LAWRENCEVILLE — Growing up, Marco Rubio learned from his parents the value of the American dream.
The Cuban immigrants worked hard to give their kids a better future, and the lessons went a long way to shape Rubio's life as a leader in the Tea Party movement.
In just one generation, the dream has come true for the U.S. senator who has been discussed as a potential vice president candidate.
On Thursday, Rubio will bring his story to Lawrenceville, signing copies of his book "An American Son" at noon at Books-A-Million.
While Rubio declined to discuss the vice presidency, as leaders wait for GOP nominee Mitt Romney to announce his choice, he said his rise in politics would make his parents proud.
"They never dreamed of me being in the U.S. Senate and a politician, but they told me I could do everything I wanted to do," Rubio said. "I think they would be very glad that their sacrifice was worth something."
The journey, he said, instilled in him the values that so many now involved in the tea party movement share.
"I believe America is special and needs to be protected," Rubio said, adding that, thanks to social media, like-minded people no longer need a political organization to fight for what they believe in. "I think that has changed the dynamic and empowered a lot of people."
The movement, he said, won't just have an impact on the election in November but on politics for the foreseeable future.
"I think that will be influential for the rest of American history," he said.
Rubio's book — and life — also touches on one of the most prevalent issues in the upcoming presidential race: immigration.
While his parents came to the U.S. legally in 1956, Rubio's grandfather lost his visa after he returned to Cuba for a time. He spent years living with the Rubio family as an illegal immigrant.
But that doesn't mean that Rubio agrees with President Barack Obama's recent directive giving amnesty to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
"People fleeing communism (in Cuba) didn't have a right to be in the United States. But the U.S. did so out of compassion," he said, comparing the situation to today. "They aren't appealing to our laws. They are appealing to our compassion."
Instead of Obama's path, Rubio said there needs to be a balance with the country's immigration laws. Those who qualify could receive a non-immigrant visa, and after they graduate from college, get a work visa. Eventually, they would qualify to be petitioned for citizenship.
"There wouldn't be a special pathway," he said. "It eventually allows them to access the existing pathway."
At the book signing, Rubio said he hopes to remind people "we are fighting for the American dream."
Believing America's free enterprise system is a key issue in the upcoming election, he said, the dream of his parents is hanging in the balance.
"That's what's at stake right now in America," Rubio said.