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Friday, March 3, 2017

March 3, 2017: CubanAmericanStudying: Rubio and Cruz

[On March 2nd, the great Cuban-American actor and entertainer Desi Arnaz would have celebrated his 100th birthday. So for Arnaz’s centennial, a series on a handful of Cuban-American figures and histories!]
On what distinguishes, and what links, the two Cuban-American politicians.
As my most recent pieces for the Huffington Post’s blog have illustrated with (I imagine) particular clarity, I have come to believe that it’s neither possible nor desirable for me to separate my public scholarly writing from contemporary (and, inevitably, partisan) politics. This blog has of course ranged across a far wider variety of topics, subjects, and disciplines than have most of my public scholarly pieces for other sites, so I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of my posts here have not in any overt way connected to contemporary politics. But even here, relatively recent posts such as this pre-election one in early November and this post-election one in late December have offered much more blatant engagements with our current political and historical moment than had been my norm over the previous six years of AmericanStudying. All of which is to say, if you had told me any time in the last half-year or so that I’d be writing a March 2017 post on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, I would have bet the boys’ future college tuitions that it’d be focused on a topic like GOP Senators going along with (or, hoping against hope, resisting?!) President Trump’s outrageous agenda and proposals.
Good thing I didn’t make that bet, though. Because the truth is that all of us, even political leaders with whom I would disagree on pretty much every conceivable topic, have complex and multi-layered identities. And in the case of Rubio and Cruz, that includes two very distinct Cuban-American family stories and heritages; each of which is hard to untangle from various attacks and defenses over the recent presidential campaign, but I’ll try to focus on the main and less disputed details here. Rubio’s parents were both born in Cuba and immigrated to Miami in 1956; they would continue to travel back and forth to Cuba in the next few years, and other relatives (including his maternal grandfather) would gradually make their way to the U.S. as well (although the family was well settled by Rubio’s birth in 1971). That’s not quite the typical story of post-Castro exiles (although Rubio has framed it as such at times), but it’s relatively straightforward nonetheless. Cruz’s family story is far more complex: his paternal grandfather immigrated to Cuba (from the Canary Islands) as an infant, and his father Rafael was born there; but Rafael came to the U.S. in 1957 to attend college at the University of Texas, obtained political asylum when his student visa expired four years later, and subsequently moved to Canada, obtaining Canadian citizenship in 1973. He met Cruz’s mother (a U.S. citizen of Irish and Italian heritage working in Calgary) there, and Cruz was born in Calgary in 1970; a few years later his father moved back to Texas, and the family eventually followed him there.
Two widely distinct family stories and heritages; indeed even describing Ted Cruz as Cuban American is a more complex and interpretative (and often purposeful, as it is for me in this post to be sure) move (not at all unlike describing Barack Obama as Kenyan American or even African American) than doing the same with Marco Rubio. But amidst all those important details and differences, I would note one very clear and important link: both Rubio’s parents and Cruz’s father, the Cuban American immigrants in question in each family story, came to the United States before Castro’s revolution, when Batista’s regime was still in power. I wrote in yesterday’s Desi Arnaz post that most of our collective memories and narratives of Cuban Americans focus on the last half century, on the exiles and refugees and communities post-Castro. I would once argue that that’s true—but even within those narratives and memories of the last half-century, we too often forget that Cuban Americans could and did immigrate to the United States in circumstances significantly different from the post-Castro period. Which is to say, Cuban Americans immigrate, and have always immigrated, to the United States for the same complex combination of push and pull factors as any and every other immigrant community. Castro and his aftermath and regime certainly comprise a significant subset of those factors, but focusing solely on them limits and falsifies the recent, as well as the longstanding, Cuban American experience.
February Recap this weeked,
PS. What do you think? Any other Cuban American stories or histories you’d highlight?

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