As soon as Cruz returned to Austin, he contacted the various groups before which he had lectured to ask them for a second audience. Now he talked about the evils of Communism, about the dangers of Castro’s regime, about the betrayal Castro had inflicted upon the Cuban people. Cruz’s sister soon became involved in an anti-Castro rebellion that developed in the Escambray mountains over the course of 1960, which was brutally repressed by Castro forces. It was the failure of that rebellion that led the Eisenhower administration to focus on plans for a rebel invasion. Cruz’s sister was forced to flee Cuba.
By this point, the dreaded State Security (patterned and named after the East German Stasi) had flagged the Cruz family as potential enemies of the Revolution. Rafael’s father (Ted’s grandfather) had been an RCA salesman before the Revolution. Now he was forced to learn to fish in order to have food on the table. By law, he was required to sell his entire catch to the government, but like many Cubans, he had to keep enough to survive, which of course was a crime. Until 1966, Ted Cruz’s grandparents endured the constant privations of Castro’s Cuba, along with the constant fear of arrest, until finally they were allowed to leave. At the airport, the authorities informed the elderly couple that they were not allowed to take suitcases with them. They were allowed to leave with only the clothes they were wearing.
That last injury, which had no other purpose than to demonstrate the impunity with which the Castro regime abuses its people, is what separates Cuban exiles from everyone else. Every single Cuban-exile family has stories like that — stories of senseless abuse, and humiliations inflicted for their own sake. All of our families have had a personal taste of Castro’s most defining personality trait, which — as only Cubans know — is sadism.
Cubans here and there have had to endure the calamities of the Revolution alone. Conservatives in America reached out to us and supported us, and our parents found solace in their enmity to Communism. But they weren’t really with us either, because they had no idea how awful Fidel Castro really was. It simply isn’t within the comprehension of any American that someone could actually choose to be as evil as Castro. The sheer depravity of his crimes against the Cuban people helped to keep the depredations of his rule a secret hiding in plain sight, where only other Cubans could see them.
It’s no surprise that liberal papers such as the Dallas Morning News now think they’re in some position to judge which families are truly exiles and which aren’t. It was liberal papers — particularly the New York Times — that originally built Castro up into an international hero and persisted in romanticizing him long after he offered Cuba’s young men to the Kremlin as a Third World army. It was liberal papers that blamed the U.S. embargo for the economic catastrophe into which Castro plunged Cuba. It was liberal newspapers that helped to occlude the unspeakable daily abuses of Castro’s regime beneath the fantasy of a romantic nationalist who was bravely willing to stand up to imperialism.
“There is power,” the Dallas Morning News tells us, “in linking your past and your future to this unending struggle [against Fidel]. But because the fathers of both these men [Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio] migrated several years before the revolution, as is now clear, the link is at best a stretch. In the case of Cruz, the situation is even more complicated because his father originally supported Castro.” What utter nonsense. It would be offensive if the editors actually had any idea what they were talking about. No Cuban exile would for a second say that the Rubio and Cruz families were any less exile than anyone else. All of our families lost their homeland. That some were already here when it happened is irrelevant — nobody meant to forsake Cuba by coming here. We lost Cuba because Castro took it from us, from all of us, born and unborn, both here and back there.
Among Cuban-Americans, having been an early supporter of Castro in no way diminishes your anti-Communist credentials. On the contrary, it is the typical story for almost every family. Virtually all of our families opposed the dictatorship of Batista. Virtually all of our families believed Castro’s rhetoric of democracy and liberty. The first thing everyone hated about him was his evident relish in betraying his most ardent supporters. That was the first of many very personal reasons he would give us to hate him, reasons that only we can really understand.
What makes us exiles is not merely the fact that our families can’t go back to Cuba. It is that Castro wantonly ruined the land that our families grew up in, the land of our forefathers, and now that land exists only in the fading black-and-white pictures and memories of the happy childhoods of a generation that is dying now. Compared with that, what possible difference could it make that our grandparents arrived one year and not another? Senator Rubio didn’t know exactly what year his father first got here because it doesn’t matter.
Still, I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised by the Dallas Morning News’s display of presumptuousness and ignorance. The editors are decent people, and if they knew even 5 percent of what I know about the Revolution and its exiles, I’m sure they would be deeply ashamed of what they’ve written. But they don’t and they never will — Castro has already seen to that.
— Mario Loyola is a frequent contributor to National Review.