By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Honorable Marco Rubio
I doubt you remember me, considering all the hands you’ve shaken between now and the day we met. But I never forgot our first meeting — despite the fact that at the time, you were just beginning your phenomenal political ascent.
You were the Majority Whip of the Florida House of Representatives — the House-Speaker-in-Waiting — but already with a well-deserved reputation for being able to move men with words. And you didn’t disappoint that day.
But that’s not why I remembered it. I had already been informed of your eloquence and passion.
No. What touched me profoundly was seeing the framed portrait of writer, intellectual and Cuban patriot José Martí hanging in a place of prominence in your office.
You see, I grew up on Martí quotes. My father once recited Martí — nonstop, by heart — all the way from Orlando to Tampa. I saw that portrait in your office and felt as if we were brothers.
One of the stories that my father told me on our drive to Ybor City was about how a pair of Spanish sympathizers once tried to poison Martí, who was the heart, soul and chief fundraiser for the Cuban revolution against Spain.
But being the ever-astute observer of human nature, Martí picked up on their nefarious intentions. However, rather than have the men killed, as some supporters wanted, Martí embraced them as Cuban brothers and said they were simply misguided. The men went on to become among his most loyal defenders and fought against Spain.
Martí understood that true power comes not from fear or intimidation but, rather, from things such as redemption, grace and persuasion.
I hope you take not just the portrait of Martí to your new office as U.S. Senator but his words and spirit as well.
I hope that one day during this term you wonder how the man who said, “We light the oven so that everyone may bake bread in it,” would feel about the national poverty rate going from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 14.3 in 2009 or about 10 percent of Florida families living below the poverty level.
Martí wrote: “It is the duty of man to raise man.” What would he have written about our state being ranked 49th when it comes to uninsured children? Try to keep that “49th” figure in mind when the repeal of health care reform comes up. And, by the way, please try to refrain from parroting the “Obamacare” monicker. It sounds juvenile and trivial. Beneath the level of discourse that such a serious issue deserves. You’re better than that.
In Cuba, Martí was often simply called The Apostle, as in “The Apostle of Freedom.” Imagine his reaction to the ever-increasing intrusion into our lives by the Department of Homeland Security.
I imagine a man who wrote, “It is a sin not to do what one is capable of doing,” would be left speechless at the notion that American students don’t rank in the top 10 in reading, math or science among 65 industrialized countries. And Florida’s high school graduation rate is 45th in our country.
Marco, today you are being sworn in as a United States Senator. You owe that position to many who worked hard and believed in you. Folks in the tea party. Self-described revolutionaries. It will be tempting to genuflect to them. And things being the way they are these days, not many people would blame you.
But remember Martí’s words about radicals: “He who does not see things in their depth should not call himself a radical.”
Congratulations on all that you have achieved. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. May you have strength of spirit, clarity of mind, purpose of vision. And find a good place in D.C. for cafecitos and medianoches.
And always remember …
“Freedom is the right to speak without hypocrisy.”
Even to your own party.
Ralph De La Cruz