Elian Gonzalez is a 6-year-old boy who set sail from Cuba with his mother, stepfather, and 10 others in hopes of making it to America. Like others before them, their goal was to secure the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution. Two days into the trip, the 12 foot boat they were traveling in broke apart and sank. Left clinging to inner tubes, only Elian and two others survived. Elian's mother and stepfather were among those who drowned in the ocean.

Elian was rescued and brought to America where he was reunited with relatives who had come to this country and settled in Miami, Florida. Elian seemed happy with his new home in America, but one question still loomed - should Elian stay here or return to Cuba and live with his father? Elian was not a citizen of the United States and in order to stay he would need to become one. The debate still rages as to whether Elian should stay in this country or go back to Cuba to live with his father.

Voicing Your Opinion: Should Elian Stay or Go?

To form a fuller opinion, look at some arguments made by people who think Elian should stay in America, and arguments by those who believe he should be sent back to Cuba.

Elian Should Go back to Cuba

Elian Belongs With his Father

Text of INS Letter to Miami Relatives

Kids Belong With Their Parents. Period

Elian Should Stay in America

Family Rights Triumph . . .

Solemnly This Time, Miamians Protest over Elian

Tension Mounts Over Cuban Custody Battle

For more news articles on the Elian Gonzalez case click here.

What assumptions do these articles make about what is best for Elian? For America? For Cuba?

Do you think Elian should:

Be sent home?

Stay in America?

The American Government says only Elian's biological father can make legal decisions for him and is therefore sending Elian back to Cuba to live with him. Many people want Elian to stay in America with his relatives instead of going back to the communist-ruled Cuba. What can his relatives in America do to protest the decision? The United States Government decided to go to Miami where Elian was staying with his relatives to take Elian to Washington D.C.  There Elian was reunited with his father will wait until the courts decide where he will live. 

The situation with young Elian Gonzalez is another example of how public debate and foreign policy influence one another. Because America allows for Freedom of Speech where individuals and groups are free to criticize the government, important policy questions -- such as those involving Elian Gonzalez -- can become part of everyday discourse and public debates, and even change American policy/law.

The documents below give historical examples of how government policies and actions sparked public debates, which in turn brought about additional changes in government and society. You many want to keep in mind the following questions when examining these documents:

  • What do these documents assume are or should be core values of the U.S. government? Of US society?
  • What assumptions do these documents make about who is an American?
  • How do the historical circumstances of a specific time period affect who is considered an American and who is excluded from this definition?

After reading some of these texts along with de Crevecoeur’s letter What is an American?, write your own version of who is an American today. How is your definition similar or different from the definitions reflected in earlier documents? What might account for these similarities or differences?

The Colonial Revolution


Native American Rights

Japanese Internment

Communism and American Policy

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Civics Online
Creation Date: 2/21/2000
Last Updated: 3/20/2005