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Dad was Born in Mexico

By September 17, 2012 No Comments
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“Dad was born in Mexico.”

It’s been a few weeks, but that line, from Mitt Romney’s speech at last month’s Republican Convention, made me sit up and take notice like I do every morning after the third push of the snooze button.  Nothing is said by accident in a major candidate’s convention speech and I wondered why Mitt told us that curious fact about his father George.

Consider this: according to a Pew Research Center study, 50,000 Hispanic young people reach voting age in the United States every month.  That is a staggering statistic and the sleeping giant in American politics.  The majority is on its way to becoming the minority.

“Dad was born in Mexico.” 

I believe I’ve put my finger on why Mitt told us that, but you may also wonder why Dad was born in Mexico in the first place.  The answer is Mormonism, not Mexican heritage.  George Romney’s grandparents were polygamists who fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution in the United States.  I don’t think that should have any bearing on the current presidential election, but I find the existence of Mormon colonies in Mexico a fascinating and little-known piece of American religious and cultural history.  The whole episode raises very relevant questions about the boundaries of tolerance and religious freedom, offshoots of which play out every day in our world.

“Dad was born in Mexico.”

I’m old enough to remember when Dad ran for President in 1968.  The question of whether or not George Romney was constitutionally eligible to be President was never legally resolved.  (There is irony there given the suspicion about where Barack Obama was born.) George Romney’s campaign self-destructed after he said he had been “brainwashed” about the Vietnam War, causing him to famously quip, “My campaign was like a mini-skirt, short and revealing.”

Dad originally rose to prominence as leader of the upstart car company American Motors (who remembers the Gremlin, Pacer, or Rambler?  Can I get a shout out for the Javelin?).  He bet on small cars in a big car world. Later he became Governor of Michigan.  After his unsuccessful run for the presidency, he was appointed to Richard Nixon’s cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a position he eventually quit after concluding Nixon didn’t care about housing or urban development.  Romney the father got in trouble for his candid truth-telling, and there is reason to believe Romney the son has learned great lessons from that. 

But let me tell you about me and George. When I was six years old or so I was staying with my grandparents in Lansing and my grandmother said we had to go pick up my grandfather (who was employed by the State of Michigan) at the airport.  We didn’t go to the commercial part of the airport but to the area where private planes landed, and we were allowed to walk right up to the side of the plane on the runway.  The door opened and the men inside invited me to climb in.  I wound up sitting on the lap of my grandfather’s boss, George Romney, and was so impressed by the episode I later told my parents I had met “Government Romney.”  I also grew up knowing I was somehow related to Government Romney.  On the other side of my family, my grandmother’s cousin married George Romney’s cousin, which, my grandmother once said, is how the Latter Day Saints got into our family.  Not that the rest of us were affected religiously, but my cousin is named after George Romney’s cousin’s wife.

All of this ran through my head within moments of Mitt saying, “Dad was born in Mexico,” and now, having revealed my close ties and familial relations to the Republican standard bearer, all I can say is that if Cousin Mitt takes the prize this November I’ll be waiting for a couple of friends and family tickets to an inaugural ball.  I know you think that sounds ridiculous, but the truth is that if somehow George had pulled off the miraculous in 1968 members of my family really would have been invited to an inaugural ball or two — and the rest of us would have had a candid moderate Republican president opposed to the Vietnam War and in favor of urban development.  On top of that, we all would have been spared the agony of Watergate. What a difference an election makes.

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal. 

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