In just a few days I will be making my Broadway debut.
Not only is this THE dream I left the comforts of home and family to pursue, but a new chapter in the dream that my family began 52 years ago.
I am a first generation Cuban American born to parents who were forced to leave all they knew and loved, because of a revolution that forever changed their homeland.
My mother's family worked for Batista, and when he was overthrown, the punishment for loyalists was jail time. The last Red Cross boat out of Cuba saw my 4 year old mother and her family aboard it, the family jewels sewn in a hidden lining of her kiddie purse knowing the guards wouldn't think much of a child and steal what little they had.
My father's parents at first went along with this new government, thinking maybe there'd be something to it. Time soon proved that life was only getting worse and that my father was about to turn the recruitment age for the Cuban military. They soon applied to leave Cuba, and their names were pulled for departure, but not together. My grandmother, my father and his two brothers were to leave to Spain immediately and my grandfather was to stay in Cuba for three more years until his name was chosen.
I was born in Hialeah, Miami, which is basically the closest you'll get to Cuba within the US.
I was born soon after my parents were married into a situation that they never let me catch on to...we were very poor. Multiple jobs were had and they even sold socks at the flea market on weekends to bring in extra cash. All this I never knew as they kept themselves from enjoying anything extra, so that I always had what everyone else had and so that holidays were just as special as any other kids. The older I grew the more I was able to observe the way these two people worked and worked and never expected anything from anyone. The foundation of what hard work could accomplish was subconsciously being instilled in me as I saw my family begin to rise in wealth and stature, but always with the mindset of the immigrants that came here. Hard work creates opportunity. Money comes but money also goes. You can achieve anything in this country, but you better get ready to jump in and be the best you can be at what you do.
There was never "getting by" in my house. There was only "aim to be the best damn version of whatever you choose to be."
Pride in your work was everything.
So here we are in 2015 and by the chance of fate and the theatre gods smiling upon me, I am making my debut in "On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan." My job is to work with the two people that every Cuban I grew up with looked up to, but also to tell their story, which is the story of what I saw around me from the day I was born, the American Dream realized through a tremendous amount of hard work and determination. I share the stage every night with the largest Latino cast Broadway has ever seen and almost 30 ridiculously talented examples of what this dream can look like. Every one of us proof that with opportunity and an open door, this country is the place where these dreams come true. Every one of them with a story much like my own.
Also here in 2015, are the vitriolic actions and comments of many who want the complete opposite. Those who want to build a wall to keep us all out. Those who want to ship so many back to "where they came from" mostly for political gain and those precious 15 minutes of fame on cable news. The way these ideas are politicized is to make it seem as if immigrants are coming here based on choice, when it's in fact the lack of choice that forces someone to leave everything they know for the promise of something better. A promise that is never guaranteed and a change that is in most cases fairly terrifying.
Choice never put my mother on a boat or my father on a plane. Choice didn't force them to come here and begin anew again with absolutely nothing. Choice didn't put my grandmother in a factory to make ends meet.
What did happen, as what happens in many cases, is that options had run out in what they knew as home. There was nothing else to do but pack up and go to the country that asks you to "give your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free." There was never (and still isn't) a sign tacked on to the side saying "Till we get tired of having you here."
Immigrants want to work and create proper homes for their families. They want to see their children grow up and achieve even higher goals than they ever did themselves. They want to sit in a Broadway theatre and watch their child live their dream on a stage, knowing the struggles they went through were all worth it.
Don't believe me? Come to NYC and sit in the Marquis Theatre where this story is being told every night. Not only in the story of Gloria and Emilio but in the story of everyone onstage and behind the scenes.
None of us here came from this land but we all share the honor of making the best of ourselves and claiming it as "Mi Tierra."