New York governor Andrew Cuomo raised eyebrows last week when he called himself “undocumented,” even though he was born and raised in New York.
“Unless you are a Navajo or an Apache or a Comanche or a Native American you too are an immigrant,” Cuomo said last Wednesday at a 32BJ union rally. “I am a born and raised New Yorker. Born in Hollis, Queens. Raised by poor immigrants from South Jamaica [Queens],” he added, glossing over the fact that both his parents were born in New York.
The next day, at a bill-signing ceremony, Cuomo continued in the same vein:
I’m an Italian-American, I came from poor Italian-Americans who came here. You know what they called Italian-Americans back in the day? They called them wops. You know what wop stood for? Without papers. I’m undocumented. You want to deport an undocumented person, start with me, because I’m an undocumented person.
(Cuomo’s explanation of the slur’s origins is in doubt. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary pinpoints the slur’s roots in the Italian word “guappo,” meaning “street tough” or “thug.”)
Immigrant-advocacy groups quickly rejected the governor’s claim of solidarity.
“His parents weren’t immigrants, his family wasn’t poor, & he has no idea what it’s like to [be] undocumented,” said Antonio Alarcon of Make the Road Action, New York’s largest immigrant-rights group. “Governor Cuomo’s recent pattern of falsehoods and exaggerations about his life story is a sad and disturbing turn of events for New York. It’s disturbing because it serves to diminish and undermine the very real struggles of millions of New Yorkers.”
Cuomo, a self-proclaimed “middle-class guy,” was born to former governor of New York Mario Cuomo, who was a successful lawyer before he entered politics. Cuomo’s salary as governor is currently $179,000, and he lives in a home worth more than a million dollars. As he gears up for a tough primary against actress Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo has shifted to the left on several issues, including immigration, in an effort to appeal to the progressive base.