Fabiola Santiago

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez has forgotten the meaning of the accent, tilde in her name | Opinion

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez has forgotten the meaning of the accent and tilde in her name.

The Miami-born and raised Cuban American — these days, the darling Latina face of the anti-immigrant right-wing in Florida — has forgotten the proud bipartisan, pro-immigrant history of Hispanics who preceded her in state government.

They worked on behalf of the Hispanic community — not against it.

They worked on behalf of immigrants seeking refuge — not against them.

They didn’t spin the racist political platform of white nationalists to make it more palatable to Hispanic voters but fought to open opportunities and celebrate heritage, multiculturalism, inclusion.

Surely, there always has been an ugly underbelly of racism in sectors of the Cuban community and a strain of arrogance and sense of supremacy over other groups, a perfect fit with Trumpian social engineering.

But, for the most part, both Republican and Democratic Cuban Americans who rose to political power — and were engaged in civic activism decades before Núñez came on the scene — didn’t stand on the same stage as white nationalists who spew the hateful “invasion” rhetoric used by a killer targeting Latinos in El Paso.

Republican Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, from Miami, and state Rep. Ana Maria Rodríguez, R-Doral, were special guests at a talk hosted by the Federated Republican Women of North Dade, which featured guest speaker Jonathan Hanen, who represented the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or “FAIR.”

Shame on her.

Her recent appearance, sharing the billing at a GOP event with a representative from the misnamed FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) — an organization that vows to “defeat immigration anarchy” in Florida — is reprehensible.

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FAIR is rated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center because its leaders have “ties to white supremacists and eugenicists and have made many racist statements.”

This same organization helped write the sanctuary ban bill passed by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature and signed into law by Núñez’s boss, Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis campaigned alongside Núñez on a Trump-like anti-immigrant platform and used dog-whistle language against his African-American opponent. How Núñez could share a ticket with a man whose campaign ad featured him reading to his kids a book on how to build a wall only speaks to her crude ambition to be the first Cuban-American woman elected to the post.

I admire ambition, but at the expense of your people, of your silence in the midst of human suffering, of children in long-term detention, of families torn apart by racists who can’t see past brown skin?

No, Núñez can’t, in a feeble attempt at a defense, feign ignorance of FAIR — and the lies the organization’s representatives spew about undocumented immigrants burdening the economy and increasing crime, both falsehoods that don’t stand up to research and data.

“I can’t control what individuals get invited to what events,” Núñez told a Miami Herald reporter. “Just the fact that I speak at it isn’t an endorsement of any group, FAIR or otherwise. I just went to speak to the Republican women of North Dade and that was the extent.”

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, third from left, Federated Republican Women of North Dade President Maricel Cobitz and state Rep. Ana Maria Rodríguez pose with attendees at the group’s Miami event Aug. 14. Federated Republican Women of North Dade

Let me guess: Núñez also doesn’t know that this hate group helped write the anti-sanctuary legislation that DeSantis said would be a priority during their campaign — and that is hurting Florida families, not only those made up of immigrants but of U.S. citizens as well?

Is she so detached from the real world that Núñez and her GOP cohorts don’t know that there are immigrants without status whose spouses are native U.S. citizens dating back generations? That there are U.S.-born kids growing up hearing all the hatred coming from President Trump and the GOP toward their family members?

If she doesn’t know, what is she doing in Tallahassee besides ceremoniously standing next to DeSantis’ wife?

What else is she doing besides plotting to get one of her Republican friends the presidency of Miami Dade College by turning, through DeSantis’ appointments to the Board of Trustees, the professional search into a GOP circus?

Núñez and the Federated Republican Women of North Dade, host of the event, knew exactly what they were doing when they invited FAIR under the guise of standing up for legal immigration and secure borders, code language for forgoing human rights, U.S. asylum law, and compassion.

As co-chair of Latinos for Trump in 2020, Núñez — who called Trump “a con man” in 2016 when she was trying to help Sen. Marco Rubio — has become the heir, point person, and defender of what used to be Anglo-only anti-immigrant positions.

Those of us with institutional memory remember those haters well in Miami-Dade County.

They’re the same haters who virulently fought against the use of Spanish in the 1980s and chanted “Cubans go home” at city hall meetings.

Now, here’s a Cuban American as apologist for what the Republican Party has become under President Trump, the bed upon which racists lie in comfort.

But I’m here to remind her of what we were — and some of us still are.

We were champions of the rights of immigrants to a fair shot at the American Dream — whether they were Mexican and Guatemalan migrant workers, daring Cuban stowaways, border-crossing Nicaraguans, or Colombians, Argentinians, and Venezuelans who overstayed visas.

Shame on her.

Leading Hispanics in the state — through service on boards like the Florida State Commission on Hispanic Affairs and through civic activism in groups like SALAD, the Spanish American League Against Discrimination — fought the racists.

They were ambassadors for their people, not sellouts to hate-mongering and enablers of the peddlers of white nationalist rhetoric.

They pushed against the same kind of people with whom Núñez and Cuban-American Trump supporters now stand.

Shame on them all.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”