While campaigning in the Bronx, where Spanish-language signs don't raise an eyebrow, and where in some neighborhoods that language is used more commonly than English, Ted Cruz was confronted about his scant command of his father’s native tongue.
A reporter for the Spanish-language media giant Univision asked Cruz, who was in the city campaigning two weeks before New York holds it primary, what he would say to the viewers of the television network, according to various reports.
“In particular,” the reporter continued his question, which was in Spanish, “because the great majority says you’re against them, or that you’re going to hurt them.”
Cruz, whose father left Cuba as a young man, and whose mother is of Irish descent, acknowledged the point of the reporter’s question and began to respond: “Look, our community, the Hispanic community–”
“En español?” the reporter interrupted.
In Spanish, Cruz said: “I understand almost everything in Spanish, but I can’t speak as well as I’d like.”
“I have the problem of the second-generation immigrant," Cruz said, adding: "To be honest, what I really spoke at home was Spanglish."
It’s the kind of question that Cruz is accustomed to, prompting some in the media to ask how Hispanic he really is.
In a GOP debate earlier this year, Cruz mentioned a Rubio interview on Univision and Rubio dismissively wondered aloud how Cruz understood the program, saying sarcastically: "I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision — he doesn't speak Spanish."
But the Texas senator, probably for one of the first times in his campaign, suddenly started speaking Spanish — a broken and halting Spanish, but Spanish nonetheless.
“Marco, if you want, say it right now, say it now, in Spanish,” he stammered back in Spanish.
In 2012, Cruz told Fox News that his Spanish is “lousy” and wasn’t willing to do political debates in the native tongue of his Cuban father.
Democratic rising star twins Julian and Joaquin Castro, embraced by many Latino political power brokers, speak little Spanish, and have found themselves put on the defensive because of it.
“We understand some Spanish,” Julian Castro, who is the U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, said in an NBC interview last year. “But we’re not fluent in it right now.”
“At the same time, certainly, whether somebody is fluent in Spanish or not does not define whether he or she is Latino. There are many more things involved in that…I’m very proud of my heritage.”
His brother, Joaquin, is a congressman.
They were raised by a single mother, Rosie Castro, who taught herself to read and write Spanish, but spoke English at home.