Friday, October 21, 2011

Havana Daydreaming

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) likes to portray himself as a child of Cuban refugees who made it out of Havana just as the Castro brothers were seizing the capital. It’s a classic tale that evokes images of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, sure to evoke a tear from the audience. But, according to this story in the Washington Post, it’s mostly bullshit.

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 2 1/2 years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.


The real story of his parents’ migration appears to be a more conventional immigrant narrative, a couple who came to the United States seeking a better life. In the year they arrived in Florida, the future Marxist dictator was in Mexico plotting a quixotic return to Cuba.

Rubio’s office confirmed Thursday that his parents arrived in the United States in 1956 but noted that “while they were prepared to live here permanently, they always held out the hope and the option of returning to Cuba if things improved.” They returned to Cuba several times after Castro came to power to “assess the situation with the hope of eventually moving back,” the office said in a statement.

In other words, instead of floating to Key West in a raft made out of a ’52 Chevy truck and sofa cushions, his parents came to the U.S. the same way most people came in from Cuba the mid-fifties: on Pan Am. The only sad part of the story is that they probably flew coach instead of business class.

What’s known of their lives in the United States comes primarily from Marco Rubio’s speeches and writings. He talks and writes lovingly of his father, telling of the family’s regular Sunday trips to the International House of Pancakes and how his father managed equipment for his Pop Warner football team. His father was a bartender and school crossing guard; his mother worked as a hotel maid and stocking shelves at Kmart. The family was itinerant, according to the senator, living at various times in New York and Los Angeles and spending several years in Las Vegas. But it appears that most of their time was spent in the Miami area, where a 1958 city directory shows a Mario Rubio employed at the luxurious Roney Plaza Hotel.

In one 2010 interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Marco Rubio seemed uncertain about the date of his parents’ arrival, saying, “My parents and grandparents came here from Cuba in ’58, ’59.” None of the public statements reviewed by The Washington Post gave 1956 as their arrival date.

I wonder how this news will go over in the Cuban community here in Miami, especially among those who really did come here one step ahead of Fidel and his revolutionaries. After all, Mr. Rubio has built his meteoric career in Florida and the GOP by milking the Cuban refugee schtick for all its worth. Now we find out he’s like the guy who inflates his military record by saying he “served in Vietnam” when in reality he was a clerk in the quartermaster corps in Bayonne in 1967.

To quote another famous Cuban immigrant, he’s got some ‘splaining to do.