The Chicken-and-Egg Question Concerning Marco Rubio’s Cuban Background

Were his parents immigrants, or exiles?

on February 9, 2015 in Miami, Florida.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Marco Rubio parents' flight embrace of American capitalism and estrangement from Castro's Communist Cuba is a core part of his political identity. But when the when the Washington Post reported that his family had actually emigrated in the last years of the Batista regime, the question arose: immigrant or exile? Below, a few of Rubio's words on the question: 

In a 2009 interview with NPR: "My grandfather, who already had been stricken with polio when he was a young man, had an accident, he was hit by a bus, 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 brother to take care of her father in 1960 and my dad stayed behind working. 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 then finally were able to come, so it was frightening. And I think that's when they knew for sure that that's not the place they wanted to be."

Speaking at his Election Night victory party in Miami, as reported by the Washington Post: "[My father] was fortunate enough to make it here in America, but he was never able to capture his own dream. [...] No matter where I go or what title I may achieve, I will always be the son of exiles."

Speaking at the Reagan Library on August 24, 2011: "During the eighties, politically especially, there were two people that deeply influenced me. One clearly was Ronald Reagan, the other was my grandfather, who lived with us most of the time in our home. We lived part of our life, especially the key years, 80-84, in Las Vegas, Nevada. And my grandfather loved to sit on the porch of our home and smoke cigars. He was Cuban. Three cigars a day, he lived to be 84. This is not an advertisement for cigar smoking, I’m just saying to you that. He loved to talk about politics. My grandfather was born in 1899. He was born to an agricultural family in Cuba. He was stricken with polio when he was a very young man, he couldn’t work the fields, so they sent him to school. He was the only member of his family that could read. And because he could read. He got a job at the local cigar rolling factory. They didn’t have radio or television, so they would hire someone to sit at the front of the cigar factory and read to the workers while they worked. So, the first thing he would read every day, of course, was the daily newspaper. Then he would read some novel to entertain them. And then, when he was done reading things he actually went out and rolled the cigars because he needed the extra money. But through all of those years of reading, he became extremely knowledgeable about history, not to mention all the classics. He loved to talk about history. My grandfather loved being Cuban. He loved being from Cuba. He never would have left Cuba if he didn’t have to. But he knew America was special. He knew that without America Cuba would still be a Spanish colony. He knew that without America the Nazis and Imperial Japan would have won World War II. When he was born in 1899 there weren’t even airplanes. By the time I was born, an American had walked on the surface of the moon. And he knew something else. He knew that he had lost his country. And that the only thing from preventing other people in the world from losing theirs to communism was this country – this nation. It is easy for us who are born here – like me – and so many of you, to take for granted how special and unique this place is. But when you come from somewhere else, when what you always knew and loved, you lost, you don’t have that luxury. My grandfather didn’t know America was exceptional because he read about it in a book. He knew about it because he lived it and saw it with his eyes. That powerful lesson is the story of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency."

From the biography on Rubio's Senate web site, which was updated following a Oct. 2011 Washington Post story that claimed he'd embellished his family story: "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. By their loving and powerful example, I learned the importance of work and family, and developed the belief that all things are possible in America."

From a rebuttal to the Washington Post story, which Rubio published in Politico: "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. And they stayed because, after January 1959, the Cuba they knew disappeared. They wanted to go back — and in fact they did. Like many Cubans, they initially held out hope that Castro’s revolution would bring about positive change. So after 1959, they traveled back several times — to assess the prospect of returning home. 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 just 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. Soon after, Castro officially declared Cuba a Marxist state. My family has never been able to return. I am the son of immigrants and exiles, raised by people who know all too well that you can lose your country. By people who know firsthand that America is a very special place. My father spent the last 50 years of his life separated from the nation of his birth. Separated from his two brothers, who died in Cuba in the 1980s. Unable to show us where he played baseball as a boy. Where he met my mother. Unable to visit his parents’ grave. My mother has spent the last 50 years separated from her native land as well. Unable to take us to her family’s farm, to her schools or to the notary office where she married my father. A few years ago, using Google Earth, I attempted to take my parents back to Cuba. We found the rooftop of the house where my father was born. What I wouldn’t give to visit these places where my story really began, before I was born."

On Fox News shortly after the Washington Post story came out: "I don't need to embellish my narrative. My narrative is very simple—I am the son of exiles and of immigrants, and that has framed my political thought."

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