One thing Gov. Roy Cooper’s absurd 20-month state of emergency has afforded me is the ability to explore this great state without much hassle. I know he didn’t mean to provide me that opportunity, but I seized it nonetheless.  

With gas stations and roadways open, I searched for North Carolina’s iconic photos — the Biltmore, the Pisgah Covered Bridge, the Diamond Lady — and lesser-known places like the Tartan Museum in Franklin. From Blowing Rock to Big Rock, from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, this state is beautiful. 

We must hold the record for most historical roadside markers of any state in the Union. Ours even have their own Twitter profile: @NC_Markers. I highly recommend a follow.  

It’s North Carolina’s people that are its richest resource and the ties that bind our complex cultural tapestry. From native to newcomer and everyone in between, they recognize the pride of place that is unique to the Tar Heel State. I’ve written about it before. It’s an understated, understood feeling of “there’s no place else I’d rather be.”  

Occasionally on these pages, I’ll share the story of someone I met who made an impact on me and is making an impact in his community. I’ll start with Jonathan Uzcategui, a Veneuzuelan immigrant, small business owner, and authentic antidote to the insidious woke mentality that infects us today. Add one more thing to his resumé: Wilmington City Council candidate. 

His unbridled passion for being an American even made me question if I’m worthy, and I’m a homer. Uzcategui’s experience reminds us why America really is that shining city on a hill —serving as a beacon of hope for freedom and opportunity seekers everywhere.  

I went looking for him following two meetings when people asked, “Have you met Jonathan Uzcategui?” After asking them to spell it, I said “no.” I’d remember that name, I thought to myself. (It’s pronounced Uz-got-key, or at least that’s pretty close, according to Jonathan.)  

I tracked him down at Churrasco, the restaurant he and his wife Hope recently opened. The menu is loaded with family recipes that they’ve personalized over the years. I caught up with Jonathan later at his other business – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – where he was mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms.  

Uzcategui escaped Hugo Chavez’s authoritarian regime two decades ago. He came here with nothing but a strong work ethic in search of opportunity. He taught himself English by watching daytime soap operas “General Hospital” and “All My Children.” He raised a family and started businesses. He’s had hard times and happy times. Now, he’s enjoying success that comes from hard work.  

Uzcategui is fearless and unapologetic in his praise for his adopted country and state. “I want Americans to love this country as much as I do.” He’s also an unabashed free-market conservative small businessman. He declares, “If you can’t make it here without playing the victim card, it may be on you.”   

A look of concern crosses his face when he brings up his fear that the Venezuelan “ideological revolution” he escaped is creeping into this place he loves. He sees it in local schools, government, and businesses. He warns in Venezuela “there’s free health care but no medicine. There’s free education but no learning. Don’t think it can’t happen here. Venezuelans thought it couldn’t happen there, either.” 

Already busy with two businesses and a family, Uzcategui is now a candidate for Wilmington City Council. He’s taking his freedom message everywhere and anywhere, especially Wilmington’s immigrant communities. He reminds them that they came to America and North Carolina for a reason — opportunity. He cautions that some want to use them to advance their own political power and turn North Carolina into a place that more closely resembles the country they fled. “Don’t let them take your opportunity,” he urges. 

At a time when so many of us are sick of being beaten up by the woke mob and desperate for leadership unafraid to challenge them, Wilmington has one. He’s a Venezuelan immigrant named Jonathan Uzcategui.  

(For the record, I think most people also are ignoring Roy Cooper’s state of emergency. I saw and met a lot more people on North Carolina’s highways and byways this summer versus last.)  

This piece originally appeared in the October / November print edition of Carolina Journal.