By Rodolfo F. Acuña
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) strongly criticized the first draft of President Obama’s immigration reform plan saying “It’s a mistake for the White House to draft immigration legislation without seeking input from Republican members of Congress… ,” predicting that “if actually proposed, the President’s bill would be dead on arrival in Congress.”
The Rubio statement calls the bill “half-baked and seriously flawed.” It alleges that Obama’s bill is not tough enough on border security and that it penalizes “those who chose to do things the right way and come here legally” over “those who broke our immigration laws.”
Rubio’s statement undermines the social construct of a Hispanic group that bonds the disparate Latino groups. Many of the activist members of this group dismissed Rubio as a “gusano” – a worm or a maggot – a term popularly used to refer to reactionary Cuban exiles that came here during the 1960s.
Prior to his epiphany Rubio had no interest in Mexican or Latino immigrants; his sudden awakening and concern about immigration was kindled because of the strength of the Latino vote, and Mr. Rubio’s presidential aspirations. Based on his surname, Rubio claims the right to take ownership of the issue, even though his base is the Tea Party and the far-right of the Republican Party.
Up to this point, Rubio has not had to worry about other Latin American groups. His base is in Florida among Cuban-Americans. Cubans can legally migrate to the U.S. through various programs – options that are not open to other Latin Americans.
They get special treatment and are not subject to the restrictions and caps that Mexico and other countries are. “Cubans who have been physically present in the United States for at least one year may adjust to permanent resident status at the discretion of the Attorney General — an opportunity that no other group or nationality has.”
Many Cuban refugees are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). They receive up to $637 a month — married couples $956. They are also eligible for other subsidies.
As refugees, the Cuban Entrants and families with children under 18 may be eligible for cash assistance through a state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. More important they get health benefits. Cuban American organizations get special assistance from the federal and state governments.
Rubio’s duplicity has enraged Mexican Americans and other Latinos. He legitimizes the most reactionary of nativist rhetoric stating it would benefit those who broke the law, penalize the people who stood in line and got here legally and calls for tougher border control.
What Rubio shows is that Latinos in the United States are not a community. It raises other important questions such as why were Cubans allowed to cut into the line? Were they being given preferential treatment?
They received benefits that Mexicans and others have not received such as free medical care, stipends or pension funds. Would life for many of undocumented immigrants have been any different if they had not been forced to go underground? If they had not been hounded, insulted and stereotyped?
The senator from Florida also calls for greater border security. Would he be so quick to ask for the same treatment for members of his own family? I don’t think so!
This is in stark contrast to the Mexican community that has done it the old fashion way, they worked for it.
It is understandable that the Mexican-American community is offended and enraged by Rubio’s statements. However, I do believe that our reaction should not include hyperbole such as calling him a gusano.
The term, however, is dated and unfair to many Cuban-Americans who have criticized and criticize the politics of the Miami Mafia. Many of the younger Cubans are breaking with the politics of reaction. The Christian Science Monitor reported: “President Obama won a record number of Cuban American votes in this election, 47 percent to Romney’s 50 percent. This is a full ten points above the previous high water mark (reached by Obama in 2008) by a Democratic politician. No longer can Cuban Americans be characterized a ‘reliable Republican’ constituency.’”
The Pew Hispanic Center adds that Cuban Americans favored Obama 49-47 percent. This is a fundamental shift.
The truth be told, Rubio’s own constituency is shrinking. Cuban-Americans are not a homogenous group, and their words and actions should define them – not the sins of their grandfathers. They know that, and unlike their grandfathers they have experienced and recognize racism.
In this they resemble Mexican refugees who came into the country after the start of the Mexican Revolution of 1910, many of whose great-grandchildren are Chicanos. We must remember that not everybody’s’ grandfather rode with Pancho Villa.
At the same time, the Mexican-origin population should not be shy about defining protection of their own interests. Conservatively, over two-thirds of the Latino population is Mexican-origin; 75-80 percent are Middle Americans. In contrast 3.5 percent of the Latino construct is of Cuban-origin.
This gap will grow with Mexican women having a median age of 24 versus 40 for Cuban women. It makes sense that the political, social and economic interests of the whole be addressed which is what Rubio forgets.
The picture of the immigration bill is blurred and it could become a nightmare. Something is not better than nothing. Families must be united, and the borders and human rights should not end or start at the Rio Grande.
When we talk about the securing of the border we have to talk about protecting citizens on both sides of the border from abuse. ICE must be controlled and repent – better still abolished.
The focus should be taken away from Spanish-surname Republicans like Rubio and Ted Cruz (R-Tex). We have to remember that Cruz is a Cuban-American with a southern drawl. Like Rubio, he is Tea Party poster boy. Cruz opposes the DREAM Act, advocates building a border wall and calls the deferred deportation policy for childhood arrivals illegal and unconstitutional.
Still, he was elected in Texas which has historically housed a large Mexican-origin population. Many people were surprised that he only received 35 percent of the Latino vote. I was stunned that he got that many. The overwhelming portion of the Latino vote is Mexican-origin. Considering his record, how could anyone have voted for him? The fact is that he had a Spanish-surname was a factor –after all, we are all Hispanic, aren’t we?
Lest cynicism get the best of us, not all non-Mexicans are bad candidates and should be considered on their merits. In hindsight, the Mexican label was much stronger 30 years ago when we elected a slew of Mexican-American incumbents. What our success in electing Latino candidates proved is that Mexican Americans could mess it up as much as white people.
In my estimation, Dr. Richard Carmona was as an attractive candidate as is possible in Arizona. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012. He probably should have won but the election in all probability was stolen. However, the failure of some Mexican Americans to back him probably also played a role. Carmona is of Puerto Rican background – has a history of community service.
Senators such as Rubio and Cruz are giving the Latino label a bad name thus it is more difficult to separate the good, the bad and the ugly. The interests of our community are too important to leave it to them and their ilk.
Dr. Rodolfo Francisco Acuña, called the “father of Chicano Studies,” is a historian, professor emeritus, activist and the author of 20 titles, 32 academic articles and chapters in books, 155 book reviews and 188 opinion pieces. Currently, he teaches Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge.