It was at an event in Seattle, Washington this summer that Emilio Guerra, a Patriot’s Club member of The Heritage Foundation, ran into Heritage President Jim DeMint in a hotel lobby.
Guerra recognized DeMint and chatted briefly with him. “Jim is a person you immediately connect with because he’s just a good human being,” Guerra said. After they exchanged e-mails, Guerra shared his inspirational story that should make every American proud of our country.
Guerra was born in Cuba to a middle class family. Because of their experiences under dictator Fulgencio Batista, some Cubans were happy when Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. But Guerra’s father, a banker, foresaw the dangers of the Castro dictatorship.
After the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, Castro cracked down. He issued an edict demanding children attend government “reeducation” camps to defend and promote the revolution.
Guerra’s father knew he had to get his children — Emilio and David — out of the country. Armed with the knowledge that the Archdiocese of Miami and other Catholic charities were receiving Cuban children and finding them foster homes, the elder Guerra used a ruse to send his children overseas. (Adults were forbidden to leave the country in a measure intended to combat the country’s “brain drain,” so his parents did not accompany their children at first.)
Here’s how Guerra described what happened next in a letter sent this July to all his co-workers:
On September 26, 1961, my mother and father put my brother and I on a plane bound for Miami with a letter in my pocket and not much else. I was eight, my brother was six and we were told that some nice people were going to pick us up upon arrival. All I had to do was give someone in uniform the letter I was carrying.
As we arrived, I saw a man in uniform that asked me if we were traveling alone…I said yes and gave him the envelope. The letter my father had written basically said…please take care of my boys since we won’t be able to join them for some time. Two weeks later we were living in a foster home with strangers with no clue as to why our parents had abandoned us. Luckily, three months later they were able to escape Castro’s communism and join us after bribing some officials.
Years later, I asked my father why they had sent us alone on a plane to live in another land, with strangers, and little certainty of being able to join us later. He said to me…
“Because knowing that you would grow up in a FREE country without us was more important than seeing you grow up under Communism with us.”
Over 14,000 children (known as Peter Pan kids) were sent to this country by their parents with the hope of joining them later. Many parents never did…my brother and I were some of the lucky ones.
Having the benefit of hindsight and knowing how Communism slowly transformed Cuba into a shadow of what it once was, I worry when I see our government implementing new laws, rules and regulations in the name of social justice and political correctness similar to those seen in the Cuba of 1961.
As we celebrate the 4th of July this year, remember that Freedom isn’t Free and it can easily be lost if we stop paying attention.
“Every Cuban has these stories,” Guerra says. “It blows your mind.”
Guerra’s unassuming and humble outlook is reflected in his adult life. After graduating from college with a Master’s degree in business administration, he got into the banana business because, as he said, “someone needs to do it.” In 2001, he pursued his dream and became a sommelier, currently working for Dreyfus, Ashby & Co. and also as an adjunct professor of wine at Florida International University in Miami.
He knows that the challenges life throws at us can be overcome through hard work. His ability to take life as it comes, and not dwell on the hiccups, is as refreshing as it is wise.
Guerra says he lives by the Golden Rule, treating people with respect. And his faith helps drive his conservative beliefs. The Ten Commandments, he says, lie at the heart of conservative principles.
So when Guerra heard about The Heritage Foundation on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, he immediately went to our website and decided he agrees with what we do.
Guerra, like many Heritage members, is anxious about the direction our country is taking.
“When I think of the signers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence,” he says, “I don’t see why our Representatives and Senators can’t get together to do what’s best for our country — not necessarily compromising, but doing what’s best.”
He concluded with a hopeful note: “If Heritage does anything to push our country in the right direction, then I believe in supporting it.”