Marco Rubio’s Creation Myth

Marco Rubio’s Creation Myth October 25, 2011

By now you’ve probably heard that the life story that new conservative hero Marco Rubio has been telling was a lie. Though he has always claimed that his parents fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castro, they actually came here more than two years before Castro took power, when Batista was the American-favored dictator there.

During his rise to political prominence, Sen. Marco Rubio frequently repeated a compelling version of his family’s history that had special resonance in South Florida. He was the “son of exiles,” he told audiences, Cuban Americans forced off their beloved island after “a thug,” Fidel Castro, took power.

But a review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that the Florida Republican’s account embellishes the facts. The documents show that Rubio’s parents came to the United States and were admitted for permanent residence more than two-and-a-half years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.

The supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity, both before and after his stunning tea-party-propelled victory in last year’s Senate election. Rubio — now considered a prospective 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and a possible future presidential contender — mentions his parents in the second sentence of the official biography on his Senate Web site. It says that Mario and Oriales Rubio “came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.” And the 40-year-old senator with the boyish smile and prom-king good looks has drawn on the power of that claim to entrance audiences captivated by the rhetorical skills of one of the more dynamic stump speakers in modern American politics.

None of this is at all surprising, of course. If you want a place in conservative Florida politics, you have to appeal to the Cuban immigrant population. And merely being Cuban is not enough. You have to show your anti-Castro bonafides. So Rubio simply invented them.

Rubio’s response to these facts is so classic that it could serve as a case study in political obfuscation. He simply tried to change the subject and pretend that it was all about something else, about his parents’ love for America.

If The Washington Post wants to criticize me for getting a few dates wrong, I accept that. But to call into question the central and defining event of my parents’ young lives – the fact that a brutal communist dictator took control of their homeland and they were never able to return – is something I will not tolerate.

My understanding of my parents’ journey has always been based on what they told me about events that took place more than 50 years ago — more than a decade before I was born. What they described was not a timeline, or specific dates.

They talked about their desire to find a better life, and the pain of being separated from the nation of their birth. What they described was the struggle they faced growing up, and their obsession with giving their children the chance to do the things they never could.

But the Post story misses the point completely. The real essence of my family’s story is not about the date my parents first entered the United States. Or whether they traveled back and forth between the two nations. Or even the date they left Fidel Castro’s Cuba forever and permanently settled here.

The essence of my family story is why they came to America in the first place; and why they had to stay.

I now know that they entered the U.S. legally on an immigration visa in May of 1956. Not, as some have said before, as part of some special privilege reserved only for Cubans. They came because they wanted to achieve things they could not achieve in their native land.

I don’t doubt that’s true. But they could not achieve those things not because of Fidel Castro at the time, but because of an American-backed thug named Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s thuggery was just of a different brand and political alignment. When a lie is politically advantageous, it’s not quite so easily explained away.

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  • Modusoperandi

    I’ve owned both a Fiat Fulgencio and a Lancia Batista. True story.

  • Michael Heath

    Of course it’s ironic that conservatives and Tea Partiers submit to someone promoting a fake origins story given that they project a false origin story onto President Obama.

  • slc1

    In fairness to Mr. Rubio, it could be that his parents told him or implied to him that they arrived in the US before Castro took over and he never questioned it.

  • slc1

    By the way, at least some of the birthers are now questioning Senator Rubio’s qualifications for being president or vice president because his parents were not US citizens when he was born (AFAIK, he was born in the US and thus has birthright citizenship). Similarly, they are also questioning the qualifications of Governor Jindal on the same grounds.

  • slc1
  • Larry

    Though he has always claimed that his parents fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castro **

    ** Not intended to be a factual statement.

  • tubi

    In fairness to Mr. Rubio, it could be that his parents told him or implied to him that they arrived in the US before Castro took over and he never questioned it.

