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.