In his first American television appearance as an adult, and his first interview since he was 11, Elian Gonzalez is speaking out about his harrowing first trip to the United States, and says that he would like to return one day.
"To the American people, first I say thank you for the love they give me," Gonzalez, now 21, said in the interview with ABC News. "I want the time to give my love to American people."
In 1999, Gonzalez was found floating off Florida's coast, after the boat he was in with his mother capsized. Gonzalez stayed with his uncle in Miami, but quickly became the center of a tug-of-war between Cuba and the United States over whether he should remain in the states or be returned to his father in Cuba. He became a household name thanks to a photo of a gun pointed at him as he was held in his uncle's arms.
U.S. Marshals ultimately took Gonzalez from Miami by force and returned him to his father.
Today, Gonzalez says he'd like to come back to the U.S....but only as a tourist. He'd like to see a baseball game, visit Washington museums and simply talk to Americans. "For my family it has always been, we always have the desire to say to the American people, to say to each household our gratitude, appreciation and love that we have," he said. "Perhaps one day we could pay a visit to the United States. I could personally thank those people who helped us, who were there by our side. Because we're so grateful for what they did."
Gonzalez also said that he remembers the boat capsizing and being on the raft with his mother. "...I was raising my head, looking around...and at some point I raised my head and I didn't see her again," he said. "There was no-one else. I was alone in the middle of the sea...and that's the last thing I remember."
While he disagrees with his mother having given him a sleeping pill before the trip, he is moved by her efforts to keep him afloat even as she drowned. "I believe that if she is not here with me it is because she fought until the very last minute for me to survive," he said.
Gonzalez is currently studying engineering, and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.
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