May 8, 2012
Remembering his childhood in communist-run Cuba, Heritage Foundation Vice President Mike Gonzalez describes very personal experiences with the terrors of government gone wrong.
“It’s funny because I learned the values of small government by seeing government out of control,” he says.
Sitting at his desk on a Wednesday afternoon, Gonzalez, who oversees Heritage’s communications efforts, explains what it was like growing up in Cuba and how it shaped his life and outlook on politics. He speaks about why he is a conservative, what makes him passionate about working at Heritage, the country he so dearly loves and the need to explain conservative policy to all audiences.
He knows, as Ronald Reagan said, that freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction. As a young boy, he watched his father listen to a short wave VOA radio under the cover of night, fearing he would be taken away. Communism destroyed the economy, too. He recalls his disbelief when his father showed him pictures of a grocery store with fully stocked shelves, because he had never seen shelves anything but bare. “Daily life was a tutorial on gross government tyranny…you could not even speak your mind.”
In an episode that would make many Americans shudder in disbelief, Gonzalez says that shortly before he left in 1972, Christmas was made illegal. The public school he attended after Castro closed his private school scheduled events on Sunday mornings to prevent church attendance.
“Every aspect of life was affected—and is still impacted today for the poor people who live in Cuba and North Korea—by the fact that you have a crazy economic system and a very cruel political system called communism,” he said.
But it wasn’t just the harrowing experience of living in a communist country that made Gonzalez a conservative from childhood. His father, grandfathers and great-grandfathers were all strongly conservative men who dealt in politics or were soldiers in the Spanish Army, and he says he learned much from their examples. Gonzalez speculates that perhaps people are born with conservative outlooks.
“I think people are either are born with a healthy respect for tradition and in it they find a certain romance or not. Those who are born with respect for tradition and a love for national culture assign a certain importance to habits that are good, ones that lead to prosperity, and think society should discourage those that are self destructive. I think you have an innate predilection for that type of thinking,” he muses.
Gonzalez and his family escaped to the United States when he was 12. Inspired by the opportunities this country has afforded him, Gonzalez, a multilingual world traveler and journalist who has worked in several countries, explains that no other country offers anything close to the constitutional freedoms the United States affords. This fact has led him to The Heritage Foundation.
On the subject of American exceptionalism, Gonzalez recalls that it was a very English woman, Margaret Thatcher, who noted that America is the only country in the world that is not founded on genetics, but on an idea, and that idea is freedom. We have maintained our constitutional liberties for over 220 years, Gonzalez says, because the American people have defended the Constitution.
His mission in the communications department, Gonzalez says, is to make sure that Heritage’s policy research reaches the American people, translates into legislation and eventually becomes the country’s governing philosophy.
“I owe it to the country that saved me to try to do all I can to help it maintain its freedom. That’s what I feel that I do at Heritage every day, and what’s why I came here. It’s not really a job: it’s a mission for me.”
It’s critical, too, that the newest Americans be part of this fight to defend the Constitution and conservative ideas. To that end, Gonzalez helped Heritage establish a Spanish-language website, Heritage Libertad. Libertad is a channel through which Heritage’s vision—to build an America where freedom, prosperity and civil society flourish—can be presented to new audiences.
“We want to be the alternative voice. For those who have just arrived in our country with a family, afraid they will lose their children to a public school filled with dysfunctions, or to urban blight, we want them to see what our views are,” Gonzalez says