Apr. 03, 2009
BY TRENTON DANIEL
Giselle Palacios, the daughter of a prominent dissident family in Cuba, recounted Friday how the island regime's henchmen deflated her school grades, threw stones at her Havana home and jailed her parents. ''It was a hard experience for me,'' said Palacios, 24, the daughter of Héctor Palacios, who was among the 75 human rights activists, librarians and independent journalists who were arrested in a major crackdown in Cuba in 2003. It was first-hand tales like this one -- coupled with Academy Award-nominated actor Andy Garcia's own life story -- that united about 200 Cubans, Cuban Americans and non-Cubans at the GenerAcción conference at the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus.
In its sixth year, the 2,500-member Raíces de Esperanza, or Roots of Hope, aims to bolster ties between the 5 million Cuban youths estimated to be on the island and their U.S. counterparts. The nonprofit's genesis stems from the founders' belief that many Americans misunderstand Cuban Americans' strong feelings on Cuba issues. The group's membership has swelled over the years. Academic conferences have become commonplace. Duke, Princeton, Georgetown and Harvard have hosted forums. On Friday, more than 100 college students from across the nation filled the UM auditorium to learn more about their peers on the opposite side of the Florida Straits. Topics ranged from the apparent apathy among island youth to the role they must play in securing a democratic, post-Castro Cuba. Lauren Vanessa López, a research associate at UM, knocked the idea that Cuban youth were infected with apathy. Citing a 2007 study from the Washington-based International Republican Institute, López noted that 74 percent of the respondents said they would like to vote for a successor to a regime that has been controlled by Fidel Castro and now his brother Raúl for half a century. ''This signifies that Cuba's youth really does want change,'' López said. Visiting the Castro-ruled island has long been a hot-button issue for many exiles, but López urged audience members to make the trip -- within legal means.
''It's really an experience that will be unforgettable for both you and them,'' López said about island youngsters. ``Feel[ing] what they feel is very impactful for them.''
In her first time to participate, a recent Cornell graduate said she enjoyed encountering a range of thoughts on Cuba, . ''I can appreciate there's more diversity of opinion,'' said Katy Sastre, 25, of New Jersey. ``It's nice to get a different opinion.'' The highlight Friday was almost certainly Garcia, film star of movies such as The Untouchables and the director of The Lost City. In a light yet earnest talk, the actor spoke about his unapologetic support for a post-Castro Cuba (''The necessity for freedom is something that's not negotiable''), his early days in Hollywood (``change your name, fix your teeth, lose your accent,'' he was told) and his directing experience with The Lost City (``that movie is the most important thing I've done in my life.)'' Garcia also spoke of the need for audience members, many of them in their 20s, to stay involved in the Cuban cause. ''Both Castro brothers are not going to be around forever,'' he said. ``The dismantling of that regime will eventually happen.''