Cuban-American millennials want a role in shaping the new Cuba now that Fidel Castro has died – Business Insider


reuters cuban americans celebrate fidel castro death jose fernandez
Cuban-Americans celebrate
Fidel Castro’s death.

REUTERS/Javier
Galeano


MIAMI (AP) — 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 affect
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.”


Little Havana celebrates Fidel Castro's death
People
celebrate after the announcement of the death of Cuban
revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana district
of Miami, Florida, November 26, 2016.

Thomson Reuters

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 grandparents’ age.

“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 island.

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.


miamiGaston De Cardenas/Reuters

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 Soccoras, was president of Cuba
from 1948 until 1952, when Fulgencio Batista organized a coup and
overthrew the government. Soccoras 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.

 

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