Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
From my late teens until my mid-20s, I was a registered Republican. But at the age of 29, I found myself waiting in line for hours to support President Barack Obama for a second term. Fast-forward to this election year, and I can honestly say I’d vote for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio if he became the GOP nominee. Why you ask? First, you need to take a glance at my history of political affiliations.
Though I’m happily unaffiliated with either party at this point, I was raised in a conservative Cuban Catholic household. My mother, a United States citizen for 40 years, abhors politics, and has never voted. But my father and I usually make it to the polling location early in the morning, often beating each other there by mere minutes.
My parents were among the many exiles that left Cuba in the '60s. From them I learned about the lack of political and press freedoms and other forms of oppression. Their life stories helped me shape my opinions about U.S. policy toward Cuba. While I now support diplomatic relations with the island (ultimately, I’m more concerned with helping young Cubans secure many of the freedoms Americans take for granted), I’ll always be critical and fervently against the current regime still in power in my parents’ homeland.
During my undergraduate years at Rutgers University, when most students were ardent supporters of then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry — the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 — I proudly showcased my “Viva Bush” pins and posters. Those political mementos, along with photos of family and friends and large American and Cuban flags, made my room look like a candidate’s campaign headquarters.
However, in the past half decade, I’ve gravitated to the
center left on social issues like immigration, marriage equality, and gun
control. But I’m still an economic conservative who generally doesn’t support
That brings us back to the question: Why Rubio?
Before I get into the nuances of his policy positions and what I agree or disagree with, it boils down to a simple point: His personal history resonates with me.
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I tear up every time Rubio mentions his family’s humble beginnings: His father worked as a bartender and his mother was a hotel maid.
In many ways, Rubio’s story mirrors my own and the narrative of many Cuban-Americans. My grandmother worked in an embroidery factory in Union City, New Jersey, when she came from Cuba. My mother went to Mercy College while initially working as a Head Start teacher. My father was a proud small business owner; he had a shoe store on Bergenline Avenue, the main thoroughfare in town.
In fact, I support Rubio’s position to cut taxes for small
businesses. Like him, I believe the proposal would help business owners grow
and hire more employees. In a co-authored
for The Wall Street Journal, Rubio
calls for eliminating double taxation to establish parity among small and large
I’m also in favor of Rubio’s positions on higher education. One of the biggest hurdles for first-generation college students like me was understanding student debt and loan repayment after I earned my degree. Rubio calls for easily accessible information on higher education “to help students and families make well-informed decisions.”
Rubio is critical of the fact that colleges continue to raise tuition because students will continue to apply for federal loans, which could lead to decades of debt. As someone who had thousands of dollars of debt to pay off, I like that he wants to hold institutions of higher education accountable but also help students make better decisions about the loans they take out. And I’m in favor of a simplified universal repayment method for federal student loans.
While there are some issues where I don’t agree with Rubio,
like his more conservative shift on immigration (he supported a comprehensive bipartisan
immigration bill that the Senate passed in 2013, but now appears to be backpedaling),
I think he’s the best candidate the Republican Party has to offer because of his
willingness to compromise and his bipartisan track record.
But on a deeper level, I support Rubio because he’s the embodiment of the American dream. It makes me proud to see someone with a similar history work hard and become a serious contender for president.