For son of immigrants, Lessons from Cuba
David Rodriguez, 31, danced to the Latin music playing as a backdrop to the campaign workers shouting over bullhorns. He was wearing plaid cargo shorts, a black T-shirt and a matching baseball cap. He twirled and laughed in the hot sun. Sweat streamed down his face.
Rodriguez is a Cuban- American. He was at the West Kendall Regional Library on Election Day 2012 waiting to vote. His parents arrived in Miami shortly after Fidel Castro took over Cuba. He was born in Miami, graduated from Florida International University and now teaches in a school in Miami. Rodriguez said he understood the importance of participating in politics, of having a voice. “My parents went through a lot in Cuba,” he said. “They didn’t have a voice. But here, it’s different. When I was young, I didn’t understand. Now, I do.”
Years ago, as a first-time voter, Rodriguez said, he was free-spirited. He registered as a Democrat. His parents had always voted Republican, he said, and after “living his life” and “having his crazy years,” his views slowly changed. Now, he is a Republican.
Rodriguez said his parents saw the policies of the Democratic party’s as closely related to socialism. And they reminded them of policies in Cuba that led them to leave the island for Miami.
Rodriguez said he voted for Gov. Mitt Romney because he thought that President Obama had led the country in the wrong direction. “Nothing that Obama has done is working,” Rodriguez said. “Look at our economy. We need someone that knows how to get the U.S. back on track, and Romney is the better choice.”
At the library that afternoon, campaign workers for the Democratic and Republican Parties handed out out free food and water. In the heat some people fanned themselves with floppy sample ballots. There was cheese pizza, empanadas and lots of Cuban treats – guava and cheese filled pastries, little oblong, deep-fried ham croquettes and mini ham and cheese sandwiches.
The salsa music was loud and the campaign workers added to the clamor, jousting over bull horns. Obama advocates shouted, “We must move forward with our current president. He likes Big Bird. He remembers the 47 percent.” The Romney people had their own story. “Romney says we should vote for love of country,” the yelled. “Obama says to vote for revenge. Choose wisely. The deficit is too high. The economy is no good. ”
And this Republican gem: “Nobama no more.”
Rodriguez said he was concerned about the future of America. He said he did not believe that it was as powerful and prosperous a country as it had once been. He said that as a public school teacher he understood the importance of making himself heard on political matters. “My parents went through a lot and I see that,” Rodriguez said. “This country needs change.”
As the dancing and shouting continued, Jose Garcia lit up a cigarette and walked under a tree for some fresh air. He smiled as he looked around the library and saw the vast number of Latinos waiting to cast ballots. He was wearing a black and white striped collared polo and washed-out black Dockers. Stuck to his shirt was a blue sticker that said “Obama Biden 2012.”
Garcia, 53, is a Peruvian immigrant who said he had been working in support of Obama since 2008. When he wasn’t on a cigarette break, he was handing out Obama stickers and chatting with people waiting to vote. “I am Hispanic but I am a Democrat,” Garcia said. “I know what it is to have nothing. I know what it is to struggle. Mitt Romney doesn’t understand that. Mitt Romney doesn’t understand me.”
Garcia had been at the library during the early voting period as well. He said he had stayed for more than 12 hours a day. He was having another long day.
He threw his cigarette on the parking lot pavement and walked back to the table where he joined his friends in the “Obama for president” chants. He took off his navy blue baseball cap and wiped the sweat off his forehead and listened to the music. Five dancers were getting ready to put on a show and a parade was about to begin. Garcia reminisced about his years as a child in Peru. He said he was glad to be living in America, a country where he was able to support whoever he wanted without fear of repercussions.
“Politics has always interested me,” Garcia said. “Many Latinos do not live in a country where Democrary is practiced. When they come to the United States, they finally have that privilege. It is a blessing.”
Garcia said he did not understand why many Cubans believed the Democratic Party was a socialist party. He said he hoped that in the years to come, many would change their views. Second and third generation Cuban-Americans, he said, had changed the dynamic of the Cuban vote in America. “I am very moved when I see the diverse Hispanic community coming out to vote, especially the young people,” Garcia said. “When it all comes down to it, I don’t care if people are Republican or Democrat. I just care that they vote. I want them to remember that here, in the United States of America, their voice can make a difference.”