The name on his birth certificate is Rafael Edward Cruz, born in 1970. His father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz, was born in Matanzas, Cuba and his mother, Eleanor Elizabeth Wilson, is a native of Wilmington, Delaware.
Theoretically then, Ted Cruz, the winner of the Iowa caucuses for the Republican Party, should be considered part Latino or just Latino.
Why then, is there not a big headline in every newspaper proclaiming the victory of the first Latino candidate in the Iowa caucuses? Where are the statements from national Latino organizations, declaring Cruz’s victory for the first time in the history of the country, on those famous assemblies? Or Marco Rubio‘s third place, for that matter?
Professors and analysts agree, along with Latinos nationwide surveyed by social media for this story, that this answer is complex and highly depends on the meaning that each individual gives to the “Latino” identifier.
For both Cruz and Rubio, it has to do less with their parents’ nationality and more with their ideas, how they identify or present themselves and their political stance towards important issues for the Latino community in the United States .
To Identify Themselves as Latino or Not
Between Cruz and Rubio, nevertheless, there are several remarkable differences. Cruz did not identify himself as the son of immigrants or Latino, although sometimes he has referred to himself as “the son of a Cuban refugee who escaped from oppression” (which many imagine is the oppression of Fidel Castro‘s regime when, in fact, his father escaped at the time of the dictator Fulgencio Batista and before Castro.) We have yet to hear Cruz speak Spanish in public and in his last Monday night speech he mainly identified himself as “Christian.”
“Cruz does not identify as Latino. Rubio is much better at talking openly about his history as the son of immigrants and speaking Spanish. In fact, in his last Monday speeches we could see this difference again”, said Cristina Bejarano, political expert at the University of Kansas.
Part of the answer lies in his change of name. Rafael Cruz was known by the name of “Felito”, which is short for Rafael or Rafaelito, throughout his childhood, and until he was 13 years old. The nickname is very common in Cuba.
But, as Cruz narrated in his autobiography, the name rhymed with “the names of the chips, Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos and Tostitos” so his classmates used to make fun of him a lot. His father Rafael was not happy when he changed his name to Ted.
“He saw it as a rejection of our heritage, which was not my intention.”
Felito could have been replaced by Rafael, but nevertheless, it became Ted, that comes from his middle name Edward.
In part, Cruz’s refusal to identify himself more with his “Latino” side makes him seem arrogant and distant from the imaginary Latino even though “Latinos” in the United States come from many countries, are from different races and social levels.
How Do We Define a Latino?
“Everything depends on the definition you have of being Latino. For me, the Latino political space is reserved for people who recognize the common struggles of people from Latin American in the United States, whether they be from Mexico, South or Central America or from the Carribean. Even if you’re a Puerto Rican in New York or Chicano-Venezuelan in Los Angeles, our struggle is similar. If you call yourself Latino, you must act as such,” said Francisco Barbosa, history professor at Metro State University in Denver, Colorado.
Barbosa said the term “Latino,” in its modern version, was invented in the United States and does not really exist in Latin America. “But, under my definition, Ted Cruz is not a Latino,” he added.
Cruz has hurt the sensibilities of most politically active Latinos in the United States by taking extreme positions on immigration and surrounding himself with individuals deemed hostile towards immigrants, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Congressman Steve King of Iowa, one of the most opposed on immigration in the House of Representatives. Most Latino Republicans have close ranks behind other candidates like Jeb Bush or even Marco Rubio.
“Economy, health, and immigration, are subjects that are constantly the most important among Latinos in the United States. In this sense, Senator Cruz has opposed matters that most Latinos considered important, while distancing himself from his cultural identity as a Latino,” said Christian Ramirez, a pro immigrant activist from Southern California.
Other Latinos are celebrating Rubio’s progress while deploring Cruz’s attitude.
Alex Veras, a Republican activist from Massachusetts supports the Senator from Florida, but he does not have a liking for Cruz.
“This man does not have a bit of affection for the Latino people,” Veras said. “Rubio talks hard now because he is in a primary, but his record as a Senator is very different.” For Ramirez, however, Rubio is not much politically different from Cruz while embracing his Latino culture. “That makes Rubio a major contender for the presidency.”
Empathy for Latinos
Being Latino, then, is more than having an ethnic or national origin. As for Cruz, he has not worked to create links or even recognize the struggle of immigrants or other Latinos and, on the contrary, seems to reject them. This takes him away from the Latino identification, said Alejandro José Gradilla, a professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Fullerton.
“I think most of the people who are expressing their opinion about this agree on one thing: they want someone who recognizes the community. He does not need to wear a shirt with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but must at least recognize that this community exists and has a certain identity and ideas,” said Gradillas.
Some accuse Cruz and Rubio of not being “true Latinos” based on the fact of being Cuban and not Mexican, or white instead of mestizos. This angers other Latinos; particularly Cubans who, in the past, have felt unfairly attacked by the Latin American left and called “worms”, regardless of their true political views or their positions on immigration.
“This is an old vision of what it means to be Cuban, but many Cubans are no longer like that,” said Gradillas.
But, in the case of Rafael Edward Cruz, old stereotypes seem to come to come to life and gain power within U.S. politics.