The 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, is a significant day in American history. It’s a day filled with patriotism, celebrations, and fireworks, and for many, it represents the cherished freedom that the United States gained in 1776. However, the meaning of this day holds even deeper significance for individuals who have experienced life without freedom firsthand. In this blog, we will explore the journey of a Cuban immigrant to understand what the 4th of July truly means to him.
The Journey to Freedom:
Amittay Rodriguez, a former doctor and pastor in Cuba, had a comfortable life serving the people both through his medical practice and his role at a local church. However, his connections with friends in the United States made him a target of suspicion for the Cuban government. Under increasing pressure and fearing for his family’s safety, Rodriguez and a group of friends embarked on a perilous journey to escape Cuba.
In December 2005, after months of planning and building a raft in secret, they set out on their journey to the United States with a plan to leave from the north coast of Cuba. The journey was filled with danger, including a violent storm in the middle of the night that threatened to capsize their small raft. Despite the immense challenges, they persevered with hope and faith, feeling the hand of God guiding them through the stormy waters.
As the storm settled, the group began to feel relieved when they saw a large boat approaching them from the horizon. To their knowledge, they were about to be recued by whoever was on this ship, and they would be in America in no time. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the United States Coast Guard, who legally had to return them to Cuba. Despite Rodriguez’s disappointment, his spirit remained resilient, as the journey to freedom was far from over.
Years of Struggle and Resilience:
The years following their return to Cuba were filled with hardship. Upon arrival, Rodriguez faced a harsh reality when he discovered that the government seized his home, car, and all their family belongings, leaving them with nothing. They also revoked his medical license, which left him without a job. However, a church in Havana heard about his story and offered his family shelter and protection. Rodriguez eventually joined the church as a pastor and devoted himself to serving the Cuban people once again despite losing his title as a doctor.
The church flourished, and they even planted three additional churches during Rodriguez’s tenure. However, his desire for freedom persisted, leading him and his family to eventually flee to Mexico, where they hid for four months before finally crossing the border into the United States. On October 17, 2009, they officially claimed asylum, marking the beginning of their new life in the land of the free.
The First 4th of July: Embracing Freedom:
In 2010, Rodriguez and his family experienced their first 4th of July in the United States. It was a moment filled with excitement and gratitude. Wearing patriotic t-shirts decorated with the American flag and the word “freedom,” they celebrated the significance of this day. They learned about the principles of the Constitution and the republic, affirming their commitment to fight for the values that the United States stands for.
Watching the fireworks illuminate the night sky, Rodriguez realized that they symbolized more than just the celebration of freedom; they represented hope. Born in Cuba, a country where hope for the future was scarce, their arrival in the United States opened up a world of possibilities. The land of opportunity offered them the chance to grow, learn, help others, and develop themselves in ways they could never have imagined before.
Concept of Freedom: A Clear Contrast:
Rodriguez reflects on the clear contrast between the concept of freedom in Cuba and the United States. In his homeland, the word “freedom” seemed nonexistent. There was no freedom of speech, religion, travel, or the right to choose one’s own path. In contrast, the United States granted him the freedom to go wherever he desired, study any subject, express himself openly, and engage in a multitude of activities that were once out of reach. The distinction was clear—Cuba was without freedom, while the United States embraced it.
Celebrating the 4th of July:
As the American flag waves outside their home every day, symbolizing the freedom they cherish, Rodriguez and his family celebrate the 4th of July with great enthusiasm. They purchase new patriotic t-shirts, proudly displaying their love for their newfound homeland.
Their celebration involves a family gathering in which they grill beef, a simple act that carries profound meaning. In Cuba, it was illegal to possess beef. As they gather around the grill, the sizzling beef serves as a tangible reminder of the freedom to enjoy the basic pleasures of life that were previously denied to them.
An Invitation to Understand:
Rodriguez invites all Americans to truly grasp the significance of the 4th of July. While many may see it as a day to party, he encourages everyone to remember the historical context and reflect on the hard-fought freedom gained by the nation. He emphasizes the importance of praising the Lord for the events of July 4, 1776, as it marked the birth of a nation that would provide liberty and opportunity to countless individuals like himself.
The story of Amittay Rodriguez is a testament to the power of hope, faith, and resilience in the pursuit of freedom. As we celebrate the 4th of July, let us remember the struggles faced by those who have sought refuge in the United States and embrace the freedom that we too often take for granted. As the fireworks illuminate the sky, let them serve as a reminder of the limitless possibilities that freedom brings, and may we continue to cherish and defend the values that define our nation.