Outside Miami's Freedom Tower this past Monday, it was difficult to hear Marco Rubio announce his aspirations to become president of the United States. In an overflow site where a Jumbotron was set up for those who didn't make it inside the tower, a feisty group of pro-immigration activists upset by Rubio’s lack of support for comprehensive immigration reform had their own message.
While the story of Rubio’s immigrant family in the U.S. echoed through the speakers, the activists shouted chants — “What about my family? Rubio’s dream is our nightmare!" — that rose well above the volume of the speech. They soon clashed with Rubio's supporters, who yelled back at the protestors, even hollering, "Get your papers!" at one woman.
The pro-immigration activists, from groups including United Families, United We Dream, Homestead ERA, Dreamer Moms, and other groups, gathered with banners and megaphones around 5 p.m. in front of the Freedom Tower. Then they moved to the overflow site, setting up shop directly in front of a crowd of Rubio supporters who’d come to watch the historic speech.
Catalina Santiago, an 18-year-old student at Homestead Senior High School, was born in Mexico but came to the U.S. at age 8. She says that after she graduates, she wants to contribute to the United States as a member of the workforce.
“Marco Rubio’s family had the American dream,” she said. “But what about us? We’re here too. He shouldn’t forget his community.”
Throughout the speech, the drowned-out Rubio supporters became visibly upset at the protesters. A number of tussles broke out as protesters and supporters clashed.
“Don’t listen to these idiots,” one female Rubio supporter yelled as she pointed to the protesting crowd. “Just look at them — they’re animals.”
Toward the end of the speech, the police intervened to calm the crowd.
Scott Linquist, executive chef of Wynwood Mexican eatery Coyo Taco, loudly demanded throughout the speech that activists be quiet. Linquist, who identifies as a political independent, said he doesn’t know yet if he’ll vote for Rubio. He employs mostly immigrants in his restaurant because “Americans don’t want to do the hard work,” and he supports immigration reform.
“I agree with their message,” he said of the activists. “My problem was that they were annoying and disrespectful. That sort of disrespect is unconscionable.”
Inside the Freedom Tower, the chaos in the parking lot was barely visible through the tower's south-facing windows, and the protesters seemed a world away from Rubio's slick coronation as a presidential contender.
It was a different scene inside the Freedom Tower.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
A crowd waving cell phones and signs erupted when Rubio took the stage after 6 p.m. In a speech light on particulars, Rubio repeated his family's immigrant narrative — parents who fled Castro to make it as a bartender and a maid in Miami, who emphasized how the Land of Opportunity could make his own life different.
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“He used to tell me all the time: En este país, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos,” Rubio said of his father. "That means, 'In this country, you will achieve all the things we never could.'"
(Of course, Rubio, as usual, left out the part about his parents returning to Castro's Cuba for a time before coming back to Miami for good.)
He also took a hard jab at Hillary Clinton by saying, "Yesterday a leader from yesterday began a campaign by promising to take us back to yesterday. Yesterday is over."