Creating a Legacy As A Speech Prop: An Instruction for the First-Generation Immigrant

Dear First-Generation Immigrant:

You made it here. You rowed, swam, flew, walked, jumped, floated, clawed, applied, cried, begged, waited, passed, got your shots and sworn allegiance. Now it’s time to think about the future. No, not your future, you are already thinking about that, but way, way into the future when your grandchild will be delivering a keynote speech at the Republican National Convention (or Democratic, if you will have failed as a grandparent) and talking about you and your undying wisdom.

A Cuban refugee boat crossing the Straits of Florida, seeking freedom in the US. September 10, 1964

The time to start creating your legacy as a future speech prop is now. You don’t want your grandchild to have to refer to some generic “ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.” The audience will immediately suspect that your grandchild has plagiarized that cartoon about the immigrant mice. “When every new wave of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty, or knelt down and kissed the shores of freedom just ninety miles from Castro’s tyranny, these new Americans surely had many questions. But none doubted that here in America they could build a better life, that in America their children would be more blessed than they.” Every word in this paragraph is a striking reminder of Mitt Romney’s ancestors’ failure to build a legacy good enough for a speech. People have stopped kneeling and kissing things long time ago (kissing anything within 300 miles of New York City will at best give you a bird flu or an STD), and talking about it will make your grandchild look like a loser with no frame of reference and no personality.

Where are the cute anecdotes, lovely memories, nostalgic touches, and references to wisdom of your own ancestors that would make people relate to you personally, maybe shed a tear and not wonder who the hell are you talking about when you say “they came not just in pursuit of the riches of this world but for the richness of this life.”
Don’t fail the future generations of your family! Even though you have failed to set them up for life financially by striking it rich and passing your wealth along, there is still something you can do for them – give them something to talk about.

This is how it’s done:

In 1980, I watched my first Republican convention with my grandfather. He was born to a farming family in rural Cuba. Childhood polio left him permanently disabled. Because he couldn’t work the farm, his family sent him to school, and he became the only one in the family who could read. As a boy, I would sit on our porch and listen to his stories about history, politics and baseball while he puffed on one of his three daily Padron cigars.
I don’t recall everything we talked about, but the one thing I remember, is the one thing he wanted me to never forget. The dreams he had when he was young became impossible to achieve.
But there was no limit to how far I could go, because I was an American.
For those of us who were born and raised in this country, it’s easy to forget how special America is. But my grandfather understood how different America is from the rest of the world, because he knew what life was like outside America.

I took a liberty to highlight a few key terms in this paragraph. Even without the rest of the filler they create a perfect reference that tells the audience you are not a clone but a beautiful fruit on a proud family tree, the roots of which still nourish you with wisdom, morals and an occasional illegal Padron cigar. The audience thinks of their own crusty grandparents, who looked creepy, were always angry and smelled weird, and immediately knows you are one of them, albeit with a much better grandparent. The audience explodes in cheers and applause. From beyond the grave, a wise grandparent just made you a winner.

Of course not all of us are so lucky to have a polio-stricken, cigar-puffing, baseball-loving Cuban grandfather, whose sole goal was to drill one thing into his grandson’s manicured head. Not everyone is related to someone with a dramatic story of immigration like a person who was on the last helicopter out of Saigon, or some national color, like an old Jew from Berdichev. But even the most unremarkable of us can still produce enough legacy to become a successful speech prop for the future generations.

Get a porch; learn to tolerate baseball; start smoking cigars; drink weird drinks that only you know how to make; concoct a story or two about your life in the “old country”; and, most importantly, come up with that one thing you want your grandchild to never forget. And it better not be about how to avoid clap.

The future generations will thank you.