Why Marco Rubio’s Family History Story Matters

Oct 27, 2011
4:35 pm

To those who will support Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio's comments about his family history, which he has now changed from his official campaign story, they will just ignore this post.

The AP reported over the weekend that support for Rubio was unwavering in some circles, especially in the Miami exile community, which has had a long history of criticzing the communist governement of Fidel Castro and have fervently supported a US embargo of Cuba that is now entering its fifth decade.

… Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the attacks will only make Rubio stronger by causing Republicans to come to his defense.

"There's no question he has an amazing life story. His family came here to pursue a better life, and that is all accurate. There's folks out there who have seen a great success story and are plotting to figure out how to take him down," Spicer said.

The head of the Miami-based Cuban American National FoundationPepe Hernandez, himself an exile and longtime opponent of Castro, said Rubio's parents' initial departure date was unimportant.

"There were a number of people who came here during the Batista regime because they were against Batista somehow," he said. "Then they returned to Cuba when Castro came in because they thought now things were going to change, and then after some time they realized this was not going to happen."

"Maybe their case is not exactly the same. They really came here as immigrants, but the second time the reason was that they couldn't live in Cuba under those circumstances. I don't see any difference between his parents and myself and everyone else who came here."

Former Sen. Mel Martinez who left Cuba as a teenager after the revolution, said the Post story showed "a gross lack of understanding about the Cuban exile experience. The fact is that they would not have left Cuba permanently if not for extreme fear of persecution and in search of freedom, like so many of us did."

Ok, even with the support of fellow Cuban Americans (Sen. Martinez, can you really compare 1956 to 1961 in terms of what "extreme fear of persecution" really means? And why do Cubans have the sole possession on political repression? Maybe the good senator can talk to El Salvadorians, Nicaraguans, Chileans, Argentines, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Bolivians, etc?), the fact is: Rubio told one story while he was running for US Senate, but he has now changed his story after the truth about his family was shared. But we will give Rubio the benefit of the doubt, even though his explanation is another sad example of K-Street spin, the same type of Washington actions that Rubio railed against when we was the Latino Tea Party Darling of Florida.

And yes, this story would not affect Rubio's national appeal as a potential GOP 2012 VP candidate if only Cubans were the only Latinos in the United States who vote. Even with their poltical clout on US Cuban policy, Cuban Americans constitute a very small percentage of the estimated 55 million US citizens who of are Latino descent. And that is Rubio's problem.

The major voting bloc, and some would argue, the true swing vote in the US Latino population is of Mexican American descent and in states such as Arizona (where Presdident Obama currently leads in the latest polls against Republican canidates), Nevada, and Colorado, Rubio's change of his family's story will have it issues, if indeed he were to earn the VP nomination.

In states where the issues of immigration are still raw in the minds of Latino voters, Rubio has lost some political credibility. The senator, who is not a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, can longer claim with 100% accuracy that he comes from a family of exiles. In fact, his family took advantage of the many same immigration policies of the 1950s that people from other Latin American countries did. To many, his flip-flop statements about his own history raise several complex questions about what it is to be Latino in 21st-century America.

While the vast majority of US Latino voters see the economy as a major issue, the issue of where you came from still hits home with many. Rubio's actions played with identity politics and now that his hands got caught in the cookie jar, he has stumbled. And that, we think, will be something most US Latino voters will remember.