What’s in the Word “Exile” in Marco Rubio’s Proud Power of Story?

25 10 2011


Rubio made the exile story a central theme of his political biography, telling one audience during his Senate campaign, “Nothing against immigrants, but my parents are exiles.” . . . in elevating exile roots over the apparent reality of his parents’ more conventional exodus, Rubio risks setting up a tension point with the country’s Hispanic voters — most of whom are Mexican American and have immigrant friends or ancestors who did not have access to the virtually instant legal status now granted to Cubans who make it into the United States.


Marco Rubio’s Cuban Exile Narrative Dramatically Different in 2009 Compared to Now:

At issue, in part, is Rubio’s telling of why his mother returned to Cuba.

In Politico, Rubio wrote: “In February 1961, my mother took my older siblings to Cuba with the intention of moving back. My father was wrapping up family matters in Miami and was set to join them. But after a few weeks, it became clear that the change happening in Cuba was not for the better. It was communism. So in late March 1961, just weeks before the Bay of Pigs Invasion, my mother and siblings left Cuba and my family settled permanently in the United States.

In the 2009 interview, Rubio said his mother went back to Cuba to tend for his grandfather, who had been hit by a bus. (Her father came to the U.S. in the 1950s, Rubio’s office acknowledged to NPR, but went back at some point.)

“And in Cuba at the time, I mean, when you were in the hospital, they didn’t have, like, you know, meals or anything. Your family had to bring the food and they had to take care of you. So my mom went back with my sister and my brother to take care of her father in 1960 and my dad stayed behind working.

“Well, when the time came to come home, the Cuban government wouldn’t let her, so my dad was here in Miami working and desperate because his family – they would let my sister come because she was a U.S. citizen, but they wouldn’t let my brother and my mom come. And they would go to the airport every day for nine months, waiting to be let go and finally were able to come, so it was very frightening. And I think that’s when they knew for sure that that’s not the place they wanted to be.”

Records provided by Rubio’s office show his mother, Oria, entered Havana on Feb. 27, 1961, and she left on March 29, 1961.

Rubio says she never returned, and that his parents could not because of Castro, making them exiles.

So that’s a date problem piled on top of another date problem. Nine months is how long it takes to give birth to a whole new life (power of story!) but nine days or a couple of weeks that just SEEM longer because you’re disillusioned and have a couple of children in tow without Dad around, while understandable, well, not quite so powerful a story.

Cuba's Bay of Pigs Memorial

And there’s the matter of Elian Gonzalez as a young boy long after Castro in fact destroyed family life in Cuba, coming to Florida with his mother (who died in the attempt) as an exile/refugee but sent back TO Cuba BY America, by force.

The Littlest Exile, refused the same open-arms American sanctuary that Marco Rubio's parents exploited for many years and lied to him about? Or The Littlest Illegal, caught by the "center right" law-and-order authoritarian America that Rubio supports, respecting parental rights and enforcing Cuba's claim?

Where did Marco Rubio come down on that controversy and how does he explain the differences today, between his exile power of story and poor Elian’s? FOXy bad-boy Brietbart’s site might offer a clue to the disconnect for Rubio.

(And is it funny or sad or both, that CNN doesn’t even use the word “exile” in Elian’s story, preferring “migrant” as if they were agricultural workers going back and forth for the harvest and willing to pay with their lives? If they were mere migrants, surely Marco’s parents who did indeed go back and forth for years, were simply “migrants” rather than true “exiles”?)

Are you an “exile” from a government if you leave years before it comes to power, or would “immigrant” looking for a better life (like those from Mexico viewed suspiciously by his party’s politics?) be more fair and truthful a description? Suppose you leave years before but decide at some point you want to move back with your now-larger family, and then you don’t like it as much as you thought, so you change your mind AGAIN and leave again. Are you an exile then, even if the government you reject lets you and your children leave again by ordinary transport? (Is a couple of weeks to arrange that travel oppressively long, for a family deciding to fly between hostile sovereign nations on the verge of a nuclear showdown?)

