MONGTOMERY VILLAGE, Md. November 11, 2010 — Marco Rubio won his bid for senate for Florida this past November 2nd. He is the son of a Cuban bartender and a hotel domestic worker.
Marco really embraced the American Way. He left his parents’ traditional, Roman Catholic religion to convert and attend an Evangelical community, received a law degree, and married a Miami Dolphins cheer leader. He is also articulate, apparently intelligent and good looking.
Even before the media started hinting at a possible “first Latino president”, I was thinking of this possibility. This doesn’t mean that I am smart or a personal friend of his (very far from it). With the Republican Party in need of “dream team” candidates, he will rise to the top.
I do however have a problem with Marco being the first Latino president of the United States. While in school I met and befriended several of the early arrival Cuban Americans. I remember that to a man, when asked if they were Latinos or Hispanics, they would respond, - “No, I am not, I am Cuban.”
My impression then and to this day is that they didn’t want to be confused with the rest of us mixed race, poor, later immigrants. The fact is that early immigrants from Cuba were treated very differently from immigrants from other Latin American countries. This will probably be surprising to many people here who are too young to remember the revolution of 1959.
During the last two decades of the XIXth century, Spain was fighting an insurrection of land owners in Cuba. The island then and until Fidel Castro took over after defeating Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, was controlled by a local aristocracy of wealthy Spanish descendents. José Martí, the best known and intellectual leader of the insurrection against Spain, was instrumental in getting American support for the liberation of Cuba from Spain. He lived in New York and published several notable poems and essays in the decade prior to the Spanish American war.
During the insurrection in Cuba, the U.S. sent the USS Maine to Havana Harbor to protect “American Interests” in Cuba and on February 18, 1898 it was destroyed. The American media immediately blamed the Spanish (Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain) for the sinking of the ship and the Spanish American War soon followed.
A final decision of what caused the sinking of the Maine was never reached, but soon the Spanish were defeated and the U.S. became a world power with possessions in the Caribbean, mainly Cuba and Puerto Rico; and in the Pacific, mainly the Philippines. Cuba was granted its independence in 1902, only four years after the war. The other territories taken from Spain were not that lucky and continued under U.S. government control for several decades or to this time, like Puerto Rico.
Located only 90 miles south of the tip of Florida, commerce with Cuba, and in general travel between the U.S. and Cuba, was very heavy. In fact, Cuba became a playground for Americans during the first half of the XXth . The ruling and professional classes in Cuba were mostly bilingual and very used to doing business in the U.S. The island with many hospitality venues became very attractive to American interests, both legitimate and less so, and some mobsters were major players in Cuba. During the 40s and 50s Cuba was well known as a place where everything was possible, assuming enough money was used as a lubricant.
Along came Fidel Castro taking over Cuba in the late 1950s, in a revolution that went against most of the controlling institutions in Cuba. These included the landed oligarchy, the controlling politicians, the foreign investors (mostly Americans), and the Catholic Church. Starting immediately the ruling classes in Cuba took refuge in the U.S.
Eventually many of the professionals in Cuba also left disenchanted with the Marxist regime that Fidel had chosen for the country. We received them with open arms and mostly benefited with their high education level and proven business management acumen. They also received subsidies from the American private sector and the Catholic Church. A
Cuban dentist that I know was given a house in Bethesda and facilities to continue practicing. In general they did very well especially in Florida, where they became very influential in its economy and politics. An important factor that contributed to their success was the fact that most were basically white, religious and politically conservative. They were educated and, as mentioned, had business and other skills. They quickly did well with the support they were offered, and generally prospered.
And if they were conservative, they became even more so after the Bay of Pigs invasion. Cuban activists convinced the U.S. government that Cuba was ready to dump Castro and that if they were supported in an invasion, the whole country would revolt. The ill fated invasion was a failure and when Kennedy did not see the masses joining the invaders, decided that he had been lied to. The invading force was destroyed or captured. Kennedy became the most hated person to the Cuban community.
There is no need to mention that most other Latin American immigrants didn’t have the level of education, the business knowledge or that much European pigment in their skin. Many of the non Cuban Latin American immigrants come from rural areas, especially those that came from El Salvador and that claimed political refuge in this country.
It will be interesting what role Marco will decide to play in his political future, with his very promising career. As well as a general, competent politician, will he try to be a Latino force, or just a Cuban American one?
His politics so far have been very right of center with a very clearly defined anti big government, anti regulation and pro business/corporations emphasis.
Many blame the Cuban colony in Florida for the failure to reestablish relations with the Castro’s Cuba. This has only served to solidify the Castro brothers’ hold on the government and prolong the suffering of the Cuban population.
Many believe, and so do I, that a more conciliatory policy would have taken the Castros out of the equation of better relations between our two countries. Maybe Marco may serve as a catalyst for better relations as a gift to his suffering compatriots in the island.
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