Let me take you all to a place where most of you have never been before. Let me take you with me to a life lived in a land without Freedom. I’ve been there.
In a land without Freedom there is no hope, there are no dreams of a better tomorrow for the children. My parents faced that.
In a country where there is no Freedom there is no way to face the dawn and say “today will be better than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow.” We lived that.
In a place where there is no Freedom there is no pride in self. There are no reasons to accomplish because the fruit of your sweat and hard work belongs to others, never to you. Ask my people, we’ve been there.
In a place like my homeland all you can hope for is America, the dream and the promise. We dreamed that dream.
Stop and look around you right now. Stop reading and look around you.
Think of the things around you; the pictures, the mementos. The childrens’ shoes you still keep in a drawer somewhere. The first card from a grandchild with scribbled letters reading “I love you Grandma and Grandpa” maybe yellowed with age, maybe just received yesterday. We once had those things.
Touch the walls on the home you grew up in, the walls that still resonate with the voices of those loved ones long gone. Feel the warmth of a household at night, when you’re up and everyone else sleeps; safe and secure in their beds. We left those homes.
Walk outside and stand barefooted on the cool grass, reach down and grab a handful of soil. Your soil, and breathe deep the night air. Look at the heavens above you and the familiar stars over your corner of the world. We irrigated that soil with our tears.
Touch and smell everything that makes you a family and a people. Let it sink into every pore on your body until it reaches the very center of your being. That was all we could take with us.
Then pack all you can into a solitary suitcase, turn your back and leave; never to return.
We’ve been there; my people and me.
But we were blessed. We were blessed indeed.
You see, we had hope, real hope, and “change” meant America, not changing her, so we came. We came by the hundreds of thousands. We came to the dream, not “a” dream, THE dream.
We came by air and we were the lucky ones. Some chose to risk death rather than live without Liberty and braved the treacherous straits. One hundred thousand didn’t make. They lie in a watery grave, forgotten by all save those of us who faced the same choice. They sank to the depths embracing their children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, or even a stranger. Some died all alone.
All in the name of Freedom, all looking to the promise: the promise of America.
This is my story, and the story of my people.
We had a dream of freedom, driven by the hope found just beyond the horizon.
Now, stop reading again, and go look in on your children, touch the walls of the home where they sleep safely night after night, go look at those things, those mementos that mean the world to you, remember the sounds of the family gathered at the Thanksgiving table.
Walk outside; walk barefooted on the grass and feel the coolness of the night on your skin, the blades of grass caressing your feet. Reach down and take a handful of soil, of good American soil, and rub it into the palms of your hands, and then stand and find that point in the horizon where hope may be found.
Find that point where you will struggle to get to, with suitcase in hand, and all the memories your heart can carry, should the lights of this shining city upon a hill be forever dimmed.
That point is nowhere in the horizon, there is only here; here is the place where hope came to flourish, not to die. So here is where we both stand, you and I, and here is where you and I will decide whether we let hope die, or keep it alive.
It is easy for me my friend; I made my choice decades ago.
I chose the hope of America then, I chose freedom. I still choose them both today.
I pray that you now do the same.