    But if he’s making a very specific, and apparently easily checked, truth claim, he should check himself first to see if it’s true. There’s no excuse, in my mind.

  • slc1

    Re slc1 @ #4

    Must be getting senile. I meant to write that Senator Rubio’s parents may have told him or implied to him that they arrived in the US after Castro took over.

  • chilidog99

    MO @#1:

    Lancia Batista sleeps with the fishes.

  • arakasi

    But, but, but…

    If his parents left Batista’s Cuba to come to the US, then that means that not everyone loves living under a US backed dictator, which calls into question our foreign policy for the last 60 years. Unless, of course, his parents were evildoers fleeing the rightous power of our ally in which case … he’s a witch BURN HIM!

    Can’t he even stick to the truth even when responding to this article? His parents never “left Fidel Castro’s Cuba forever” because they were never in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. I guess “chose not to return to a county now ruled by a Communist dictator” doesn’t have the same “dodging sharks and drinking piss for 20 days” cachet

  • Though he has always claimed that his parents fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castro, they actually came here more than two years before Castro took power, when Batista was the American-favored dictator there.

    C’mon Ed! Rubio’s parents obviously had the foresight to see that Castro was going to take over Cuba in a couple of years, so they left before he took over. So Castro still caused them to leave Cuba.

    End spoof of wingnut spin.

  • Aquaria

    If The Washington Post wants to criticize me for getting a few dates wrong

    No, shit-for-brains, they’re rightly calling you out as an opportunistic liar.

    Do keep up.

  • daveau

    Maybe he didn’t watch Sesame Street when he was a kid, so he doesn’t know the difference between ‘before’ and ‘after’.

  • Taz

    Rubio:

    The essence of my family story is why they came to America in the first place; and why they had to stay.

    So your parents hated America and wanted to leave, but couldn’t?

  • pHred

    @ slc1 –

    The problem is that he has made completely contradictory statements in interviews/on his website about the specifics of these events. NPR had a nice story contrasting the statements that were on his current website with responses to interview questions from Robert Siegel 2(?) years ago.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/10/24/141663197/rubio-tries-to-clarify-how-his-family-left-cuba

    If his family told him their “escape story” you would have at least expected it to be self consistent and unlikely to change substantially from interview to interview over time, wouldn’t you ?

  • fastlane

    This is like Barton’s ‘justifications’ for making up quotes. It’s the essence of what they meant, even if they didn’t actually say it. (or in Barton’s case, if the founders often said exactly the opposite.) The exact quotes, and facts, aren’t really important.

    This is not meant to be a factual statement.

  • …[I]t could serve as a case study in political obfuscation.

    Add it to the next version of “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)“.

    And on that note, it could be that Rubio convinced himself that the story was true, so he’s battling his own false memories. See the book I mentioned above. It’s a good read; totally recommend it.

  • @17. …I should clarify that he could have convinced himself that his parents told him this story.

    My understanding of my parents’ journey has always been based on what they told me about events that took place more than 50 years ago.

    While his parents probably did tell him of their journey, he could have (unintentionally) fabricated his version of the story. And, I should say, he wouldn’t have necessarily fabricated it for political purposes. Maybe he needed to fit in with the other Cuban children growing up. A “Oh, yeah, my family fled Castro, too” story might do the trick.

  • Modusoperandi

    chilidog99 “MO @#1: Lancia Batista sleeps with the fishes.”

    Obviously. Two shots to the carbs and one to the transmission.

  • wheatdogg

    The Batista regime was as brutal and autocratic as Castro’s is alleged to have been, but of course Batista was basically in the pocket of the USA, so we overlooked all that brutal dictator shit. Rubio’s parents came to the US for the same reasons many other people: a more peaceful life, better jobs and schooling for the kids, and an absence of brutal dictators.

    Not quite so dramatic as fleeing the commies.

  • They came because they wanted to achieve things they could not achieve in their native land.

    Does that make him pro-immigration?

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