Univision’s rules for its Florida senatorial debate on September 17 were clear: The candidates were forbidden to use Spanish. Instead, they were to answer questions in English and have their words translated for Univision’s television audience of Spanish speakers. It was only fair, since two of the three men on stage didn’t know the language. Yet both Democratic congressman Kendrick Meek and Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist, the current governor, violated the directive with well-rehearsed efforts to slip in a few words of Spanish. Deep down, they seemed to want to say, we’re just brothers from another barrio.
Only Marco Rubio, the Republican nominee, resisted the temptation — and he was the reason for the rule. As the Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio grew up speaking Spanish with his parents and English with his friends. “I’m not sure I have a first language,” he says in an interview. “They’re both my first language.”