A review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that Rubio's dramatic account of his family saga embellishes the facts.
During his rise to political prominence, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., frequently repeated a compelling version of his family’s history that had special resonance in South Florida. He was the son of exiles, he told audiences, Cuban Americans forced off their beloved island after “a thug,” Fidel Castro, took power.
But a review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that Rubio’s dramatic account of his family saga embellishes the facts. The documents show that Rubio’s parents came to the United States and were admitted for permanent residence more than 2 ½ years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.
The supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity, both before and after his stunning, tea-party-propelled victory in last year’s race for the U.S. Senate.
Rubio — now considered a prospective 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee and a possible future presidential candidate — mentions his parents in the second sentence of the official biography on his Senate website. It says Mario and Oriales Rubio “came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.”
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And the 40-year-old senator with the boyish smile and prom-king good looks has drawn on the power of that claim to entrance audiences captivated by the rhetorical skills of one of the more dynamic stump speakers in modern American politics.
The real story of his parents’ migration appears to be a more conventional immigrant narrative, a couple who came to the United States seeking a better life. In the year they arrived in Florida, the future Marxist dictator was in Mexico plotting a quixotic return to Cuba.
Rubio’s office Thursday confirmed that his parents arrived in the United States in 1956 but noted that “while they were prepared to live here permanently, they always held out the hope and the option of returning to Cuba if things improved.”
They returned to Cuba several times after Castro came to power to “assess the situation with the hope of eventually moving back,” the office said in a statement. In a brief interview Thursday, Rubio said his accounts of the family’s migration have been based on family lore. “I’m going off the oral history of my family,” he said. “All of these documents and passports are not things that I carried around with me.”
Rubio has described his grandmother’s death in moving terms, although details have changed in his accounts. In February 2010, during Rubio’s electric speech to the C-PAC convention in Washington, he said that his grandmother died when his father was 6 and “the day after her funeral, he went to work selling coffee in the streets of Havana.”
Seven months later, when his father died in the midst of Rubio’s Senate campaign, Rubio wrote in a beautifully crafted open letter that his father lost his mother when he was “just days shy of his 9th birthday.”
“The vast majority of people who emigrated in the ’50s went for economic reasons, not for political reasons,” said Maria Cristina Garcia, an expert on Cuban migration at Cornell University.
The Rubios brought with them Marco’s older brother, Mario Rubio, who had been born in Cuba five years earlier. Their maternal grandfather, Pedro Victor Garcia, also immigrated to the United States around the same time.
What’s known of their lives in the United States comes primarily from Marco Rubio’s speeches and writings. He talks and writes lovingly of his father, telling of the regular Sunday family trip to the International House of Pancakes and how his father managed equipment for his Pop Warner football team.
The family was itinerant, according to the senator, living at various times in New York and Los Angeles and spending several years in Las Vegas. But it appears most of their time was spent in the Miami area, where a 1958 city directory shows a Mario Rubio employed at the luxurious Roney Plaza Hotel.
His office tried to clarify the facts in its statement Thursday. After their 1956 arrival, the couple visited Cuba after Castro’s takeover. In 1961, Oriales Rubio took her two children back to Cuba “with the intention of remaining permanently.” Mario remained in Florida “wrapping up the family’s matters.”
But within weeks of arriving there, “it because clear that Cuba was headed full speed towards Communism and they decided to return to the U.S.,” the statement said.
Rubio’s staff allowed The Post to examine copies of his parents’ passports. They showed that between the couple’s admission for permanent residence and Castro’s victory on Jan. 1, 1959, his father spent five days in Cuba and his mother spent no more than 2 months and 3 days there.
The passports show that Rubio’s mother made at least four short trips to the island after Castro’s victory, including a monthlong stay in February and March 1961.
Marco Rubio was born in 1971 in Miami, and the next year, his older brother, Mario, petitioned for naturalization. The document, signed by Mario Victor Rubio, says Mario Rubio was “lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence on May 27, 1956.” The entry date coincides with notarized “Declaration of Domicile” — filed in Dade County Circuit Court by his father in 1974. It states that “I … am and have been a bona fide resident of the state of Florida since the 27th day of May, 1956.”
The parents’ naturalization papers have begun to circulate on the Internet as part of a “birther” controversy related to Rubio’s eligibility for future presidential tickets.
The controversy, which was reported this week in the St. Petersburg Times, has been compared to the frenzy surrounding President Obama’s birthplace, but in reality it bears a closer resemblance to the fight over Sen. John McCain’s eligibility in the 2008 election.
In the last presidential cycle, some suggested that McCain was ineligible because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone.
A similar claim has been made in blogs and other forums because Rubio’s parents were not citizens when he was born in Florida in 1971. But legal scholars on both sides of the McCain debate told The Post that Rubio’s citizenship does not appear to be an issue.
Rubio emerged as a national political figure in 2009 when he took on the once-popular Republican Florida governor, Charlie Crist, in a heated race for the Senate. Crist was forced to run as an independent because of Rubio’s surge.