NEW YORK — Sen. Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, came to a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in the Bronx and was asked — in Spanish — how he could come to such a community, where so many were born abroad, while supporting hard-line immigration proposals.
Cruz, who has said his Spanish is "lousy," nodded and answered the question — in English.
"Our community, the Hispanic community is —" Cruz began, but the Univision reporter who asked him the question interrupted him and requested that he answer in Spanish.
Cruz then responded, in Spanish, that he can understand the language better than he can speak it.
"I have the problem of a second-generation immigrant. I learned Spanish the same time I learned English. I mean, when I was a little kid, mis abuelos, ellos no habla ingles," Cruz said.
"But to be honest, what I really spoke at home was Spanglish. And as you know in our community, that’s true with just about everyone, and certainly with their kids," Cruz said.
Cruz rarely speaks Spanish on the campaign trail, and if he does, it is typically only a few basic words or phrases lobbed at reporters who first say something to him in Spanish. At a Republican debate in February, he shouted at Marco Rubio in Spanish after Rubio said Cruz can't speak the language.
"I heard the question. I understood the question," Cruz said. "I will say this. In the Hispanic community, we have shared values in our community. The values that resonate in our community are faith, family, patriotism."
Cruz came to a Dominican-Chinese restaurant here in the Bronx, where the No. 6 subway train rumbled by outside on elevated tracks, to meet with local officials and faith leaders. The group huddled in a room in the back of the restaurant, where signs boasted its specialties: broiled lobster and the subway #6 cocktail (rum, gin, vodka, tequila, triple sec, sweet and sour mix and Coke).
The meeting was briefly interrupted by a protester who screamed as he was being escorted out of the restaurant by police: "Ted Cruz has no business being in the Bronx. This is an immigrant community."
Cruz touted his "landslide" victory in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday night. The Texas Republican decried so-called "New York values" this year, yet has twice found himself in New York City over the past two months. Cruz, who said in a Republican debate that New York values are socially liberal and pro-abortion and same-sex marriage as a way to needle Manhattan businessman Donald Trump, said that some people he met with agree with his phrasing.
"And one of those pastors, Sen. Ruben Diaz, who was a Democratic state senator who hosted the gathering, Sen. Diaz said I know exactly what you mean by New York values. We fight them every day in our community. We fight them," Cruz said. He then took aim at politicians who have become familiar foils for him here — and at Trump.
"The people of New York know exactly what those values are. They’re the values of liberal Democratic politicians, like Andrew Cuomo, like Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, like Charlie Rangel, all of whom Donald Trump has supported," Cruz said. "If you want to know what liberal democratic values are, follow Donald Trump’s checkbook."
Cruz also blasted Mayor Bill de Blasio, with whom he has tangled over the New York Police Department and a now-defunct secretive unit of detectives that mapped the Muslim community, spying on businesses and mosques and documenting conversations. Cruz brought up the 2015 funeral of a slain New York officer where many police officers present turned their backs on de Blasio as he rose to speak.
"Every time there is a conflict between criminals and police officers, liberal Democrats side with the criminals," Cruz said. "The moment when the brave men and women of the NYPD stood up and turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio, I cheered.... That spoke to the entire country."
Cruz finds himself far behind in polls in the state, but his campaign is now focused on winning delegates in individual congressional districts rather than statewide victories. He specifically cited upstate New York, which is likely to be far friendlier territory for Cruz than Trump's home town.