Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is scheduled to announce his presidential campaign on April 13, likely at Freedom Tower in Miami. Called the “Ellis Island of the South,” by the National Parks Service (NPS), and “El Refugio” by Cuban Exiles, Miami’s Freedom Tower was the main processing center for refugees fleeing the Castro regime. Rubio whose parents are Cuban, has deployed inspiring speeches about his family’s immigration story that arguably got him elected as Florida’s Senator. As Rubio prepares to run for president, it his parent’s tale will likely be part his stump speech.
Freedom Tower would be a symbolic place for a man to tell a heart-warming story about how his parents were processed on these very steps and fled oppression in Cuba in 1959. Rubio used to claim on his official Senate biography that his Cuban-born parents “came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover,” (on New Year’s Day, 1959). He said a dozen times on camera that his parents came in 1959, and that he was a “son of exiles” who had lost their country.
Yet Rubio’s parents never fled oppression in Cuba, and they weren’t processed at Freedom Tower. He changed his bio after a Washington Post reporter uncovered documents back in 2011 demonstrating that Rubio’s parents left Cuba in 1956, two-and-a-half years before Fidel’s revolution.
Rubio adjusted. He stopped using the “son of exile” soundbyte in speeches. His current biography reads “My parents came to America from Cuba in 1956 and earned their way to the middle class working humble jobs – my father as a bartender in hotels and my mom as a maid, cashier and retail clerk.” But it might not be enough to quell critics once he’s under presidential-candidate-level scrutiny.
“His backstory is kind of complicated and kind of fudged, a lot like Brian Williams in a sense,” Geraldo Rivera said of Rubio, in an interview on HuffPost Live. “His family weren’t thrown out of Cuba by Fidel Castro. They were immigrants who came in before Castro.”
Prior embellishments shouldn’t preclude Rubio from tapping on his parents immigration story. Even after he acknowledged that his parents came to the U.S. years prior to Castro’s socialist revolution, Rubio talked about them in speeches about their working-class struggle to help him achieve the American Dream. He also hasn’t backed down on Cuba. In fact, Obama’s attempts at opening up Cuba-U.S. have been a target for Rubio in recent months.
“The [Castro regime] interprets [negotiation concessions] as signs that U.S. policy makers are not truly interested in the democratic aspirations and human rights of the Cuban people,” Rubio said.
Rubio is bound to discuss both immigration and Cuban relations during his presidential announcement. However, a speech at Freedom Tower could cobble his speech in an uncomfortable rhetorical reach. Will he call himself a “son of exiles” or simply a child of immigrants? He will have to extol his anti-Castro politics without committing any blatant untruths. An honest speech would be incredibly boring… “we’re here at Freedom Tower, which my parents never visited, because they were regular immigrants, not Cuban exiles.” We know that Rubio can survive awkward, but this time he may be reaching too far.
By Cedar Attanasio, Latin Times
March 31, 2015