Article by John Myers | Photography by Josh Eller | Owl Staff

Imagine packing everything into a suitcase and leaving home behind. Before Ellis Island closed, 12 million immigrants faced this experience themselves. Like immigrants from all over the world, they took a chance at the pursuit of happiness.

In 1956, a young couple full of love and dreams huddled together on a small motorboat toward Miami, chasing “the American Dream.” This is how my grandparent’s journey began during the Cuban Revolution. My grandfather, Frank Castro, was fleeing in an attempt to escape being drafted by the Cuban government.

It was his undying love for my grandmother, Olga Castro, which motivated him to start a new life in the United States. Stories like this are not uncommon to hear, because this beautiful country is made up almost entirely of immigrants. Unless you are of Native American descent, then the genesis of your existence in this country was immigration.

The idea of immigration is fascinating to me. The fact that a myriad of people from all over the world decided to come here says something remarkably powerful about the ideas our country represents.

What is it about the U.S. that attracts so much diversity? For my grandparents, it was true freedom. As my grandmother sat on her living room couch watching her large flat screen TV, with her dog in her lap, I saw her American Dream.

As she sipped on her tea, I asked her “What does freedom mean to you?” “Upward mobility, freedom of speech, press and religion,” she responds. “Cuba was paradise until…[Fidel Castro] took over and started throwing anyone in jail if they said or wrote something that went against the government,” she says. “Then they started taking everyone’s money and enlisting children as young as 15 to murder, rob and steal for him.”

She mentioned horrific events occurring prior to her journey to the U.S. She told me about the riots and revolts of the citizens and the governments tyrannical response to them.

Her story really put things into perspective for me. I now have a new understanding of the word “freedom.” To gain further insight, I spoke to my next subject. As a first-generation citizen, his parents grew up in Haiti prior to coming to the U.S.

“Unless you were of Native American descent, the genesis of your existence in this country was immigration.”

We gathered around the dining room table adorned with Creole chicken and black rice prepared by his mom. I asked, “What does freedom to you?” She replied, “It would have to be opportunity. We came from a very poor village in Haiti. Hunger became a normal thing. Women and children would spend days just to find and gather clean water.”

One day, her father gave her and her husband what little savings he had and encouraged them to buy a plane ticket to the U.S. Her mother said, “This is the only place in the world where I think it’s truly possible to go from having nothing, to having more than you need. You have to work for it though.”

Danielle Frater, born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, believes that the U.S. allows her the freedom to chase her passions any way she desires. She explained that Jamaica is “a very traditional country in terms of education and career. People either work as a teacher, office clerk, or at the banks.”

Her passion for art and computers inspired her to take on a career in graphic design. “You guys have better resources than in Jamaica, especially in the design community,” she says. “The tools were already there for me to succeed, I just had to use them.” She believes “the American dream” is “to work hard, get a great job, a great family and live happily ever after.”

After hearing these stories, it seems a common dream is to work hard and make a great life for you and your family. This belief in the American Dream is what has drawn countless people to our shores.

I now feel a sense of gratitude and have a new perspective on how lucky we are to live in a country like the U.S. My family and I are glad to call it our home.

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