Several years ago I was approached in the grocery store by a gentleman from our community that I knew through acquaintance. He had learned that I was the new government teacher at our local high school and wanted to see if I was willing to accept a guest speaker. I told him I was open to the idea but was curious who he had in mind.
We set up a meeting days later where he introduced me to Zamir, a man who as an adult had escaped the communist regime of Albania and made it to the United States. His testimony so remarkable and powerful, it was an honor for me to have Zamir in my classroom each semester for the next several years.
He impressed in a way that a textbook never could what it was like to be a 16-year-old in school when a government official handed out career assignments that the state had chosen for each young person. Though he had grown up in the city and never experienced life around animals, the Albanian communist party had decided he was to be a veterinarian. “Could you object or ask for a different assignment?” was a common question. And every semester, every time it was asked, his response was always the same. “If you knew someone in the party, you could make that request and survive. If you didn’t, you knew better than to ask.”
Zamir explained in detail that this was the deadly “good intention” of central planning. The state knew all, could see all, could understand all, and was the only entity equipped to bring happiness and equality to the people. Places like the United States, they were told, were only for the greedy. “They mistreat their people who live in misery,” was the common refrain he heard repeated about the United States over and over. But, Zamir said, everyone knew it wasn’t true.
“In fact,” he would tell every class, “even when I arrived penniless and homeless in the United States, I was finally free from misery. That is a feeling unlike any other.”
I was reminded of Zamir and his meaningful testimony as I saw the incredible video circulating of Cuban immigrant Maximo Alvarez. The 60-year-old former asylum seeker-turned-successful businessman, addressed Americans at a roundtable hosted last week by President Trump. Cuba wasn’t Albania, but his words and warnings were nearly identical to Zamir’s:
“What is happening in our backyard today, I experienced as an 11-year-old. I remember vividly all the promises that a guy named Castro gave, and how 99% of the people swallowed the pill,” Alvarez said.
“I remember all the promises that we hear today about free education and free health care and free land,” Alvarez said.
“My God, no freedom,” he continued. “But he never said that until after he was in power, got rid of all the police, got rid of all the military — been there for the last 60 years and counting. And he destroyed each and every one who helped him.”
The first year I did it, I worried that sacrificing an entire 50-minute class period to Zamir might prove to be too much. Looking back, I’d say it was the most valuable 50 minutes those kids ever experienced in my room. This video is 10 minutes long. I think if you get it in front of your child or teenager, one day you will feel the same way.