“Son, America is the enemy of humanity and it is your sacred duty to destroy her!” By my side at a rally, my father watched with a look of approval at my commitment as I retrieved my red flag from a ditch. “Wave that flag, boy!” he yelled. My father, a founding member of the Socialist Party of Puerto Rico, left an extensive FBI file. I remember the FBI always following us, and I hated them for it. Eventually, I joined the party with intent of burning America to the ground.
In contrast, my mother was a humble woman who dutifully agreed with whatever my father said, but she secretly ensured I went to church with friends. A double consciousness soon developed in me, one I tried to integrate by planning one day to join the Jesuit Order. I was hoping to go to Nicaragua to study liberation theology. The death of seven Jesuits in El Salvador prevented that journey and I left the seminary. I believe that the roots of what the Freedom & Virtue Institute has become were planted then.
I decided to come to America, the “guts of the monster,” and landed at the University of Southern Mississippi—of all places! Right there in the Deep South, my lungs were filled with the air of freedom. For the first time in my life, the lived experience of freedom shattered my once–safe assumptions. America showed me that the individual matters and that I am not simply a drop in the great sea of revolution. I learned the vital connection between reward and accomplishment and that this connection is what leads to human flourishing and that we need to get busy rebuilding the shattered foundations of freedom in our country so that we can return to flourishing.
Twelve years ago, I buried my father with his beloved red flag embracing his casket. He died a communist. At that time, I again silently sang the revolutionary songs and paid homage to the fallen warrior. Near the end, he told me, “I do not agree with your new ideas, Ismael. But do not become a fence-sitter.” I am convinced that now, as I retrieve a new flag, the flag of liberty, he still looks on in contented approval….