What if you revise the family story in later years to claim that you never wanted to go back that last time, and you were just trying to save an elderly family member when you got trapped for “nine months” and languished every day at the airport, until you could escape in the nick of time, as an exile — if that turns out also not to be true, are you nevertheless an exile?

I don’t know. Honestly. I’ve been thinking about the power of these competing stories and wondering where the truth is.

I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to Marco Rubio’s boyhood years as truly forming his identity through whatever stories were spun in his family, true or not.

Children certainly are strengthened and shaped (and sadly, scarred) by religious and historical myths of all kinds, and they suffer real pain, sometimes literally cease to live at all, from the painfully real untruths lived in their homes and inflicted on them as truths.

Of course there’s the more cynical possibility that Marco Rubio wasn’t told those tales as a child but heard this Cuban exile meme from so many others in his community growing up, then realized its political potency at some point, and appropriated it for his own brand.

It’s close, after all, not as much of a stretch as a flamboyantly gay-seeming “doctor” profiting from a gay-curing clinic, I suppose.

There’s the clear possibility IOW, that it is “propaganda” no less than what Castro’s Cuba was pumping out while fanning exile fever to escape it. It would be ironic yet surely plausible in these bizarro NewSpeak times, for a politician to cleverly, convincingly craft propaganda about how he escaped propaganda.

What do you think “exile” really means in America today, and what does the word mean to Marco Rubio’s truest, fairest, most universally defensible story of identity?

I used to wonder the same thing about Clarence Thomas so righteously embodying and advocating for the meaning of “civil rights” in America, but that’s another post, sigh . . .

Rubio’s parents left Cuba over two-and-a-half years before Castro took power in 1959, however. Rubio said that he was going on family lore, but after the Post story was published, his official Senate bio was corrected to say that Rubio “was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban exiles who first arrived in the United States in 1956.”

Rubio also described two years ago to NPR a nine-month wait his mother endured in Cuba while waiting to return to the United States in 1961. Documents showed that his mother and two children arrived in February 1961 and left the following month.

“Look, if they want to say I got the dates wrong, they’re right and I admit that, I didn’t know, but I got the dates wrong. But if they want to say that my parents weren’t exiles and I misled people about the essence of my personal story, that’s not fair. It’s outrageous. And I really wish they would have corrected their article because I don’t think it accurately reflects what I’ve said or what the essence of my story is,” he said on Fox News Monday night.



14 responses

25 10 2011

I saw a comment under a political ticker story from Rubio’s Senate run last year, that suggests Rubio is playing Elian’s power of story to dance with the FOXy folks, the better to FOXtrot to the voting booth with “older Cubans still holding a grudge” and that’s what I would have guessed.

But then, that doesn’t match up with his own generous fudging of his own family story for the benefit of the innocent children and economic opportunism, nor his anti-American attitudes about the current president as communist/socialist and imposing dreaded hospital health care on our elders! — so imo, no matter which down-home rhythms you play it with, he’s got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.


Like Rubio, I too am a Cuban-American child born to Cuban refugees fleeing communism. However, I support Obama, and I back some sort of universal healthcare program. Not because I am socialist or communist, but because I believe all Americans deserve to be taken care of when they are sick. Rubio argues that Obama has communist leanings, and he caters to the older Cubans who are still holding a grudge after the Bay of Pigs and Elian Gonzalez. Rubio should know that Obama is not Fidel and that Republicans have done nothing but use the Cuban vote by spouting the anti-Fidel one liners.
February 22, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |

25 10 2011

And does it matter if the noble family dream once well-established in America, was to get rich trafficking illegal drugs and bribing our American law enforcement officers? Kinda gives a whole NEW truth to the word “illegals” as opposed to “migrants” or “exiles” . . .

[Senator Rubio’s] sister and her husband were caught up in a South Florida drug trafficking raid in the 1980s.

An investigation by Univision found that Rubio’s brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia, was arrested during a major anti-narcotics operation in 1987. Rubio was a 16-year old high school student at the time. . . .

The story reports that the ring, led by Cuban American Mario Tabraue, paid $150,000 in bribes to the Key West police chief and Miami-Dade county officials, and used Miami police officers to collect, count, and disburse drug profits.

