Aiding Cuban refugee pays ‘national dividends’

A friend brought to me the other day a couple copies of newspaper clippings from the Albuquerque Tribune and the New Mexico Daily Lobo. The clippings talked of a University of New Mexico doctor and administrator who has recently been selected by the Bush administration to fill a top seat within the federal government. The position for which the doctor has been nominated is the assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Public Health and Science. Basically, she’d be second in command behind the surgeon general. The individual in the articles, Dr. Cristina Beato, is a Cuban native who moved to the United States in the early 1970s. At 14, she moved with her family to New Mexico to join her father who had just recently been allowed to enter the United States as a Cuban refugee. After high school, Ms. Beato attended the University of New Mexico and received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology and a doctorate from the School of Medicine in 1984. She is now the associate dean for clinical affairs and the medical director at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Now, as an accomplished physician and medical staff director, she has been selected by President Bush to serve in one of the highest positions in the country. Quite an accomplishment for anyone from any background. There is a handwritten note on one of the news clippings that simply states, “Thanks, No.1”. This simple statement holds in it a story of trust, faith and duty which exemplifies the very core of what makes this nation great. The story begins in the late 1960s during the fall of the Cuban empire and the takeover by communist leader Fidel Castro. Roberto Beato, a Cuban native with an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, did not believe in the ways of the communist regime, and seeing the turmoil, he chose to send his family to Miami to wait out the political mess. Living in Cuba as one individual who spoke out against the communist way of life, he soon was in fear of his safety and he eventually escaped to Panama. The United States had shut its borders to Cubans during the political upheaval; therefore, he was unable to be with his family. He found refuge in Panama where he took a job with an international refinery in the product sales division. While employed in Panama, Beato attended a training seminar with Conoco where he met a unique man, an engineer like himself, in charge of the product marketing division. The executive brought him home for dinner one night and offered him a courteous and hospitible night out. The two became friends during the short seminar. The seminar ended and little was ever thought about the meeting until late one night when the telephone rang. When the Conoco executive answered the phone at midnight, Beato was on the other end of the line, desperate and afraid. The Panamanian government was expelling all Cuban refugees, and he had nowhere to go. He was, literally, a man without a country. He had no one to turn to except this one individual who had befriended him at a business meeting. The man told Beato he would see what he could do. A few phone calls to immigration the next day paved the way for a visa to be issued on the condition that this Conoco executive would be solely and completely responsible for this individual’a man he hardly knew. Beato arrived a few days later on Sept. 25. He stepped onto American soil with 50 cents in his pocket. He hadn’t seen his family in months, he had no belongings and he only had the word of a friend that brought him to the United States. The Conoco executive met him at the terminal and assured him everything would be all right. Beato’s education and professional qualifications landed him a job working for Conoco in Albuquerque. He and his family moved there in the late 1970s and still live there today. During the time at which Beato was settling in the United States, the oil executive and his wife took on another humanitarian project of rescuing Cambodian refugees from slave labor camps during the political turmoil Cambodia saw during the Vietnam War. What started with a simple phone call snowballed, and the couple was soon sponsoring 40-plus refugees, all of whom now are upstanding, hardworking American citizens. It was during this time when the couple was keeping as many as 15 refugees in their small house at one time, that Beato affectionately adopted the title “number one.” It was a self described title that he uses to this day. Seven years after setting his feet on American soil, Beato and his family all officially became American citizens. No longer did they wish to be Cubans’they were Americans. Beato continued to work as a distinguished professional for Conoco until he retired. Today, at the age of 80, he still calls his friend who lives here in the Heart of Texas. They chat about politics, technology and just the other day, they discussed the current situation with Afghanistan, a situation to which Beato has amazing insight that comes from his personal experiences. Each and every Sept. 25 since Beato arrived in the U.S., a small package has arrived in the now-retired executive’s mailbox. The package is a small gift, a fruitcake or something similar, and with each gift is included a note that reads’I haven’t forgotten’No.1.’ They talk of how diverse the United States is and how it has become such a strong dichotomy and say that for this reason, the United States will continue to be the best country in which to live. A country full of cultural checks and balances. Some people of late have fallen victim to the thinking that all people of all other cultures that are not American should be deported. If this thinking continues, who will be the next Dr. Cristina Beato’

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