Power Players

Jeff Bezos says dad emigrated from Cuba alone at 16: 'His grit, determination, optimism are inspiring'

Miguel Bezos and Jeff Bezos arrive at the Statue Of Liberty Museum Opening Celebration at Battery Park on May 15, 2019 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Today, Mike Bezos is the father of the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. But in 1962, Mike Bezos came to America from Cuba wearing a jacket his mother had hand-stitched from cleaning rags. He was a teenager traveling by himself and he spoke almost no English.

"When he came here from Cuba at 16, not only was he all alone, but he only spoke Spanish. His grit, determination, and optimism are inspiring," Bezos tweeted about his father Wednesday.

Mike Bezos was joined by his son Wednesday night at a gala recognize the new Statue of Liberty Museum at Ellis Island in New York City — stars from Jeff Bezos to Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton were in attendance. The Bezos Family was one of the donors to the museum, which officially opened Thursday.

Though Mike Bezos is not Jeff's biological father, he raised him. Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen was born to 17-year-old high school student Jacklyn Gise on Jan. 12, 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Though his biological parents married, Jeff's biological father did not stay in the picture long. Gise divorced Jorgensen in 1965, and in 1968 married Mike Bezos.

In a video he tweeted Thursday, Jeff Bezos, who is currently worth $117 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, commends his father's bravery.

In the video, Jeff Bezos says he has "a hard time even imagining" arriving in a new country with no family. He says his father's parents sent him because under Cuba's then-leader Fidel Castro, "they felt like they had to, to protect him."

"My parents were not allowed to go into the airport with me, so they dropped me off," says Mike Bezos in the video, a more complete version of which is available on Amazon. "I got on an airplane and landed in Miami 45 minutes later."

Mike Bezos says he could only bring with him three pairs of pants, three shirts, three pairs of underwear and one pair of shoes.

And then there was his coat.

"His mom imagined America must be super cold. So she made him something special for his journey, which we still have," Jeff Bezos says in the video.

"Out of those cleaning rags and knitting materials, she made — with the help of my sister — she made a coat," says Mike. "In her mind, I needed a heavy coat."

Bezos' father first stayed in Camp Matecumbe, a refugee camp in Florida, for three weeks. He was later sent to Wilmington, Delaware to attend high school, where he got a scholarship to go to college in Albuquerque.

"I had very little idea at that time where Albuquerque was," Mike says. That is where he met Gise and her son Jeff.

"It is truly unbelievable. I look back on my life and I had lived the American Dream 30 years ago," Mike Bezos says. "It is really just out of this world."

See also:

How Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went from the son of a teen mom to the world's richest person

The majority of billionaires in the world are self-made

Amazon's Jeff Bezos: Why success depends on not being efficient sometimes

VIDEO1:4301:43
Charlie Munger: Hardly ever been anything like Amazon in our history
make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM