By Oscar Suarez
Florida Market Leader, Ernst & Young LLP

I came to the United States in 1960, when I was four-months-old. My father was a photojournalist in Cuba. After Castro took power, he understood very quickly that the revolutionary government was tying itself to the Soviets and headed in the wrong direction.

The news agency he worked for reported on this, and within 24 hours he went from covering Castro’s inner circle to prison, threatened with a firing squad. He was fortunate that a few of his friends let him out with instructions to disappear.

In July of 1960, my father became one of the first of what would soon be many Cubans to flee by sea. He left in a 21-foot boat with ten others and had the misfortune to encounter Hurricane Donna and be swept into the Gulf of Mexico.
My mother and I were allowed to leave Cuba a few months later and arrived in America on October 15. I know the date because no matter where I am in the world, my mother calls me every October 15 to wish me a “Happy USA Day.”

My parents had lost everything they had in Cuba and started anew in New York City. My father worked two jobs including the midnight shift in a printing factory. He did whatever he could to provide for us, and eventually opened up his own business as a printing broker. My mother would eventually become a banker. They showed me that the American Dream is about opportunity—and not necessarily a fantastic opportunity. My father’s first opportunity was terrible in some ways, but he made the best of it and treated it with respect.

That’s the American Dream to me: an opportunity. And people are still crossing the Straits of Florida on rafts because of the promise these opportunities hold in our country.

It’s one thing to receive an opportunity. It’s another—and possibly more important—to give one. I am heavily involved in recruiting for Ernst & Young and I serve on the corporate advisory boards of two universities, helping the schools to better attract the best students from all walks of life.

I often tell my family’s story to the young people I meet, because I want them to see that the American Dream is real. But before you can inspire others, you have to inspire yourself. I keep a picture of my father’s boat rescue on the wall of my office. I often think that if he survived three days adrift in that boat then I got it easy. Now I encourage others to take advantage of the opportunity.