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Popi (Abraham Rodriguez), a Puerto Rican widower struggling to raise his two young sons amid the squalor of New York's Spanish Harlem, has two aims in life. One is to marry Lupe, his warmhearted, voluptuous girl friend, and move to Brooklyn. But before he can do this, Popi feels obligated to realize his other aim--assuring his sons a decent future. For years he has managed to provide for them by simultaneously working several jobs, but in his mind has always lurked the fear that he would one day lose them to the ghetto. And it isn't long before this fear is realized: he learns that his sons are telling school friends that their father is the gangster brother of a notorious underworld figure. The problem preoccupies him, but the solution presents itself one evening while he is catering a banquet for Cuban refugees. Popi is a shrewd man, and his experience has taught him that America is more altruistic toward political refugees than toward the common poor. His scheme is to set his sons adrift in a rowboat somewhere off the coast of Miami in the hope that they will be spotted, taken for Cuban refugees, and rescued. Following rowing sessions in Central Park and some lessons in motorboat handling on the East River, Popi reveals his plan to the boys. Despite their reluctance to leave New York (they even try running away), Popi has his way, and the family soon arrives in Florida. After stealing a boat Popi instructs his sons to take the boat out until fuel runs out, jettison the motor, and start rowing back. The boys have qualms but nevertheless obey. With the scheme underway Popi attempts to alert the Coast Guard but fails. Believing that all is lost, he is near suicide when a report comes over the radio concerning the rescue of "two brave Cuban boys." The two are rushed to a hospital in critical condition, suffering from dehydration and sunburn. Thousands of well-wishers send flowers and toys; adoption offers pour in, and the boys receive an invitation to visit the White House. When Popi, variously disguised, finally reaches his sons, they try to make him see how they value his love far more than the security that adoption by wealthy parents would provide. He tries to reason with them, but his noisy protests alert the hospital staff. When he tries to flee, the boys follow, and the entire hoax is exposed. The young boys are overjoyed as a somewhat bewildered Popi returns with them to the old neighborhood.