As a child growing up in a communist Cuba, I could have never envisioned how far my life would come. As a child, I believed in education and the power that comes with it, but as I grew older in Cuba, I learned that reality was much different.
Many Cubans question the value of education because a school teacher or doctor will earn the same amount as a factory worker in our native country. Education is seen as a bragging right without incentives, which discourages many from obtaining an education.
When I was 17, my parents, with tears in their eyes, sacrificed everything they had and sent my older brother and me to the United States by ourselves. I remember my parents’ last words to me before I left their side. They said: “Go to America and achieve great things, educate yourself and become what you wish. Don’t let anyone get in the way of your success. We will always love you and you will always be in our hearts.”
My parents gave all they had to send my brother and me to a better future because they knew that we stood no chance in Cuba. I arrived in the United States in 2001, confused, lost and without realizing how free I truly was.
My parents had arranged for my brother and me to meet up with a family in Puerto Rico, who started the process of obtaining citizenship for us. The first day I received my citizenship, I walked to a recruiter’s office and enlisted in the U.S. Army. I joined because I wanted to fight for this new thing in my life — freedom.
Fighting in Iraq enforced the ideas that freedom is something worth fighting for and that we all deserve it. On my return from Iraq, I still felt a void in my life that could only be filled with education. Throughout my life I have always wanted to be a person who stood up for the rights of the people, and who might one day fight to end communism and bring democracy to those who have never experienced freedom.
This motivated me to study political science and start my journey toward becoming a politician who could make the world a better place. I chose Burlington County College to help me achieve that success. My education so far has been a major success, and I would like to thank Professor Kenneth Mariano for all his dedication to ensuring that. He has encouraged me to further my education, and stresses that dreams can be achieved through hard work and dedication.
Through his advice I have attended a town hall meeting in Mount Laurel, where Gov. Christie discussed his budget plans. I also attended the New Jersey Council of County Colleges’ Student Lobbying Day at the Statehouse. In Cuba, I would have never had the chance to see first-hand how our government operated, without swearing an allegiance to the communists. In America, I have sat in the same room as the governor and discussed the importance of county colleges with several Burlington County legislators, including State Senator Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham, and Assembly members Christopher J. Brown, R-8th of Evesham, Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-8th of Evesham, and Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, who were all so receptive to my classmates and me.
I am grateful for these recent opportunities to personally observe and learn how democracy works. Each experience has shown me a great deal of what democracy is, and enforced the idea of my becoming a politician one day.
In closing I ask that we, as New Jersey residents, don’t ever lose our sight as to how important an education is, especially to those who can’t afford one. My father used to tell me that “a life without knowledge is no life at all,” and I am so proud to be gaining the knowledge that will improve my life and hopefully the lives of others.
God bless America because without her, we would never know what true freedom really is.