Being an American

Many Americans like myself have blended families. In this case, I am referring to families that have become multicultural through marriage and other means. The recent fervor to assist Afghanis to leave their country (not an easy thing to introduce strangers to a new life and certainly a traumatic circumstance) is an all too poignant and familiar situation that many blended families like mine have experienced.

In 1970, Salvador Allende became the president of Chile and the first Marxist ever to be elected to the national presidency of a liberal democracy in Latin America. With Allende in office, the United States reduced economic aid to the Chilean government.  On the face of it, this had nothing to do with me and my life in Whitestone, Queens. Yet, in the middle of the night, I received a frantic call from my brother in law who was happily married in Schenectady to his bride whom he first met in Santiago, Chile. The request was a simple one: Did I know anyone who could help a family of four Chilean refugees stranded at Kennedy Airport having left in haste from the political turmoil in their country. I searched my mind and my rolodex. Who could help? Well, yes, as chairman of a planning board in northern Queens, I had had on occasion met with Congressman Ben Rosenthal. I called him.  He took my call.  To this day, I don’t remember the rest of what happened from there. All I remember is a grateful, frightened mother and three children arriving at my house amid a flurry of pillows and matresses we pulled out of nowhere. Congressman Rosenthal’s career was cut short because of cancer. May God Bless his soul. I have remained a hero in the Montenegro family of legendary status.  As I listen to the stories of brave Afghanis trying desperately to get out of danger’s way and the dedicated U.S. Marines helping them, I think of the many courageous Americans who, like me, can tell long forgotten stories of rescuing relatives and friends.  To me, that’s what it means to be an American.