Time Essay: Guarding the Door

Their journey repeats the classic American immigrant sagas. To escape the old country (the ration line, the future foreclosed, the totalitarian rant), they climb aboard overcrowded boats and go pitching out across the water to a different life. When they glimpse the new land, they throng to the rails; they peer toward the dock with that vulnerable immigrant look of yearning that everyone carries in memory, like a cracked photograph: the faces at Ellis Island, the Golden Door—or at least the servants' entrance—to the new world and all its redemptions.

The drama, now replayed by thousands of Cubans in their 110-mile...

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