his house.
Now before you go all mushy on me, please remember this. Joe defected with $10 and a pair of underwear. He left his entire family back in Cuba. He had no idea what would happen to his family. He had already seen what happened to family members of people who tried to leave the country. The man is a genius. He worked as a janitor for years. Underpaid and overworked. Yes he did have a visa. And yes he did have political asylum. He worked his rear end off to become an American Citizen.
Joe is now a multi millionaire. During the time of him working to become a citizen he started to figure out that the streets of America were paved in Gold if one was smart and worked for it. He started his own cleaning business. First just him then he hire others. Then the American Dream came true for a Cuban refugee.
And that is what I think of when I hear the debate on immigration.