The moving story of one immigrant family whose son is finally stepping up to vote.

I’ve been in America, legally, for 34 years, but this year will be my first time voting in a general election.

My father, Jorge Alberto, arrived in New York City from Argentina on Aug. 26, 1965. He had $12 to his name, according to family legend.

My father in Buenos Aires circa 1955. Photo via Foglia Archives.


The challenge of the American dream seemed like a cakewalk for my dad — a budding chef and baker. He promptly got a job at a Meatpacking District slaughterhouse and found an affordable apartment for himself, wife, and three children. Everything was going well.

The third day on the job, his Argentinian friend approached him and asked, in their native tongue, how everything was going. My father, in Argentinian Spanish, began to respond with, "Amazing, thank you so much for the opportunity, we’re so grateful…" before his friend quickly cut him off.

"No, no. This is America, Jorge," he said, in English. "Here we respond with 'OK.'"

My father thought he was joking. As the conversation in two languages continued, however, his friend continued to interrupt to remind him, "Only English in America, Jorge, please. OK?"

As the story goes, my dad, being the proud, stubborn man that he was, ripped off his blood-stained apron and meat covered gloves. He slammed them to the ground and proclaimed in proud Argentinian Spanish, "You can take your ‘OK’ and your ‘English’ and shove it up your ——."

That was the moment my father, 51 years ago, decided he would never learn English.

And he didn't. It was a decision that would cost him dearly later, financially speaking. Meanwhile, I grew up teaching myself English by watching "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons."

I was raised in Boston, where there were two rules under my father's roof: (1) No English was to ever be spoken in his house and (2) No baseball.

These rules stemmed less from anti-American sentiment and were rather more about pride, or, as it's called in Argentinian Spanish, orgullo. With the history books laden with stories of bloody colonialism, Argentina, like most European-influenced countries, was a product of swift global eminent domain. Argentinians hold on to their identity whenever they found themselves outside of their native land.

I spent the '80s and '90s listening to Red Sox games on my headphones under the covers. With my dad's two staunch anti-American rules in place, it wasn't going to be an option for me to naturalize (the process of admitting a foreigner to the citizenship of a country) before or after I turned 18.

My father, older brother, and me in Boston circa 1990. Photo via Foglia Archives.

Orgullo — that Argentinian sense of pride — is why my father didn't want anyone literally planting the flag of another nation inside his consulate-like abode.

Mike, Jorge Jr., and me (I'm the dashing one in the blue polo) in San Juan circa 1981. Photo via Foglia Archives.

As I grew older, those rules weighed heavy on my sense of belonging.

I watched jealously as my peers ran to the polls to cast their votes for Al Gore in 2000. After the complications in that election and even more so when, in 2004, John Kerry ran under the slogan "Let America Be America Again," I was so excited for Boston (and the Red Sox) and for America, and I desperately wanted to get involved in the good fight.

I chomped at the bit for anything I could do to get involved with politics on campus, far from my father's eyes. I helped plan debate parties and organized events with the chair of political communication. But I still couldn't participate in American democracy the same way my peers could. Every four years, on that November Tuesday following the first Monday, I was the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Every year when I'd see my old man, his response to even the slightest mention of my becoming an American citizen was a clear "no."

When my father died in 2012, things changed. In all my grief, I also had a decision to make.

My dad passed on March 26, 2012. On March 27, I realized the only thing keeping me from becoming an American wasn't orgullo but stubbornness. I made the decision to become a citizen of the United States of America and to take part in the civic duty, honor, and responsibility of voting.

Two years later, I stood with 5,000 other people and pledged allegiance to this nation.

He never missed a fútbol game. Photo (circa 1986) via Foglia Archives.

I am proud of my heritage, but I am also proud of this country that has given me everything I have ever worked for. I am so especially proud to, finally, be an American during such an important election.

I know that wherever my father may be, he's looking at me with orgullo at the fact I was stubborn enough to do what I thought was necessary and to make the decision that was right for me. He may not agree, but I know he's proud.

One of our last pictures together. Dad and all his kids circa 2009. Photo via Foglia Archives.

We all may not agree as to what's best for America. Are parts of our nation broken? Sure. Yes, there is work to be done. But the fact that we can sit here and have this kind of dialogue is tantamount to the same ideals the founding fathers had 240 years ago. To me, as a new American citizen, it is a thing of beauty.

To be an American means continuing to melt together, to create one of the greatest democracies the world has ever seen. It's easy to turn to negativity, to point out everything wrong, and to despise what may await us on the other side of election day. But even if the result is our "doomsday" scenario, we'll survive because that's what Americans do. After every election, the history books tell the story of Americans moving forward together, making a great country even greater. Just like my dad felt orgullo to Argentina, I felt orgullo — that sense of pride in my country — for America.

We should all be proud of what we have here. Whatever the outcome on Election Day, we'll survive. We'll unify. We'll work hard. We'll come together and beat stubbornness with one simple thing: Orgullo Americano.

My father in New York City circa 1972. Photo via Foglia Archives.

via CSPAN / Twitter

Joe Biden arrived in the UK on Wednesday, marking his first overseas trip as president. One of the main goals of his trip is to let European leaders know that America is back after Donald Trump mocked our closest allies and promoted an "America First" agenda during his presidency.

The White House says this trip will focus on America's commitment to rallying world democracies and defending shared values.

He'll participate in the G7 and NATO summits and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip.

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via CSPAN / Twitter

Joe Biden arrived in the UK on Wednesday, marking his first overseas trip as president. One of the main goals of his trip is to let European leaders know that America is back after Donald Trump mocked our closest allies and promoted an "America First" agenda during his presidency.

The White House says this trip will focus on America's commitment to rallying world democracies and defending shared values.

He'll participate in the G7 and NATO summits and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."