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.
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.
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.
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.