For Cuban-Americans in Connecticut the success of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the Iowa presidential caucuses on Feb. 1st may have generated some pride and appreciation for the progress made by Latinos in American politics, but ethnic affinity may not necessarily result in support or votes by their fellow countrymen.
“I am proud that we have two presidential candidates of Cuban ancestry even when I may or may not support either of them,” is how Orlando Rodriguez, an associate legislative analyst with the state’s Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, summed up his personal position.
“Rubio and Cruz are very different, which reflects the differences among Hispanics nationwide. We are not a homogenous group,” said Rodriguez, a Cuban American who over the last 14 years has held various education and nonprofit positions aimed at bettering the lives of Latinos.
Cruz, a Texan, was the winner of the caucuses, the first time a Hispanic has won this major test for presidential hopefuls. Only three Hispanics have ever competed, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, but registered in the contest with only 2 percent of the vote for a fourth place finish.
On Monday night, during Cruz’s s victory speech, he continued his assault on undocumented immigrants, an issue that impacts many Hispanics. He told his supporters that he is the candidate who has led the fight to stop amnesty, to secure the borders and to keep us safe.
Rubio who is from Florida, came in a close third behind billionaire Donald Trump and on the campaign trail, he too has called for a tougher approach on immigration reform.
Enrique “Rick” Torres, a Bridgeport Republican leader, had mixed feelings about the Rubio and Cruz showing in Iowa. “It is good for people to acknowledge the fact that Latinos are relevant, but I am supporting Donald Trump,” said Torres, who runs a market in the Black Rock section.
Torres said Cruz is “unelectable” and so it does not make sense for Republicans to run him, and he “doesn’t trust Rubio.”
“I care more about my country, about freedom, than for someone of my ilk,” said Torres, a conservative who last year ran unsuccessfully for mayor.
Other Connecticut residents of Cuban descent saw the strong showings of Cruz and Rubio in Iowa in a broader perspective.
“It is very interesting to have two popular candidates who are Latino … and that there is a good chance the Republican nominee could be a Latino,” said Chris Soto, a former Coast Guard officer who is now a member of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. The New London resident, who is a Democrat, said “to be honest” he had not focused on the candidates’ Cuban roots.
“It adds another flavor to the mix of candidates,” said Soto, who founded and runs Higher Edge, a program that helps Latino students in southeast Connecticut get to college.
Soto, who grew up in New Jersey’s “Little Havana,” West New York, said that Rubio brings some interesting elements to the presidential conversation, being slightly younger than Cruz and, of the Republican candidates, the more progressive.
The differences between Rubio and Cruz, said Soto, “speak to the fact you can’t put people in boxes.”
Rodriguez also placed the Iowa vote in a different framework. “On Rubio and Cruz, we see Hispanics becoming part of the American mainstream only one generation after their immigrant parents left Cuba,” he said.
One Cuban-American who is clear on his admiration for Rubio’s political accomplishments and is a strong supporter is state Sen. Art Linares, a Republican from Westbrook. He served as an intern for Rubio in Washington, D.C. and in June hosted a fund-raiser for the presidential candidate in Stamford.
Rubio and Linares share similar backgrounds of having parents who fled Cuba with virtually nothing and then working to provide their children with a better life.
Nationally, the Hispanic pedigree of Cruz and Rubio also do not seem to translate to support or votes. According to NBC.com, Cristobal Alex, executive director of Latino Victory Project, which seeks to put Latinos in elected office, called the performances of Cruz and Rubio in the Iowa caucus “bittersweet.” He said while “we want to celebrate that two Latinos have climbed to the top of the political ladder,” “they’ve kicked the ladder down behind them so that our community can’t climb up.”
“What they should have done is reached back to lift up our community,” he said. “Instead, they turned their back on us.”