P.S. This sentence — Rubio was a 16-year old high school student at the time — made me think of Elian, reportedly in uniform at a Cuban military high school. What a different identity, what a different life for each of these two young sons of similar Cuban mothers who similarly left home hoping for a better life in Florida.

The boys through no choice or virtue/fault of their own, got very different identities and different lives because of US, by America’s choice and virtue/fault.

Elian back in Cuba surely has been told stories if not outright lies as young Rubio was, to make him proud of his family and homeland, to shape his politics and unshakeable beliefs. Perhaps he is an atheist communist? So is all that similarly “true” because it’s now part of Elian’s identity, and would Rubio similarly consider it “outrageous” of us to suggest logical problems with any of those stories or try to reach Elian with other stories and ideas — even if like Rubio now, Elian becomes a 40-year-old government official and has been turned against his own extended American family and a nation perversely glad to help fulfill one Cuban mother’s American dream but not another’s?

25 10 2011

I’ve been living in Florida since I was a little girl (since the year of the Cuban revolution as it happens) but I never heard this cocaine-marijuana ring story about Rubio until I went looking for his stories today. Funny this isn’t one he talks about as also formative . . .

26 10 2011

Wow, that does add some flavor and context to the story. So many things running through my head on this one.

Foxtrot indeed.
Bushwacked more like. 😉

26 10 2011

You know, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright was on my mind yesterday and I meant to include her story for more thought, but didn’t get to it..

Let us recall she discovered late in life that she was Jewish rather than Catholic, and was in fact descended from Holocaust survivors who had “lied” to her about who they were and who she was. She handled the revelation (publicly at least) with sensitivity and context and proportion and grace, neither rejecting her family for hiding a key part of her heritage from her, nor blaming the public or media for having opinions and wondering how it might influence her politics, nor denying it to herself or to us, trying to disprove it, fudge it or insist it didn’t matter, to her or to us..

Modern Catholic theology rejects the argument that Jewishness is a racial characteristic. . . But there are those who argue Jewishness is an inherited characteristic that cannot be ignored.

It all connects! Is being Cuban or Jewish or gay, black, female etc a story about family lore, race, religion, culture, history, economics ? Yes. It all connects.

That’s the real story in Rubio’s identity story for Americans, I think, not mere party politics. His Cuban exile story not only connects to Albright’s Holocaust survivor story but they both connect to Fidel Castro, literally!

What do Fidel Castro, three founding members of the Jesuit order, Saint Teresa of Avila and Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger of Paris have in common with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright?

A Jewish background.

Wars, pogroms and inquisitions have often driven Jews out of fear or conviction into the arms of Christianity or Islam, many to conserve their customs in secret over centuries. . .

Any child’s personal and family and community identity will be complex and layered and matter utterly, to whom that child grows up to be and how that child will live in our world. That is what real education is all about.

Marcus Bachmann btw, reminded me yesterday about that anti-gay Christian “cure” fellow, can’t recall his name and didn’t recognize it anyway, who just recanted his therapy theories publicly and admitted not only: 1) that there’s no cure for being gay and he never changed one person with his cure, but also 2) that he was himself a guy who liked guys the whole 20 years he was telling us otherwise. Was that lying more to us or to himself, this desperate lying about who he was and why?

(Will Marcus Bachmann ever GET straight with his own nature and admit no one can be MADE straight?)

26 10 2011

Oh, I also am thinking about Steve Jobs, who was adopted and learned as an adult that his biological father was a Syrian running a coffee shop Jobs had been into a few times. He had no desire to connect with this man and never did. Was it therefore part of his identity or not, or is that the wrong question because the answer is complicated and not fixed at birth, everchanging and evolving through life, both unique and universal all at the same time, for each of us?

26 10 2011

Hmm, we’ve snooked a whole lot about politicians writing their own identity stories in a way that will persuade us to let them help write ours. For example . . .

Prez Candidates Write Their Own Power of Story:

This swells in significance when you remember all these lawyer-brained folks pass all the education laws and set all the standards. . . Thus it suggests we could start by electing different kinds of minds to lawmaking, if we’re really serious about systemic change for kids on campus.

