Alan Smolinisky is a Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner. This op-ed is adapted from his speech at a naturalization ceremony at Dodger Stadium on Monday, at which more than 2,100 immigrants from 120 countries became American citizens.
This may seem like just a baseball stadium. But it’s not. Dodger Stadium is so much more. This is a place where stories meet. Immigrant stories. The American story. And now, your story – and mine.
On Oct. 28, 1963, a poor 17-year-old boy landed in Los Angeles. He had skin discolorations across his face, no skills or education, and didn’t know a word of English. All he had was $4 in his pocket. But he was in America.
By noon the next day, that boy had a job. He knocked on every door in the Garment District until someone handed him a broom.
By the next year, that boy knew English. With the $1.25 he made per hour, he bought a radio, tuned it to Vin Scully and repeated the legendary Dodger announcer’s every word.
A father and son in the cheap seats
By the end of the next decade, that boy brought his own son to Dodger Stadium. They sat in the cheap seats, and saw the richness of America unfold.
Their team was proof of their country’s promise – and its progress. The Dodgers had the first Black baseball player, Jackie Robinson, and one of the first Jewish baseball heroes, Sandy Koufax. They had Fernando Valenzuela, the original Mexican superstar, and Hideo Nomo, the Japanese pitcher who opened the door for so many others. Sitting here, that immigrant and his son saw America’s best.
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That 17-year-old boy was Mario Alberto Smolinisky – my father. He and my mom left everything behind in Argentina. They sacrificed so my sister and I would have the opportunities they never did. They gave me many blessings. But the biggest blessing, by a mile, was raising their family in the land of the free.
Where my parents came from, their story was uncommon, if not impossible. But here in America, their story is absolutely common, because impossible is un-American. And you will prove it. You’re about to be citizens of the freest country in human history, and free people are capable of extraordinary things.
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Now I know what you’re thinking. America isn’t perfect. In fact, it never has been. But we’ve always moved toward a more perfect union. Even now, we’re called to make America freer, fairer and better for all – to draw closer to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.
Don't bet against America
Today, you will answer that call, in the oath you take. It is the same sacred oath my mother and father took, many years ago. I’d like to offer you the same advice they gave me when I was young. No matter what you do, no matter how bad things look, never ever bet against America. It’s always a losing bet.
Now, plenty of people will tell you the opposite. These days we’re bombarded with naysayers who say we’re too divided, the system is broken, America’s best days are behind her. But tune out the doubters. They’ve been wrong since 1776.
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The British bet against us. Then your Founders beat the world’s best military and built the first country founded on freedom. Germany and Japan bet against us, too. Then your heroes landed at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima and saved the world. The Soviets bet they could beat us in space. But it’s your flag on the moon. And when COVID-19 hit, plenty of nations bet they could beat us to the best vaccine. Your country won and saved millions of lives.
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Your country invented the airplane, the skyscraper, the internet. We’ve followed every achievement with something even more astounding, and now you will take us even further. Immigrants keep our country young and vibrant. You shake us from old ways of doing things. And you renew our pride and sense of purpose.
For America doesn’t draw just anyone. We gather the best from across the world – people who dream big and do bigger, who leave everything behind and lead the world forward. I marvel at the courage it takes to start life over. And it takes a special kind of person to love a country that isn’t yet yours. You did. All of you.
Especially those of you in uniform. You fought for America before you were Americans. I stand in awe. Thank you.
What other country inspires such love, such pride? What other nation draws such good people, inspires them to make things better and turns their contributions into something truly great?
It reminds me of the famous saying: “You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk or Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the earth, can come to live in America and become an American.”
Today, you bear witness to this truth. And as we stand united, in Dodger Stadium, the heart of my immigrant story, I know that your immigrant story is just beginning. And I couldn’t be more excited as we carry on the American story, together.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner inspires immigrants with personal story