All for Freedom

Please elaborate on a central story to your life

It was Valentine’s Day six years ago. There were no roses, chocolate, or any romanticism in the air; there was instead, the scent of puke, fear, sea spray, yet a trace of freedom. It is mind-boggling what a human being is capable of enduring for liberty, even risking life itself. On the eve of my third attempt at attaining freedom, I contemplated in my eleven year-old mind, what I had been denied in my native land. I was leaving behind rationed monthly food portions, callous oppression, the utter lack of opportunity for growth, an economic system where hard work did not equal success, and alas, a Godless nation.

Our previous failed attempts had left my mom and me penniless, shunned by our community, but courageously anticipating another stab at our dream. Early in the morning of February 13th , we boarded a bus from my hometown of Marianao, La Habana for a six hour ride to the westernmost province of Pinal del Rio. A bag filled with two ham spread sandwiches, a can of mosquito repellent, and a change a clothes were all the worldly possessions between us. Nonetheless, our prayers sustained us throughout the arduous journey. In between my prayers of faith and supplications of hope, I realized that I was in a state of transition. Leaving, a simple word, meant estrangement from my country of birth, my family, my friends, and my culture. I was trading it all for a chance to speak my mind freely without fear, to work hard and expect the rewards from the fruits of my labor, and, most importantly, for a chance to make a difference.

I felt my mother’s pain vainly hiding in her eyes but likewise sensed the strength of her determination in her firm grip and was calmed by the sereneness of her countenance. For my part, I was filled with thoughts of finally seeing my father again, a father who had been missing for half of my life. What would life be like in that wonderful land, I wondered. Disney World vacations could not hold a candle to the thought of having, once again, a family and finally seeing my father after such a long absence. This motivation was enough to sustain me through the ordeal that awaited me.

We finally arrived at our destination. With the bag across my mom’s shoulder we set out to walk toward the train station along the cobbled streets. After walking what seemed like the length of the Pacific coast, we finally reached the train station. It only took a few minutes for the train to arrive, and trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, we sat in the last cart of the train. I did not shut my eyes the entire duration of the journey. The destination was finally in sight. The leader of the group told us we were getting off next, except there would not be a stop for us, we had to jump and hope to land standing up. It was the only way to not draw any suspicions. That was the easy part, the twelve mile trek into the forest— that made me shed half of my body weight at the time— was not. After arriving at the shore, I let out a big sigh and let my body collapse onto the foliage, but the journey was not over, not even close. That’s when the stampede began; everyone ran for their lives, as they saw the freedom at the end of the horizon. Eighteen hours later I was in another country, a whole different world with more than one cereal choice, different brands of shampoo, and freedom to speak my mind. It was not worth it for Disney World, but it was certainly worth it for the opportunities I have been given.

The chance to grow, to be rewarded for my hard work, to make a difference, and to take advantage of every single freedom this country grants its citizens has been a blessing. But with the gift of freedom, comes great civic responsibility not only to the government and the country, but also to the communities we are a part of. Not having had the privilege of freedom until the age of eleven, I valued liberty and civic responsibility more than almost everything else in my life. As such, I became involved in a program called Project Citizen, which is a call to action for teens to become involved and bring about change in their communities. I lobbied extensively, wrote and presented a bill: “The Shaye Patrick Martin Safety Act” in front of the FL House of Representatives, which levied stronger measurements to decrease the astounding number of speeding motorists in Florida school zones. To this day, I’m still in contact with lobbyists, state senators and representatives who strongly supported this measure. At the moment I am working with middle school students who are trying to improve the lives of teachers in Florida by giving them a tax break. I am using my networking skills to now bring attention to the plight of our underpaid educators. These experiences with policy-making deepened my sense of civic virtue, indoctrinated in me incredible perseverance, taught me the art of compromise, and most of all, galvanized, and fueled my desire to make a change in this world whether it be as a member of the United Nations, or the IMF.

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