Thursday's march in Miami’s Little Havana against attacks on “The Ladies in White” in Cuba brought together people from all backgrounds - immigrants and American-born alike - all tied together by the same thread: they are all supporters of human rights.
In that crowd of 100,000, there were 100,000 stories of why people were there and why it mattered so much.
Heard over and over again: This march was not a Cuban thing. It was a human thing.
The image of rafters struggling to reach freedom on American shores is the image so many Americans see of the Cuban struggle.
But the man in the crowd Thursday evening holding his twin boys on his shoulders harmonizing “Libertad! Libertad!” is the result of one of those rafts. Armando Cabrera made it to America aboard a raft 15 years ago. Glancing up at his boys with their striking blue eyes, Cabrera says, “It’s important for them to know our past so they know what we have.”
Mario Mesa is the young man sitting atop a horse in the dog-eared black and white photo taken on the family farm in Cuba in the late 1950s. He says the Cuban government threw him in jail twice for political reasons. He thought he’d die behind bars. That’s why, standing full of emotion in the middle of the 100,000 marchers, Mesa said “the very first thing I did” when he made it to America is volunteer to serve in the American military.
He was soon dispatched back to Cuba to fight in the Bay of Pigs hoping to overthrow the same tyranny that threw him in jail. What does seeing this massive crowd do to his feelings? “It gives me chills,” he confesses, eyes welling with tears, rubbing the skin of his forearm.
And then there was Tomas Regalado, who came to America with nothing as a young man, but whose political talents allowed him to meet presidents and world leaders. He's now known as the Mayor of Miami.
“I am humbled they elected someone like me who arrived without parents, penniless,” Regalado said while taking in the sight of the packed streets of Little Havana during the march.
Not everyone in the crowd of 100,000 was Cuban or Cuban American. There were flags from Peru, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela and many more. And, of course, there were thousands of American flags.
“Freedom for Cuba! Freedom for Cuba!” shouted a passionate Anna Maria from Peru holding her hand-made Peruvian cardboard flag.
Reflecting on the human rights abuses in Cuba, Juanita Alvarez from Puerto Rico underscores , “I wouldn’t want that in my country.”
The multitudes of nationalities also came together to sing the one national anthem they all share. The evening march ended as the sun went down and the crowd sang “….and the home of the brave.”
Thunderous applause from all 100,00 marchers - united in freedom.