Mitt Romney’s father, former Michigan governor George Romney was born in Mexico. That’s shocking right? Even though the story has apparently been out there for months, I never heard it. What is even more shocking is that the admission came from the virulently anti-illegal immigration presidential candidate himself. Perhaps in an effort to beat to the punch an investigative report by the excellent Mike Taibbi on Brian Williams’ “30 Rock” program Monday night, on Sunday afternoon Mitt Romney suddenly mentioned Latino immigrants in a context other than ‘Round them up. Sort them out. And send the illegal ones back where they came from. He admitted in passing that his dad was born there.
Taibbi traveled to what remains of the ancestral home of the Romney’s of Mexico, Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan, two Mormon settlements just 175 miles south of the U.S. border. There Taibbi spoke with Leighton Romney, the candidate’s second cousin and recounted the family’s saga of South of the Rio Grande.
Like many things 19th Century Mormon, the story is funky. So let me qualify it by saying I have never met a 21st Century Mormon I didn’t like. Further, my impression is that those who practice the religion these days are members of the most impressive religious sect in the country. The hilarious Broadway smash ‘Book of Mormon’ aside, (and whatever credo floats your personal theological boat,) seldom has the world seen a group that so effectively teaches adherents to be the best they can be by doing the best they can for others, as well as themselves.
While I agree broadly with Jon Huntsman and Thomas Jefferson that religion should have no official role in government, this voter would view a candidate’s Mormonism as neither deal maker nor deal breaker, but a net positive.
Now to the story of the Romney exodus, as detailed by Taibbi and a July 2011 report in the Washington Post.
In 1884, 138 years ago, the candidate’s great grandfather Miles Parker Romney and about 40 other relatives fled to Mexico from Utah. Great-Grandpa Miles had four wives and they were running from anti-polygamy laws passed just two years earlier making multiple marriages a felony. Miles would marry his 5th wife in 1890 in Mexico. In that regard Miles lagged far behind his father, Mitt’s great, great, grandfather who had 12 wives, according to those reports.
So when and why did the family return to the United States?
In 1912, fleeing the chaos of the Pancho Villa chapter of the Mexican Revolution, Miles son, Mitt Romney’s grandfather Gaskell Romney, born in Mexico, led his family to their new home in Michigan. Gaskell’s family entourage included his son George Romney, also born in Mexico, who later became a hugely successful auto executive and one of the best politicians America ever had. If George’s son Mitt wins the White House and turns out like his daddy we will all be lucky.
So that’s the background and what makes it extraordinary is how no one brought it up in any big way before this Taibbi story went viral. In hundreds of campaign appearances in 2007-2008 and 2011-2012, as far as I can find, Romney never mentioned that his wonderful father was born in Mexico.
Why is it extraordinary?
Because Mexican Mitt Romney has consistently been rigidly insensitive to the plight of undocumented immigrants from his padre and abuelo’s native land. Instead, he has unfailingly been among the candidates who have chosen harsh rhetoric over reasoned debate when it comes to immigration reform and issues like the ‘Dream Act’.
Still, I grant him Amnesty.
Sometimes it takes people, Mormon and non-Mormon a long time to realize they are being disrespectful of the plight of others.
On Monday, at the Nashua, New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, Mitt Romney finally reached out to Latino voters, saying, “Take a group like Latino-Americans. If I can convince more Latino-Americans to vote Republican, I’ll be doing pretty well pretty broadly.”
Advice to the now almost certain presidential nominee: even though your cousin Meredith was reportedly kidnapped and later successfully ransomed in Mexico, (this family certainly has a colorful history south of the border!) listen to your cousin Leighton. The vast majority of the Mexican people are not boogey men. As Leighton told reporter Taibbi, “We certainly have a love for both countries. I can sing both national anthems and tear up at both of them. I think that having two countries that you love and two countries that you can serve or be a beneficiary of their service is a great thing.”
Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.