Much unsaid as Romney cites his tie to Mexico
By Michael Kranish
Globe Staff January 31, 2012
MIAMI – Mitt Romney, who rarely discusses his ancestry, has repeated a striking comment in Florida in recent days to soften his rhetoric about immigration and woo the crucial Hispanic voting bloc.
“My dad was born in Mexico,’’ Romney says at many campaign stops, as he expresses empathy and solidarity with immigrant families. It follows sharp rhetoric in places such as Iowa, where he decried what he called efforts to provide “amnesty’’ to the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants.
The story of Romney’s father, George, is one that many Cuban-Americans can relate to in this city of immigrants: A revolution sweeps through the homeland, prompting an exodus of people who, in many cases, left behind everything to come to the United States. But in this case, George Romney’s country of birth was Mexico, not Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
The issue of immigration is especially sensitive in Florida, where Hispanics make up 11 percent of the Republican primary electorate, and could provide the key to victory in today’s primary. Romney’s chief challenger, Newt Gingrich, has called Romney anti-immigrant; Romney said the charge was repulsive.
It is in this context that Romney has mentioned that he is the child of a born-in-Mexico father. But he usually ends the story there, failing to explain the circumstances or, even more strikingly, why it might be relevant to those he is trying to win over.
Were he to tell the rest of the story, it doubtless would resonate with many here: George Romney was born in Mexico and was 5 years old when a revolution forced his family members in 1912 to flee their Mormon colony and seek refuge in the United States. The Mormon exiles lost their homes, farms, and most of their belongings, were welcomed by the United States, and benefited from a $100,000 refugee fund established by Congress.
But there are other elements to the Romney story that may explain why he doesn’t tell the full tale on the campaign trail. The reason that George was born in Mexico is that his grandfather – Mitt’s great-grandfather – had taken refuge there in order to escape US laws against polygamy. It was this family patriarch, Miles Park Romney, who established the colony and lived there with four wives.
Mitt Romney has decried what he has called the “awful’’ practice of polygamy and has never visited the colony, even though several dozen of his cousins continue to live there.
Romney’s new emphasis on his father’s roots drew the attention yesterday of a host on “Fox and Friends,’’ who said during an interview with Romney that it was the first time he had heard the former Massachusetts governor discuss that aspect of his ancestry.
Asked whether the discussion was “helping you with the Latino community in Florida,’’ Romney responded, “You know, I wish I could claim that I’m Hispanic and that would help me in the Latino community here in Florida and around the country, but my dad was born of American parents living in Mexico. So he was Anglo at the time and yet, I’m very proud of the fact that he came to this country at a critical time, was helped to get on his feet by folks in this country.’’Continued…