Spring - 2013 Rubio1

Published on May 22nd, 2013


Marco Rubio – The Story of an Immigrant Son

By Tor G. Jakobsen

Who is this young Cuban American with dark brown eyes, who all of a sudden has become the subject of widespread interest and admiration? Marco Rubio is at present a Senator from Florida and a Lecturer in Political Science. Many experts believe Marco will be the next President of the United States. 

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is quoted as saying Rubio is “our Barack Obama with substance.” However, Marco’s background is somewhat unusual and unprecedented for a possible future president. He is an American born son of two Cuban immigrants, Oriales and Mario.

His mother’s side of the family hails from the historical province of Santa Clara in North-Central Cuba. His father’s side is from the Central province of Camagüey.

Marco’s maternal grandfather immigrated to the United States, as did his parents and his mother’s siblings. As a result, Marco is actually the cousin of Moises Denis, a Democratic member of the Nevada State Senate. He is also the brother-in-law of the actor and Latin singer Carlos Ponce.

On May 27, 1956, Oriales Rodriguez and Mario Rubio boarded National Airlines Flight 352 from Havana to Miami. Following unrest on the island ruled by Batista, the young family looked to America for prosperity and hope.


A different era

At the time the Rubios arrived there were as few as 10,000 Cubans living in Miami. Locals still pronounced the city’s name with a southern accent: “myam-uh.” And when Batista fled into exile on New Year’s Day 1959, it did not even make the front page of the Anglo-dominated Miami Herald. Fidel Castro was barely noticed by most Miamians.

Then things started to change. Many supporters of Batista fled to Miami, whose smells, tastes, rhythms, and passions are today distinctly Cuban American.


The immigrant son

On May 28, 1971, Oriales gave birth to little Marco Antonio at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami. He grew up only two blocks from the Orange Bowl, home of the Miami Dolphins.

Marco is, of course, a huge fan of the Dolphins. As a child he would keep a notebook on his lap when the team played, and there he would write down all the plays. Football was the sport that wove the immigrant community together with the natives. On game day, all that mattered was the colors of aqua and coral.

The Orange Bowl was also the place that President Kennedy made his famous speech to a crowd of Cuban Americans, when making a promise to the brigade that had participated in the unsuccessful military invasion of Cuba in 1961:

“I know that exile is a difficult life for any free man. But I am confident that you hold a position of responsibility to the day when Cuba is once again free.”

The family later moved to Las Vegas, where most of them joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Marco’s father, Mario, did not join, as he could not embrace a faith that banned drinking and smoking. Marco, on the other hand, was totally into Mormonism, joining youth groups and idolizing the family music group The Osmonds.

Marco was a strong character even as a kid, and at age 13 he convinced his family to change faith back to Catholicism. The family also left Las Vegas, heading back to Miami.

Rubio attended South Miami Senior High School, from which he graduated in 1989. During his years there he played defense in his school’s football team. He went on to get degrees from the University of Florida and the University of the Miami School of Law.


The political career

His electoral career started in the city of West Miami, where he served as City Commissioner when he was just 26 years old. This provided him with a platform for the big things that lay ahead. He became engaged with Jeanette Dousdebes, who had actually been a member of the 1997 Miami Dolphins Cheerleading squad. She is a striking blonde of Colombian descent, and the Dolphin fan Marco said in an interview with Politico that:

“I always wanted to be an NFL player. Now I’m going to have to tell my kids that the only one of her two parents that ever touched an NFL field was her mom.”

At the age of 28 he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, and in 2009 he announced that he was running for a place in the United States Senate. In 2010 he won the election by a large margin and following the defeat of Mitt Romney in the latest Presidential election, Rubio is by many observes considered to be star that can turn around the Republican Party.


The political scientist

To the surprise of many of our readers, Rubio actually teaches Political Science at Florida International University in Miami. His classes are on Mondays and Fridays, when there are usually no meetings in the Senate. And as a good social scientist should, Marco does not mix politics with science. According to students his lectures are strictly academic, where he draws on real-time experience. That this goes in well with the students is no surprise, as the student and Obama supporter Donovan Dawson stated:

“We’re not just hermits reading from a textbook. We’re actually able to learn from someone who has been in the process and can actually tell us what goes on and what’s important and what’s not.”


Rubio as President?

The big question is: Will Marco Rubio run for president in 2016? He is a very popular Senator from a state with many electoral votes. Rubio also has his Latin-American heritage, thus reaching out to the second largest ethnolinguistic group in the United States.

It has become clear that the Republican Party cannot continue being a party for “old white men,” and Rubio has the possibility to bridge the Latin and Anglo communities. Even if the Democrats should field an “old white man” in the election, Rubio could very well hold on to the majority of the Republican base, and at the same time be recruiting new Hispanic voters.


Further reading:

Leary, Alex (2012) “Marco Rubio Teaches Political Reality, Not Theory” Tampa Bay Times.

Roig-Franzia (2012). The Rise of Marco Rubio. New York: Simon & Schuster.


*Cover photo by Gage Skidmore, Dolphins photo by Mark Freeman, speech photo by Gage Skidmore.

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