Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz Tells the Story of the Teen He's Been Raising Whom He Calls His 'Son'
Six years ago, Florida MP Matt Gaetz said he met the boy he now calls his son.
Nestor Galban was 12 years old and had just come from Cuba, where he grew up and where his mother had recently died of breast cancer, says Gaetz. Gaetz, then a legislator, was with Nestor's older sister.
And so Nestor moved in with them - "a modern family," says Gaetz now.
He says that, apart from a break during Nestor's junior year after Gaetz and Nestor's sister separated, Nestor has basically lived with him since he moved from Cuba.
"It is part of my family history," the 38-year-old Gaetz told PEOPLE, adding: "My work with Nestor, our family, no element of my public service can be compared to the joy our family has brought me."
Geatz has not officially adopted Nestor (and he's refusing to discuss Nestor's relationship with his biological family now). He rephrases the matter and says, "Our relationship as a family is defined by our love for one another, not paperwork."
Nestor, he says, "is my son in every imaginable way, and I can't imagine loving him more if he were my own flesh and blood." Gaetz recalls the early days with Nestor - including a scene in which he plays the two who start catching shortly after the boy's arrival in the US - and warns that he could start choking.
"I just think it was the best thing in my life that this young man was part of my family," he says, "and I look forward to being his greatest cheerleader in the future."
Perhaps the strangest thing about this story is that this is the first time that some of it has been shared publicly.
On Thursday, Gaetz tweeted a photo of himself and Nestor and announced that he had been raising the 19-year-old for years.
"I am so proud of him and his upbringing was the best and most rewarding thing I have done in my life," he wrote before biting back at a Democratic congressman with whom he had been interviewed the day before about policing and education children of color had argued.
"As you can imagine, I was triggered when (to make an absurd debate) a Congressman cut Republican contributions because we didn't raise non-white children," he wrote. "Well, I have."
The second-term Republican congressman from Florida's panhandle had not publicly identified himself as a father earlier this week, and his office said he had no children.
His announcement came as a great surprise and was criticized in many left-wing circles. (It also became meme'd quickly.)
Nestor Galban / Instagram From left: Donald Trump Jr., Nestor Galban and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz
Critics said Gaetz turned the teenager into a prop; others called it a dismissive trifle - as if to shake off allegations of prejudice by pointing out personal friendships with colored people. Many more generally referred to his views on immigration. In a characteristic slam, a user tweeted: "Matt Gaetz, who uses Nestor to score political points or to show that he is not racist, is disgusting."
In other corners of social media, conspiratorial theories about Nestor's biography and his biological relatives began to become involved.
None of this worries Gaetz.
"I didn't respond to it there and now I have no need to respond," he says of the social media discussion about Nestor. "My son and I don't owe the brigade with the blue check mark an explanation of our family."
"I don't really live in the minds of others," says the legislator, who made headlines earlier this year in the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic about wearing a gas mask on the floor of the House of Representatives. "I live for the values and principles that are important to my voters and with which I grew up."
He was motivated to speak about Nestor because, in his view, he had been wrongly disapproved of after going viral with Democratic MP Cedric Richmond at a hearing of the House Justice Committee on Wednesday.
Richmond had discussed the need for police reform and the "immediate threat" to black men of the police. "People die while we talk. I am not interested in moving at a snail's pace. I'm not interested in a watered-down bill that doesn't prescribe anything, ”he said.
Afterward, Gaetz said he "cherished your passion," but then asked Richmond if he said none of the other representatives had white children. (Richmond had referred to his own son.)
Richmond replied that he would not be distracted by the color of our children ... It's about black men, black people on the streets who are killed. And if one of them happens to be your child, I'm also worried about him. And of course I'm more worried about him than you are. "
"Sorry, you say you are more concerned about my family than I am?" Gaetz replied in a screaming voice. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
Richmond later shot back: "Was that a nerve?"
The exchange, says Gaetz now, "made me stand up and tear off his head."
Gaetz said he had protected Nestor's privacy for years. But that, he emphasizes, "is very different from saying I hid him."
