Cuban-American Millennials Anticipate Role in Evolving Cuba
By TAMARA LUSH, ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIAMI — Nov 28, 2016, 7:40 AM ET
Isabella Prio was born in Miami, is 20 now and a junior at Boston
College who fully expects to return to Cuba someday and help shape the
island’s future. But she’s never been to the country where her
grandfather was once president and refuses to visit until it’s a democracy.
Cherie Cancio, 29, also was born in Miami and runs tours to the island
for young Cuban-Americans eager to explore their heritage.
Two daughters of exile. Both passionate in wanting to effect change in a
country that has been in the grasp of the Castro brothers’ authoritarian
rule for decades, but very different in their approaches.
For the hundreds of thousands of children like Prio and Cancio born of
Cuban exiles — some two and three generations removed from the island —
Fidel Castro’s death potentially opens a door to a world long
off-limits. Or at the least, it seems to bring it within closer reach.
Millennial Cuban-Americans say Castro’s death at the age of 90
symbolically offers hope for improved dialogue between the countries.
Some thought the dialogue had begun under President Barack Obama, who
visited Cuba in March. But with President-elect Donald Trump, the future
of diplomacy between the two countries is uncertain.
“It’s definitely in the hands of the young people to take it over,” Prio
said. “We just have to be careful about how we go about it.”
How that dialogue will unfold is anyone’s guess, and while attitudes are
shifting, the community is still divided on the best way to chart a new
course for the island — or whether Miami’s exiles even should play a role.
Prio, a finance and marketing student, still won’t visit until the
Castro regime steps down, and democracy is restored. For now, she’s
disappointed when she sees friends’ photos of Cuba on Instagram and
Facebook. Her views are more in line with people her parents’ and
“Young Cuban-Americans really want engagement on the island,” said
Guillermo Grenier, a professor of sociology at Florida International
University in Miami and a lead investigator of the FIU Cuba Poll, an
annual poll of Cuban-Americans co-sponsored by the Cuban Research Institute.
Still, said Grenier, “how younger Cuban-Americans feel about Fidel
Castro dying is kind of independent” of their interest in engaging with
The most recent Cuba Poll was taken in August. It showed that
Cuban-Americans ages 18 to 39 are disenchanted with the embargo, desire
expanded business opportunities and favor the establishment of
diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“There’s been a shift of millennial Cuban-Americans, who are more open
to President Obama’s policies,” says Cancio, whose father reached
Florida on the Mariel Boatlift in the 1980s.
She admits that the children of exiles grapple with wanting to learn
about their heritage while being respectful of their parents’ struggles.
Many millennials want to go to Cuba but are hesitant to do so out of
respect for their parents’ position that the Castro regime must
relinquish power and democracy installed before any substantial engagement.
“We all respect the sacrifices and the history of our parents,
especially those of us from Miami,” she said.
That’s why she believes in educating Cuban-Americans, while building
bridges with folks in Cuba.
“We want Cuban Americans to visit Cuba, experience it, talk about it,
and think about what an emerging Cuba means for them and their
communities in the U.S.,” reads the website of CubaOne, Cancio’s nonprofit.
Still, Cancio doesn’t believe that she, or the Miami-born children of
exiles, has a role to play in reshaping Cuba. That’s up to the people on
the island, she says.
“I have the freedom here to support whatever policies I want. I don’t
know I should have that freedom in another country, even if my father
was born there.”
Javier Gonzalez, a 21-year-old University of Miami junior, feels that
Cuba is his birthright. His father came from Cuba and hasn’t returned.
Gonzalez also hasn’t visited.
“A free Cuba or nothing,” said Gonzalez, who is majoring in political
science, economics and aquaculture.
Gonzalez attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami — a private
school that was once in Havana, only to be seized after Castro took
power and expelled from the island.
Castro himself was a 1944 graduate of the school. Gonzalez says many of
his teachers knew Castro or studied with him, and the exile experience
permeated daily high school life, as it did for him at home.
Each day while walking to his Latin American studies class, Gonzalez
would pass the wall of martyrs, a photographic journey of all the alumni
who died fighting “for a higher cause,” including attempting to oust
Castro. Many were political prisoners under the Castro regime.
Gonzalez thinks of Cuba as his home, and someday, of returning to what
he calls “paradise lost.”
Castro’s death “isn’t equivalent to liberty, but it’s a step toward
liberty,” says Gonzalez.
When news of Castro’s death broke, he texted Prio, his friend. They and
their high school friends who were home for the Thanksgiving break knew
where to meet up: Cafe Versailles in Little Havana, with its signs that
say “La Casa del Exilio,” or, “house of the exiles.”
Prio, who has friends at her school in Boston who questioned her
jubilation over Castro’s death, tried to explain her feelings.
“He’s not a human being, he’s a monster,” she said. “It’s perfectly
acceptable to celebrate his death.”
Said Gonzales: “it’s not celebrating death, it’s celebrating the life
that could be.”
Prio’s grandfather, Carlos Prio Socarras, was president of Cuba from
1948 until 1952, when Fulgencio Batista organized a coup and overthrew
the government. Socarras fled the country and backed Castro financially;
it was the worst decision of his life, he later said.
Like Gonzalez, Prio believes she will someday go to Cuba and hopes to
play a part in its rebuilding.
Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at twitter.com/tamaralush .
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling for the name
of former Cuban president Carlos Prio Socarras.
Source: Cuban-American Millennials Anticipate Role in Evolving Cuba –
ABC News –