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  • Cathy Holt

A Refugee's Manifesto for Inclusion - By: Mara Silverio

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

“You just adapt to the conditions and with a little bit of faith you can survive” ~ Basilio Silverio

Editors Note: Mara Silverio's father Basilio Silverio was a prisoner for 18 years under the Fidel Castro Regime in Cuba. This is his daughter's letter of thanks for the sacrifice he made for their family to have a life in the United States.

Dear Dad:

Today, for the first time ever, I want to deeply say thank-you. I graciously salute you and every honorable refugee and immigrant around the world – those who made it and those who never did – for the courage of sacrificing familiar lands for foreign valleys. For daring to embark on an expedition, simply hoping to find freedom and sufficient means to make a living.

I wonder if you felt as if you had nothing to lose by leaving, after the unconventional young adulthood you lived. After being arrested at home at the age of 18, with four others, for “sabotage against the revolutionary Cuban government” and spending the next 18 years of your life in terror, tortured; living in inhumane conditions as a political prisoner serving time in seven different institutions, as inmates were moved around every so often to prevent from forming rebellious groups.

You survived a corrupt political system that earmarked you a “terrorist” and welcomed you to three months of solitary confinement to the depigmentation of your dark skin.

As you once said, “the sun never reached me and when I got out, I didn’t recognize myself. I was white.” This followed two years of starvation from a daily food ration that consisted of a sardines and quarter sized potato. You witnessed firing squads from your window. You were beaten and given cold showers. I’m sure this only scratched the surface of the injustice you endured as a young man who actively protested and stood firm against the Castro regime.

Admirably, despite being caged and savagely treated, you had more fight in you. After unjustly being robbed of 18 years out of a 20-year sentence, at 36, you married my mother and started your own family; the first humane experience in your entire life. Admirably, you never ceased to settle for what you believed was right. Giving us a makeshift home with no running water and forming long lines every nine days to receive a half a pound of meat was not going to cut it.

You managed to keep fighting your way through the political system to climb beyond a communist economy of poverty and scarcity, and rise above what many would consider uninhabitable, ghetto conditions, in the outskirts of Santa Clara.

Had you not done so; would I have only had an elementary or middle school education like my mother? Would I have had to resort to prostitution to feed a family like some women in disadvantaged countries have to do? This is the harsh reality for many in this world.

As a professional leader in corporate America, I hold organizations and decision makers who prioritize fostering an inclusive work culture, with utmost regard. There’s no better way of demonstrating appreciation and respect for people, than by normalizing acceptance of who they are by the understanding their needs and developing platforms to meet those.

This depicts the legitimacy of a company and is paramount to its success – especially in an era where products, services, and impact must meet the needs of diverse groups of people and consumers from an array of backgrounds and costumes. We, the people of the United States of America, now come in more richness of color, flavor and diversity, than ever before in its history – and that is what truly makes us great.

The truth is that much of what is applauded by society today and what I’ve achieved, “first in my generation to become an American” or “first to graduate college” would not have happened without you – the real hero. Without the sacrifices of those who truly bear the burdens and fight systems that shift entire generations; without leadership that disrupts culture and champions inclusion; we would not pave new roads for the advancement humanity.

So, Dad, I say thank you and salute you – today – because I was too young to truly understand and appreciate the magnitude of your sacrifices, when I had you. While your dark skin is no longer near, your spirit continues to light the way for everyone whom your meaningful journey inspires. As does the journey of millions of valiant refugees and immigrants who take great risks and lead their tribes to lands of freedom, much like Harriet Tubman did for hers.

The epitome of resilience is who you were. I will forever cherish your words: “You just adapt to the conditions and with a little bit of faith you can survive.”

Humanity should never be selective. Liberty should never be a commodity – but a birthright. May we all be as passionate for human rights and inclusion, as you were. Is it even worth it not to be?

Mara Silverio


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