Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cuban Americans and the GOP

Even as pundits and pollsters analyze the Hispanic turnout and vote, something odd always props up; Cubans by large margins vote for Republican candidates and most Cuban Americans in public office are Republicans as well.

Cuban Americans tend to be more educated, less religious, older, more affluent and more liberal in social issues than other Hispanics, so it would seem they would be a natural constituency for the Democrats, yet it is not so.

Por que papi? Why are you so hardheaded about politics dad?
“Mijo son comunistas”…”Los cubanos son Republicanos”,
This question and answer set never seemed a good reason for my parents political choices, but it sure cropped up often as an answer. Over many political seasons, election nights and conversation with elders and peers over cerveza and Cuban coffee here are some thoughts on why “los cubanos votan Republicano”:

Cuban Americans come from a land where government dominated most aspects of life. There is an inherent distrust for “big government” or for government intrusion into private life and enterprise. This more so among the early exiles who are the most politically active.

Cuban Americans who arrived to the United States in the earlier days of the revolution were turned off by what they felt was sympathy for the Castro regime among some Latino circles. Che Guevara T-shirts may have been trendy, revolutionary type slogans popular, among Chicanos and New Yoricans; but for Cubans these brought memories of betrayal and repression. That most Latinos they encountered favored the Democratic party only made guilt by association easier.

Cuban Americans remember the Bay of Pigs. CIA trained Cubans invaded the island during John F. Kennedy’s presidency but air cover for the operation promised by the United States government never came. Approximately 1200 exiles were captured and a number were killed. The credibility of the president and by extension his party was completely shattered among that generation of Cuban Americans.That story still resonates among oldtimers in Miami .

Cuban American political leaders were welcome into Republican party early on, and even Ronald Reagan actually went to Miami wearing a traditional guayabera to recruit votes for the party. That sense of welcome along with promises of political change in their homeland were factors in the now 50 year relationship between Cuban voters and the GOP.

Cuban Americans remember Elian Gonzales! I know it is senseless to think of this episode as many in Miami did! Clearly, the child orphaned in his mother's attempt to flee to the US still had a father in Cuba. However, the child's relatives and many in the Cuban community did not see it that way, his plight became enmeshed with their own story. The way he was taken by force from his relative’s home under a Democrat’s presidency was no public relations move. The following election where the Democratic party presidential candidate lost by a handful of votes in Florida, seemed to many Cubans a sweet payback.

Will this trend change soon? Perhaps! There were signs in the election of Bill Clinton when many younger Cuban-Americans broke with the Republican tradition of their parents and voted for a Democrat. Barak Obama’s election saw a significant but not monolithic loyalty to the GOP among Cuban American voters.

Midterm elections 2010 seem to erase that trend! Marco Rubio, the first United States born Cuban running for a national elected office, and a Miami native son was in the scene. Despite his very conservative views and unpopular stance on immigration, he garnered a great majority of the Cuban American vote! Wether that will carry to 2012 remains to be seen...but for dad's words ring true;

"...Los Cubanos son Republicanos..."


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