After I’d given an immigration tour on Ellis Island, two of my guests approached me to talk.
JORGE: When I was 17 years old, I crossed the Mexican-American border illegally. I walked from Mexico City to California. As soon as I arrived, I knew this country was my home and I never looked back. I gained my citizenship by joining the US Army. I would have served regardless because I wanted to protect the country I love.
I was sent to Vietnam. One day we were ambushed and there was an explosion. That’s why my legs don’t work… I consider myself lucky, because I made it out alive.
Soon after, I met my beautiful wife…
Giant tears stream down Jorge’s face.
JORGE: My wife’s a refugee from Cuba. We both understand what it’s like to live in hardship and poverty. We wanted more for ourselves and for our families. We work hard. We pay our taxes. We’ve raised our children to be good men. Both of our sons have proudly served in different branches in The United States Armed Forces. Our oldest is now the sheriff of his town - continuing to protect his community.
We’ve built a good life. For the most past, life has been good to us, but the last few years have been very hard. Out of the blue, strangers go out of their way to yell at us, “You don’t belong here! Go back to your own country! Mexicans…!”
I don’t understand this. We are citizens!
Why do people hate us? All I’ve ever wanted was to make a better life for me and my family - to be a good citizen. I have served this nation. My children have served this nation. How does this make me a terrible person?
More tears stream down Jorge’s face.
ME: It doesn't make you a terrible person. Jorge, you have sacrificed and given more than most who were born here. You are a good man. No... you are an amazing man, who loves his country and his family.
You deserve better. You belong here.
Now, tears stream down my face.
Not knowing what to do, we stare at each other and take the time to really see each other. You know, the moment when you acknowledge each other’s humanity.
Seeing this 73 year old man cry and hurting from the depths of his soul, I did the only thing I knew to do - I hugged him.
Sobbing on my shoulder, Jorge’s sadness was so acute it made his whole body shake uncontrollably, so I hugged him even harder to keep him from collapsing. Over his shoulder, I saw Jorge’s wife crying too, so I waived her over to us.
I have no idea how long the three of us stood holding onto each other, but it’s one of the best hugs I’ve ever had in my life.
ME: I am grateful you two were a part of my group today. Thank you for sharing your story with me.
Jorge, you have sacrificed so much to make our country safer. You and your wife… I am so glad you have each other. Your relationship, well, it shows the world just what love and sacrifice really means.
I am so sorry your family is being hurt. This is not, nor will it ever be, ok. I hope you you know are not alone in this journey. I don't know what this one white woman can do, but as long as I live, hate will never be acceptable in my house.
You are always welcome in my home. I love you.