TAMPA — The day Lazaro Escobio became a United States citizen was a highlight of his life.
Now, less than two months after his swearing-in ceremony, the maintenance director at Tampa Bay Christian Academy has another moment to treasure.
On Thursday, a representative from the office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., delivered to the school an American flag that flew above the Capitol Building on Jan. 7 — the same day Escobio, 49, officially became an American.
“It’s a nice reminder that people across our state and country are realizing their American dream every day, and it’s something we can all celebrate,” the senator said in an email.
Rubio read the Jan. 25 Tampa Tribune story “Lazaro’s Dream,” which told the story of the Cuban man who came to Tampa in 2007 with his wife and two daughters as a political refugee. Though Escobio had a bachelor’s degree and taught machinery construction in his native country, he could find only manual work here.
But he landed in a place he now calls his second home. Staff and students at the small Christian school adopted Escobio as their own, embracing his strong work ethic, his constant smile and his willingness to help out wherever he was needed.
They also encouraged his efforts to learn English and study for the citizenship test.
On the day he went to take his oath with 49 fellow immigrants, nearly two dozen youth and adults from the school surprised him at the ceremony with homemade banners, cards and flags.
Rubio was touched by this expression of love.
“Every day, Floridians perform acts of kindness for their neighbors without fanfare or any expectation of reward,” he wrote. “It was very moving to learn about this story and how an entire school rallied behind Lazaro and supported his journey.”
And it’s a journey that has a personal meaning to the senator: His own parents left Cuba in 1956 for a better life in America.
Rubio said one of the services provided by his office is securing American flags flown over the Capitol to commemorate special occasions. He said this keepsake is a reminder that the “American dream is alive and worth fighting for.”
Escobio’s ever-present smile was even more radiant after the presentation of the flag.
“I do not have words to express my joy,” he said through an interpreter. “My heart has wanted to explode with emotion. It has been surprise after surprise.”
That the flag came from Rubio made it even better, he said, calling the senator “my Republican idol and, I hope, future president of this great country.”
“It is a commitment to try harder to do my work better every day and to give the best of me,” he said. “This school is family.”
The next assignment for the students: Raising about $1,000 for a pole so they can fly the flag. Headmaster Natasha Sherwood said they already are planning bake sales and other fundraisers.
“At first when we got the call from the senator’s office, we thought we were in trouble or something,” she said. “It was pretty shocking that he took the time to honor us for something we would have done anyway.”
She invited Rubio to come tour the campus on his next visit to Tampa. “We’ll have that flag up by then,” Sherwood vowed. “It will be a symbol of how we always put faith and family first here, and that’s what makes this place so special.”