The end is near, it’s that simple. It’s up to us to decide what kind of country and rights we want for our children. We have the power to define whether we will live in peace or in war, what humanity’s destiny will be, how our future will look. We’re not God, but what great power we have, don’t you think? And all thanks to a seemingly small right that democracy affords us: the right to vote.
You and me, together, will make history. We belong to the generation that has the power to decide who will be the next president of the most powerful country in the world, in one of the most polarizing and critical elections in the history of democracy in this country we can call ours. How can we not exercise that power?
Some 27 million Hispanics have the right to vote in the U.S., and we will be the voices for our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, parents —all those who made enormous sacrifices to leave their home behind and fought to give you a brighter future. If we all go to the polls, there will be no wall strong enough to stop us.
I was born and grew up on island nation that did not afford me this right that you may take for granted. When I took my first breath, it was under the regime of a man who thought he was more powerful than God. He placed himself on an immovable throne on an island no one could escape from, where we had no right to think differently than he, be different, believe in God, in any God that wasn’t him. Can you imagine that? And we couldn’t do anything about it.
The right to vote in the country I was born was a sad illusion. That country’s leader, the one who crowned himself king for four decades, one day decided to pass on the throne to his brother —beginning a sort of Caribbean monarchy which, from all apparent signs, will continue when he dies or steps aside and passes the torch to his son, his daughter, his son-in-law or whichever favorite despot in his entourage.
I was able to escape from that island and became, overnight, an exile, a refugee. I came to the United States and, like the majority of refugees, started from scratch. I learned a new language and, with a lot of work and effort, I became who I wanted to be, who I always dreamed I could be. I became a journalist. I moved to a New York City, where I always dreamed of living, got a job writing for a magazine that was being launched — where today I’m its editor-in-chief. And 20 years after we launched it, People en Español is the number one Spanish-language magazine in the country, thanks to all of you.
With my partner, Gonzalo, I created a family. We have three wonderful kids: Emma, Anna and Lucas. I always wanted to be a father and was convinced that when I had them they would be born and raised in a country where they could build their own future.
And I wrote a novel, The German Girl, a love story between two kids who promise to be together until the end of their lives. It’s also a story of a rejected people; of how the world can turn it’s back on you and send you to hell. It’s a story about refugees, like you and me.
Dreams come true, I know this to be a fact. But their coming true or not depends solely on us. Every four years, when I get the chance to choose my destiny, my heart races and I thank God –that God that was forbidden on the island where I was born— because my children and I have the right that many take for granted, just as they may take the sun and the moon, the air they breathe for granted without looking beyond their shell, ignoring that just some years ago, yes, in this, the most powerful country in the world, women and African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote.
Election time is a festive time in my house. My children know how lucky they are that their parents can decide who will govern this country. I take them to the polls and share the euphoria that only those of us who grew up without this right in a dictatorship can understand.
So when you wake up on Election Day and see your children, your parents, your siblings, your spouses, your friends in the comfort of your home, hug them because you are all very fortunate. Leave your house with the strength that this country gives you —don’t ignore it!— and go to your voting precinct and be the first one there when the doors open. Go inside that small booth and when you’re in that sacred space facing a ballot printed with the names of all the candidates, feel like who you really are: the freest person in the world.
I implore you, as someone who never had the right to do so in Cuba, the country where I was born and raised: Damn it! Go vote.