Recently, Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, sat down with radio veteran Lee Habeeb for an episode of “Our American Stories,” a syndicated radio program and podcast that highlights “ordinary Americans who do extraordinary things.” Gonzalez is a partner in Philanthropy Roundtable’s True Diversity initiative, an equality-based, holistic framework for embracing diversity that values each person as a unique individual and empowers charitable organizations with the freedom and flexibility to advance their missions and help those in need.
He shared his family’s harrowing personal story, retelling their escape from communist Cuba to Spain, and later to the United States, in the 1970s. He also warned listeners about the “cultural genocide” that communism causes, and implored Americans to protect our land of the free.
Below are excerpts from Gonzalez’s story, featured on “Our American Stories”:
“It happened over 50 years ago, but I don’t think I will ever forget it. We were woken up early, dressed, put a tie on and a jacket, even though I was 12. One got dressed to go on airplanes in those days. … We said goodbye to the grandmother who had raised me, never to see her again. The woman who gave me a glass of milk every night, who woke me up every day, who practiced verbal conjugations with me. Said goodbye to her never to see her again. Then we drove over to see my mother’s parents, who were in tears, in absolute tears, as they said goodbye to her. Even though she was going to Spain, their land of origin.
And I couldn’t understand why my mom, my mother and her parents were crying. To me, it was the happiest day of my life. … I couldn’t really understand why there was such consternation. And then we got to the airport and we were all there, all held up in a room. And my mother whispered in my ear, ‘When we start walking toward the plane, if the authorities call me back, you and your sister Lucy run to the plane, and you get on the plane. That plane is an Iberian airplane. It belongs to the kingdom of Spain, and you ask for asylum. Don’t turn back. Don’t look at me. Just run as fast as you can and get on that plane.’”
“I arrived in Spain at the age of 12. … And I really realized then what shelves were for, in the stores. I saw shelves with actual merchandise. I had never, ever seen that. No, I lie. I had seen it once before in Cuba, in a photo my father showed me, and I was shocked to see cans of food and sacks of flour in the shelves of the store. Because I never saw that in Cuba. Never, ever. When meat would arrive at the butcher’s, every person, every adult left the house to go line up to get whatever. And if you were the last one to line up, then you could only get ground beef. I’d have to eat picadillo because everything else was gone. … There were lines everywhere. The only thing communists produce, they never produce bread. They only produce bread lines.
I remember my mother, when we arrived in Spain, and we were walking around, by the way, let’s not forget that Spain at this time, in 1972, is itself a poor country and yet it was a pure heaven compared to Cuba. And I remember pointing to this very strange fruit and asking the store owner what it was, and my mother breaks into tears. And she asks the store owner, can I hold it, and he lets me hold it. And my mother was crying because it was a pineapple. And it had been produced in Cuba, obviously Cuba is a tropical island … and I had never in my life seen a pineapple nor did I have any idea of what one looked like – at the age of 12. So that gives you some idea of the kind of poverty that communism produces.”
“The real impoverishment that communism causes is a spiritual impoverishment and a cultural impoverishment. That is the one that really is the worst, you know, the idea there cannot be any God, there cannot be God because that takes away a place where Castro or the Communist party should be in your heart. One thing that God gives you is hope. God gives you hope. And communists don’t want you to have hope. Marxists don’t want you to have hope. Because it’s only when you’re hopeless that you will launch the revolution they desire. They want you to feel completely bereft of any feeling that your situation will improve.
So they will, they really do go after God for that reason. That, again, runs against human nature, and one thing we do know about human nature is that we all have religion. You can arrive at an unknown island today, and the only thing you will know for sure is that they have music and religion. So I think the empty shelves in the cultural marketplace are much more searing to the human condition, to man, than the empty shelves of the bodega.”
“I came to America in 1974 and I landed in Queens, New York. And everybody in Queens, New York, the neighborhood where I lived, was really a, you had a multitude of people, mostly of European ancestry, but people didn’t think of themselves that way. They were either Irish and Italian or Polish or Cuban or Puerto Rican. And by the way, there was a, there was a name, usually a bad name, everybody was something. There was a bad term associated with all these groups, everybody was something. We have vastly improved on that.
That is no longer really the case. And I think that’s a vast improvement from the America that I arrived in, and that we don’t put up with racial epithets. We don’t think they’re funny. We don’t think they’re part of polite society. And I think that is, that has been a very, very good thing that has happened in this country. … What we did in the last quarter of the 20th century was tried to deracialize society, tried to be deracialize ourselves, and I think we succeeded with that.
But now we’re re-racializing. We’re going back to thinking that a person is his race. But there’s a word for this. It’s called essentialism. Essentialism means that we are our race, you represent whatever national origin you are. I come from very different ancestors. I come from ancestors who were Cuban. I come from ancestors who were Spanish. I come from wealthy people. I come from poor people. I come from the lord of the manor. I come from the serfs. And I am who I am not only because of that DNA, but also because of the things that I have done. The outcomes of the decisions that I have made since I became an adult, and even as a teenager.
If you make better decisions, overall, than bad decisions, you’re going to have a very good shot in life. But it has nothing to do with DNA. It has nothing to do with race. Any scheme, whether it’s charitable or government or educational, that is based on race, that is based on the idea that people are ambassadors and spokesmen for their race is going to fail, and fail miserably, because it is not true. We have to save America from this. We only look at the lessons of what happened in Cuba, what happened in China, what happened in Cambodia, in order that we can save what we have here, in the land of the free.”
To listen to the full episode with Gonzalez, please visit “Our American Stories.”