A Debt I Can't Repay

I am Cuban. I feel I have to say that right off the bat because so many people, when they first learn that I was born in Havana, are stunned. I guess a lot of people expect that Cubans all speak and act like Ricky Ricardo. But I came to America as a very young child, so assimilation has never been a problem. My family moved to the U.S. in the 60's when Americans, once again, generously opened their arms to yet another wave of immigrants, as they had done so many times before in our country's history. My parents, who were well off in Cuba, had to start over like so many other immigrants, working two jobs each for minimum wage. But through hard work and perseverance, they were able to claw their way up so that we once again had a comfortable lifestyle. Not rich. But comfortable.

Sure, it was difficult, and I remember signs in some of Miami's downtown restaurants that stated "No Cubans Allowed," but the opportunity was there. And so I learned early on from my parents that, through hard work, in America anything was possible. That's how a Cuban born child who fled communism and came here with his immigrant parents became an American citizen, a cop, a lawyer, a judge and now the host of a successful, nationally syndicated television court show--"Judge Alex."

I started working at 15 and became a police officer when I was just 19 years old, working as a cop to support myself and pay my way through college and law school. Full time student by day, full time cop by night. Easy? No. But it was do-able and I didn't have any other options so I did what I had to do. Along the way, I become the youngest cop and the youngest judge in Miami, the first Cuban born attorney elected to Miami's Circuit Court, and now a member of a very small fraternity of TV judges. I would say that no one handed me anything; that I had to work hard for everything I obtained--but that would not be true.

The reality is I was given the most critical key to my success: the opportunity that America provides. This truly is the Land of Opportunity. I sometimes wonder what would have become of my life if Americans had not welcomed us into their country. I would have lived under communist rule in Cuba, barely getting by, no freedom to express my opinions in private, let alone in public, without being beaten and arrested. The government would have made me work at the career they chose for me and, even if I was lucky enough to be selected to be a doctor rather than a ditch-digger, the pay in Cuban pesos would be so inadequate that some doctors in Cuba drive taxis on the side in order to have enough money to feed their families. No. I was given the invaluable opportunity to become successful and live a great life through the unparalleled generosity of the American people.

And, try as I might, that is a debt I can't repay.