All much more interesting to me at least, than the usual “horse-race-sex-party” analysis. (See how cool that sounds when I run the cliches together and combine meanings in jarring juxtaposition, horse with race, race with sex, sex with party, etc? The power of prose!)

And when I was just getting to know Barack Obama’s opening chapters in March 2007, it looked like this to me:O-Ala-Bama: Old Time Religion and the Skin I’m In

I wish that while he and other Dem candidates this cycle are cleverly recasting their own religious and cultural traditions to be more mainstream (??) that they saw more value in connecting with mine.

. . .If you can’t get elected in third-millennium America because we’re still measuring time and talent and generations in Christian units and terminology, if smart, savvy Dem lawyers like Obama and Clinton are as willing as Republican lawyers like the HSLDA leadership, to exploit church in their personal fight for state, then maybe the most bizarre interpretations of Biblical prophecies are true and the end is near at that.

26 10 2011

Wrote this in 2008 but it still applies for 2012!

I am both an education policy professional and a long-time unschooler who cherishes my family’s independence and academic freedom, someone who is all about education’s power of story, all the time — but I don’t think I can learn anything important to me and my family and community from poring over candidates’ public “education policy” statements. Not this year.

Now is the time, I think, for independently studying each candidate’s true-life story and coming to understand it within the context of our own, not for collecting and comparing poll-driven, staff-written, dueling-demographic soundbites.

If this election does as I believe, present a last-chance opportunity to pull out of our democratic death-spiral, then we’ll need better educated and more thoroughly understood answers to who WE are, and who we aspire to be as America.

26 10 2011

But therein lies the problem. How many people in regular life know who *they are. I posit that a lot of our social problems that we as a WASP nation foist on others is indeed due to a profound identity crisis. I would liken it to soul loss. Until individuals find that inner authenticity, they will repeatedly be fooled by those whose tell elaborate but attractive lies for power and money.

26 10 2011

we as a WASP nation

Well, there you go! A fuzzy sort of identity lie similarly to Rubio’s family one, a story we won’t let go of or give an inch on, or curiously and willingly learn more than — and apparently just refuse to adapt to changing realities.

27 10 2011

the virtually instant legal status now granted to Cubans who make it into the United States.

Except poor motherless little Elian, of course. Now if HE would like to run for Rubio’s Senate seat someday, I might support him!

27 04 2012

More new realities being reported on Marco Rubio's true-life story as he’s being vetted by the Romney camp for VP (did you know Rubio spent some time as a Mormon, for instance?) — check it out and maybe let us know what you think:

Rubio’s grandfather Pedro Victor Garcia was an illegal immigrant to the United States. . .

and read to the end where you will find:

For more tidbits on the Florida senator’s collegiate football career, cheerleader wife, and hatred of disco, check out The Week’s “8 Surprising Facts About Marco Rubio.”

20 06 2012

Oh ho! More about the illegal Rubio grandfather, suggesting he was ordered deported but dodged it:

“The paper trail is inconclusive about whether he was forced to spend time in a detention facility. … On October 4, 1962, Pedro Victor appeared before a special inquiry officer, a kind of immigration judge, named Milton V. Milich … the records are a remarkable artifact of another era. In 33 minutes of testimony they tell the story of a man caught in an immigration non-man’s land, a lesson about the laws that decide who gets to stay in the United States and who must go. … “Milich orders ‘that the applicant be excluded and deported from the United States.’”

“Pedro Victor … did not leave the country as ordered. In those days deportees weren’t necessarily thrown onto a plane … Pedro Victor’s legal status would remain unresolved for years.

8 12 2012

December 2012, Marco Rubio’s Beltway Makeover, Big Time:

Rubio dismissed the suggestion that he was a phony as just a matter of getting “a few dates wrong,” although what he tossed off as a mistake had managed to make him more appealing to the men who play dominos on Miami’s Calle Ocho and to catapult him into the Florida House speaker’s chair and then the U.S. Senate. Yes, the payoff must have been just a happy coincidence. Rubio for President? Really?

The second makeover is now underway. According to the web site, Politico, Rubio is positioning himself to run for president in 2016.

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