"Imagine: You are 12 years old, your mother has just died, you are learning English while trying to gain a foothold in school. It was simply not the right time in middle and high school, it was politics to submit, ”says Gaetz now.
Erin Gaetz / Twitter Nestor Galban (left) and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz in 2013
Matt Gaetz / Twitter Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (left) and Nestor Galban
From the incredulous responses he received from users who refer to a photo from March 2016, on which Gaetz called Nestor "local students," or a Facebook video from 2017 that Gaetz recorded for voters with Nestor in the background in which he has Nestor as his "helper" (almost seems to get involved with an S-sounding word first), says Gaetz:
"I felt like going to the country, dealing with a mother's death, learning English, and enduring the normal exams and difficulties of high school and middle school was enough on the young man's plate."
Now Gaetz says, however, that Nestor is ready: "He tries very hard to be identified as my son as publicly as people will accept it."
Gaetz says his bond with Nestor is known in his Florida community and community, including on Capitol Hill: “My friends know I have a son. The people who go to church with me know that I have a son, my soccer colleagues know that I have a son. "(He says Nestor was his" best doorknocker "during his 2016 convention campaign:" Nestor was very convincing in getting people to accept Matt Gaetz's signs. ")
On Twitter, former California MP Katie Hill, a democrat, supported Gaetz's disclosure that he had secretly raised a teenager.
"Many of you know @mattgaetz and I have an unlikely friendship. I can't stand many of his beliefs, but he was there for me when others didn't," she wrote. "He talks about Nestor more than anything, has done so much for his son, and is really a proud father."
Gaetz goes into the timeline and says that PEOPLE Nestor lived with him about four years after he first arrived in Cuba before going to Miami for his junior year and living with his biological father: “Then he turned 18 [and] it was easier for him to do justice Go back with me. "(Gaetz refuses to state when exactly he and Nestor's older sister broke up.)
Elsewhere in the interview, he describes the sequence of events as follows: "At the beginning of my service in Congress, there was a period in which, due to his age and other circumstances, he was unable to live with me."
Nestor has settled in online with his own Twitter account. He tweeted to another user on Thursday: "I wanted a secret before because I wanted to live a normal life without anyone knowing about it, but I'm 19 and old enough to handle it."
Nestor speaks briefly to PEOPLE while on the phone with Gaetz: "Matt is not my biological father, but he raised me as his own son when I came from Cuba after the death of my mother."
"He has always been a role model in my life," says Nestor, rattling off a short list of the lessons learned: baseball, cooking, English. ("I also taught him some Spanish.")
Nestor, says Gaetz, has taught him patience - the way every parent learns.
"Of course," he says, "my views of the breed are shaped by the fact that I raised a non-white child."
"I spoke to Nestor about interacting with law enforcement," he says. "It's probably a different conversation than I would have had if I had had a white son."
Erin Gaetz / Twitter The Gaetz family with Nestor Galban (right)
Erin Gaetz / Twitter Nestor Galban
Gaetz's sister Erin also tweeted on Thursday. She shared family photos of Nestor over the years, including his high school diploma earlier this year, him on Christmas Eve 2013 and him with Gaetz and his grandmother and grandfather. (Nestor posted the same photo on Instagram in 2018 entitled "Grandma's Boys".)
In the fall, Nestor will begin at Troy University in Alabama, where he plans to study nursing. The distance, says Gaetz, is "far enough away and still close enough".
Your first parent-student visit to campus is after three weeks, says Gaetz.
"I want to study nursing because I like helping people and I think it makes me happy to be able to save lives and heal and take care of people every day," says Nestor. Also: he really likes science.
"We talked about college being the most free time in your life, but you can have some of the most daring consequences if you don't do it well," says Gaetz.
He describes Nestor as a "star footballer", a joker and a charmer - a "ham" - with a love of sport and, as he says, a kind of gracious dryness. In other words, a teenager.
"And since I spoke to him all day," says Gaetz, "he is very impressed by the fact that he now has a lot more followers on social media."
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