New Group Offers Young Cuban-Americans Free Trips to Cuba
FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2016 AT 8:37 A.M. BY JESSICA WEISS
A new group looks to take young Cuban-Americans to Havana for a cultural
For many daughters and sons of Cuban exiles in Miami, Cuba has long been
an untouchable place. In many exilio families, mere mention of the
island conjured bitter memories of shattered dreams and heartbreak.
Travel to Cuba was taboo.
But that's beginning to change. Fueled by the possibilities of
rapprochement with the United States and the emotional distance wrought
by time, more Cuban-Americans are traveling across the Florida Straits.
And now some young Cuban-Americans think it's high time their generation
get to know the island of their ancestors.
To that end, four second-generation Cuban-Americans have just launched
the CubaOne Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to bridge their community
and the Cuban people. Beginning this summer, the group will offer young
Cuban-Americans free trips to Cuba to explore issues of identity and
personal heritage, and to build connections with the Cuban people. The
program is modeled on Birthright Israel, the organization that has sent
hundreds of thousands of young Jews to visit Israel since 1999.
"Being Cuban was always part of my life, but it was always about this
dream our parents had about the way things used to be," says 34-year-old
Daniel Jimenez, a former consultant and editor-in-chief at McKinsey &
Company. "But when I went I saw a place I wanted to know and to help. I
saw people starting businesses and tech companies. I want to take part."
The idea for CubaOne was born late last year. In July, 33-year-old
Giancarlo Sopo, a Miami-based publicist, made his first trip to Cuba to
visit family. Like many Miami Cubans, Sopo grew up very aware of his
family's history on the island. His grandfather was a poet, psychiatrist
and Cuban Navy officer who died in Havana in 1959, perhaps at the hands
of Che Guevara. Sopo's late father was thrown in jail and later traveled
to Miami, where he became a member of the Bay of Pigs invasion brigade.
He never traveled back to Cuba. His mom came to Miami in the 70s.
Despite the family's history, when Sopo heard Obama's announcement on
December 17, 2014, he immediately wanted to travel to Cuba.
From the moment his relatives picked him up from the airport in their
'80s Lada, Sopo adored the island. For 10 days, he met as many people as
he could. Surprised and inspired by what he experienced, he saw a need
for other young Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba and do the same.
"I saw a place filled with opportunities," Sopo says.
Back in Miami, he connected with Cherie Cancio, 28, who he knew from
Miami political circles. Cancio, whose mother is Puerto Rican and whose
father came to the U.S. from Cuba during the Mariel Boatlift, had
traveled to Cuba six years earlier, which she says was a "profound
experience." They began to explore ideas for ways to engage
At the same time, Daniel Jimenez was having similar thoughts. His father
came to the United States through the Pedro Pan program in 1962. After
traveling to Cuba last year, he felt he had to help others make the
trip. So he began to talk to his cousin Andrew, a 29-year-old attorney
who had also been to the island with his father years earlier.
Soon, the four connected. And over dinner at Versailles last September,
CubaOne began to take shape.
They decided to model their program after Birthright Israel, the
not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free 10-day
heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Using their own money,
the four founders have committed to funding the first four trips, for
10-12 people each, between July and January. Beyond that, they're
looking to partner with other organizations, corporations, and donors
who may be interested in sponsoring the initiative. They will not accept
government money, they say.
The trips are open to Cuban Americans ages 22 to 35. They'll be
organized around a loose theme, allowing people with specific interests
— like arts or technology — to explore those areas. The trips are
designed to support the island's emerging private sector; participants
will stay at casasparticulares and dine at family-owned paladares, and
they'll meet young Cubans from all walks of life, including artists,
entrepreneurs, and students.
"This is about meeting people," Andrew Jimenez says. "That has a mutual
benefit for both sides."
Source: New Group Offers Free Cuba Trips to Young Cuban-Americans,
Hoping To Bridge Gap | Miami New Times -