Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during the Atlantic Forum, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, at the Newseum in Washington. The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and the Newseum presented the third Annual Washington Ideas Forum, which drew together more than 60 policy makers, business leaders, and top journalists for a series of conversations and in-depth interviews about the direction of the country. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
“It’s the end of Rubio’s vice-presidential aspirations,” I said matter-of-factly to Bill O’Reilly, as I sat in the same chair the Florida senator had just occupied on the ‘Factor’ set last Friday. “It is impossible that he never asked his parents exactly when they ‘escaped’ to America from Cuba.”
The sage host wasn’t as ready to write 40-year old Senator Marco Rubio’s political obituary. As we waited for my segment to begin, O’Reilly told me he thought the engaging, intelligent junior senator from the Sunshine State had acquitted himself well in their interview, which I had watched from the Green Room.
O’Reilly suggested that Rubio managed to put in perspective the recent exposé accusing the rising GOP star of fudging his resume.
The essence of Rubio’s current controversy revolves around the central event, the Holy Grail, of Cuban American life: Stripped of their rights and property when ruthless dictator Fidel Castro assumed power on New Year’s Day 1959, a resolute band of heroes was exiled, banished by Castro’s oppressive Communist regime.
Driven off their beloved island, the “Pearl of the Antilles,” those exiles made it to these shores, where they picked themselves up by their bootstraps to create America’s most prosperous Latino community.
That biography has been central to Rubio’s political career. He brings it up constantly, portraying himself as the epitome of the Cuban exile experience, the accomplished son representing all the sons and daughters of the first American generation of the Cuban diaspora.
Only that is not the way it happened in Rubio’s family. As the Washington Post and the St. Petersburg Times first reported, the senator’s folks, Mario and Oriales Rubio, were economic refugees who came to the United States legally in May 1956. They had a visa and came as countless legal immigrants have done before and after them, seeking a better life.
But they came two and a half years before Castro’s revolt toppled the almost equally noxious government of Cuban dictator General Fulgencio Batista. From the point of view of the United States government, Batista’s saving grace was his zealous protection of American business interests, including those of the Mafia.
There is no claim that the Rubios were persecuted by Batista.
In any case, Senator Rubio says, in essence: No harm No foul. He argues passionately that in the broadest sense he did not misspeak when he claims to be the son of exiles because, deep down, all Cuban Americans are ‘exiles;’ that is, they are prevented from returning to their ancestral homeland by its current repressive government.
Which is true as far as it goes. Castro is an unrepentant socialist punk who revels in inflicting misery on all Cuban-Americans and their progeny. He mocks them as ‘gusanos’ (worms); he tortures them by severely restricting their visits to island relatives; he takes a cut of their remittances and taunts them by flaunting their expropriated property.
But are Jews who left pre-Hitler Germany and came to the United States Holocaust survivors? Literally, yes. By being absent from the continent before the madman began killing millions of innocent Jewish men, women and children, they survived history’s darkest chapter. Take the Friedman’s, my mother’s parents. Luckily for me and all their descents, they emigrated from Poland in the first decade of the 20th century.
So they are ‘survivors’ of the Nazi period. But they are in a different category from those who endured the epic fear and brutal misery that fell on so many trapped in Europe beginning on Kristallnacht in November 1938 until the Nazi surrender in May 1945.
Sloppy Vietnam War-era biographies are also epidemic. Aside from the outright frauds, those lifelong civilians claiming membership in the sacred ranks of combat veterans, I have met countless military paper pushers from that violent decade. Many of them conjure self portraits of Rambo, when in fact they never went near combat, some of whom never even left the United States.
Yes, they are Vietnam-era veterans, too. But they are different than those who endured the relentless violence and deep peril of brutal jungle combat.
Rubio should apologize to the thousands of Cubans who fled in desperation and at great peril from the clutches of Castro. His real-life resume is impressive enough not to need puffing.
This is a material misrepresentation. He is not the ‘son of exiles.’ Like most Americans, he is the son of immigrants. And he will not be vice president.
Geraldo Rivera is a Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.