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Nancy Smith

Marco Rubio Didn't Lie, Ask Those Who Know Best

October 21, 2011 - 6:00pm

If you want to know whether Marco Rubio lied, ask another son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter of a Cuban exile.

I did. I asked a number. And none of them, not even one, believes the Republican senator from Miami embellished his family's story for political gain.

"You grow up with parents who can't go home again even if they want to," said Luis Sanchez, whose mother and father -- just as Rubio claims his parents did -- "got out of Cuba while they could" in the '50s.

"You don't ask if Fidel Castro was actually standing behind them with a gun. You and your family are victims of that evil communist regime and it doesn't matter how you work out the dates of who came to the United States when."

Sanchez, a former professional soccer player, says he doesn't know Marco Rubio from Adam, but he can smell a birther-inspired hit job in The Washington Post a mile away. "Looks to me like somebody wants to knock the senator off before he gets too close to the White House."

In the Thursday Post story, writer Manuel Roig-Franzia claimed Rubio played fast and loose with the facts of his parents' emigration. He claims documents show that Rubio's parents came to the U.S. and were admitted for permanent residence more than two years before Castro overthrew the government of Juan Batista and took power on Jan. 1, 1959.

That's such a big deal, said Roig-Franzia, because the 40-year-old freshman senator was using the flight of his parents from Cuba to center his political identity, and now here he is, getting constant mentions as a GOP vice presidential candidate in 2012, and later on maybe even as a contender for president. All based on false hype, the writer says.

What Roig-Franzia fails to do, however, is offer up a single quote to show that Rubio lied about being the son of Cuban exiles.

The Post writer also ignores a central truth -- and this is thecasemaker for Rubio-- one that is well-known among the press throughout Florida: Most Cuban Americans in this statedon't define an exile by the date of his departure from Cuba. They define it byhisinability to return to the Castro regime.

Joel Gonzalez, a Fort Lauderdale commodities broker whose grandparents emigrated from Cuba just as Castro was taking over, remembers that the couple always wanted to move the family back to Havana, but the communist regime made it impossible. "They were grateful for the opportunities they were given, grateful that their children got to live the American dream,"Gonzalez said, "but their longing to return to the island of their birth dominated our family and in my lifetime anyway, has become our identity.

"Marco Rubio's story is no more or less dramatic than any ofthe rest of us who have lived with Cuban exiles. But it's ridiculous for people who don't know what it's like to say it isn't real for him."

In a give-'em-hell op-ed column in Friday's Politico.com, Rubio wrote, "If The Washington Post wants to criticize me for getting a few dates wrong, I accept that. But to call into question the central and defining event of my parents young lives the fact that a brutal communist dictator took control of their homeland and they were never able to return is something I will not tolerate.

"My understanding of my parents journey has always been based on what they told me about events that took place more than 50 years ago more than a decade before I was born. What they described was not a timeline, or specific dates."

First generation American Marie Ocho, a teacher in Monroe County, whose parents and sister got out of Cuba just ahead of Castro's advancing forces, said she isjust as moved by Rubio's story todayas she was the first time he talked about his parents' struggles.

"I could identify with it," she said. "I'm not sure of the dates of things that happened before I was born either, just like Marco.But when those things happened to my family, they impacted me. They are all about who I am.

"I feel like Marco and I arecut out of the same cloth."

As Rubio himself says of his parents: "They were from Cuba. They wanted to live in Cuba again. They tried to live in Cuba again, and the reality of what it was made that impossible."

You want to nail Marco Rubio, do it on policy. On the matter ofhis statusas the son of Cuban exiles, he's good.

Nothing about the Post report makes the Rubio family story any less compelling, or his cornerstone point about the deterioration of the American dream any less valid.

This is an opinion column by Nancy Smith. Reach her at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.
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