Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Wish for Cuban Youth: Part 8

This post marks the eighth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog prompt: "My Wish for Cuban Youth."

By Miraisy Rodriguez

I’m not competing in a beauty pageant, so I won’t pretend to answer how we can bring peace to Cuba. All I’ll do is wish that in the 9 months left in 2011 Cuban youth will somehow learn, and thereby bring peace to themselves.

Learn what? Everything! I want young people in Manicaragua, Placetas, and other small towns, nowhere near la Habana, to know who Yoani Sanchez is. I want them to know that U.S. President Carter visited Cuba and spoke on behalf of Cuban spies rather than on their behalf. I want Cuban youth to know that it’s up to them to change that country.

It’s new for me to say “that” country, but for as many years as I’ve been saying “my” country, nothing has happened. The truth is that as much as Cuba is a place I’m nostalgic for and will never stop being my place of birth, I consider myself lucky to have been taken from there by my parents. Yes, it’s important for me to stay abreast of the situation on the ground there, and teach all my friends and colleagues here about it, but what good is that if youth on the ground are clueless? It pains me to speak to the cousins I still have living in Cuba, or those recently arrived, and realize that they know very little about what’s actually going on in their world. It pains me to see some truth to the statements made in the film “The Grandchildren of the Revolution,” that people left in Cuba need to stay, that intelligently informed minds must stop fleeing if the country is to change.

It wasn’t an American-Egyptian that got people in Egypt riled up. All the legwork was done by Egyptians in Egypt. How they did it was a bit amazing, a bit scary, a bit mysterious, but a lot effective. Granted, most of the efforts, at least according to news sources here, took place in Cairo. Cuba, however, is not Egypt, la Habana is not Cairo, and I don’t live in Cuba.

So I wish that sometime soon some Cuban youth will realize that the fight for freedom must be well planned and that it must come at the oppressors from all sides. When that youth aligns with the Habana resistance leaders and the two start campaigning all over Cuba, the fight will have truly started. And then…I will “like” their Facebook page, I will re-post, re-tweet, Wordpress, and whatever else, all their efforts. I will be there for them! My wish is that they’ll soon give me somewhere to be.

Miraisy Rodriguez was born in Santa Clara, but raised in Miami. She is a second year law student who likes to blog on her free time and volunteers with the Miami Roots’ Network. Her personal blog may be found at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reaching Their Fullness, Not Ours

By Miguel Cruz

This morning, I found myself on the World Youth Day 2011 website, realizing that that’s why a one-way flight to Madrid in August is over $2000 on American Airlines. On the front page was an article about John Paul II. Of course I had to click. I try to soak in as many articles that are written about, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant men that have ever walked this earth.

As I finished the article, still reflecting over a week later on the remarks of Archbishop Wenski in Boston, I reread the homily given by John Paul II in Havana on January 25, 1998. Reread it a few times actually. One part resonated in my head.

…liberation cannot be reduced to its social and political aspects, but rather reaches its fullness in the exercise of freedom of conscience…

I’m not going to pretend in any fashion that I can analyze writing. Probably more importantly, I should have made a disclaimer at the beginning of this post that I can’t actually write either. But that sentence… Wow. How did he do that? How did he inject hope into me with such simple words? And then, if I felt like that, how did the people in Jose Marti Plaza feel when they heard that in person?

Here is the irony. Although I find John Paul II as one of the most influential persons in my life, I do not find myself entirely connected to my Catholic upbringing. The reasons why are not relevant to this post. However, it does show the incredible reach of a simple man.

Whether you are religious or not, one thing is obvious. He’s right. Freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right that no man can ever deny another. The people of Cuba need to be reminded of this as much as possible.

They need to be reminded that they truly are the authors of their own future.

We can remind the Cuban people of that from wherever we are. What they do with that confidence is solely up to them.

Miguel Cruz moved to Dallas, TX from Cuba when he was 2 years old. After studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, he now resides in Ft. Worth, TX.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Opening Remarks at Trans(Formacion) Conference

On behalf of the conference organizers, I wanted to welcome you to Roots of Hope's 8th Annual National Youth Leadership Conference. Before anything, I'd like to thank our hosts Boston College's Cuban American Student Association and our Programming Team for their leadership in organizing what will undoubtedly be a “transformative experience.”

I'd also like to thank our esteemed keynote and guests for joining us today - His Excellency Archbishop Wenski, and for the first time ever, guests from Cuba - Padre Jose Conrado, y los senores Orlando Marquez y Gustavo Andujar.

Amigos, es un verdadero y gran honor tenerlos aquí con nosotros. Esperamos que un día pronto podremos tener una reunión parecida con nuestros hermanos cubanos en nuestra isla querida – intercambiando nuestras ideas, deseos, y esperanzas para el futuro de Cuba y su pueblo en ambos lados del estrecho de la Florida. De nuevo, muchísimas gracias por compartir con nosotros.

As you might know, we sponsored our first student-run conference eight years ago today – right across the river at Harvard. The conference was entitled "Raices de Esperanza" and the purpose was to bring together dynamic young leaders to connect with their "roots," reach out to Cuba and find a way to empower ourselves and our counterparts on the island.

Today, that continues to be the purpose of this annual conference. When we started, we were a handful of students. Today, we span more than 55 universities with over 3,500 members and have carried out truly historic efforts that have touched and inspired millions. We're honored to have you join us this weekend and welcome you to be a part of a movement that we call a family and that's making a real impact both here and in Cuba.

This year, our conference's theme is all the more relevant than ever before. Trans(Formacion) seeks to analyze the recent events in Cuba – the evolution of the role of the Catholic Church on the island, the release of more than 52 prisoners of conscience, and the proposed economic reforms – in order to come up with innovative projects for furthering our mission: to empower Cuban youth to become the authors of their own futures.

At such a critical time, we're excited to have you participate in this year's conference and encourage you to make the most of this experience that we hope will truly be “transformative.”

Felice Gorordo is co-founder and Chairman of Raices de Esperanza, Inc. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and resides in Miami, FL, with his wife and daughter.

Statement by Conference Organizers

Raíces de Esperanza (Roots of Hope) held our eighth national youth leadership conference entitled: "Trans(Formación): Inspiring Hearts, Empowering Mindshosted by Boston College’s Cuban American Student Association (CASA) this past weekend, April 7-10, 2011. The event was a huge success and included more than 100 university students and young professionals from the Roots of Hope network focused on empowering youth in Cuba.

Unfortunately, it was brought to our attention after the conference that one of the panelists, Rob Sequin of the "Havana Journal," owns a web site related to sex in Cuba. Conference organizers were not aware of this site nor of its ties to the panelist. This site is absolutely not in line with Roots of Hope's values, and we strongly condemn it.

Had the organizers been aware of the circumstances, Mr. Sequin would not have been invited to participate in the event. After being informed of the existence of this site, the organization strongly urged Mr. Sequin to take it down. At the time of this post, the site was disabled.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 2: (Trans)formación: Inspiring Hearts, Empowering Mind

The Second Full Day

By Miraisy Rodriguez

Despite dancing and other fun things late into the night before, Saturday morning at Transformacion found Roots of Hope Conference participants alert and engaged.

During the first panel we tried to understand economic reforms taking place in Cuba through a self-proclaimed leftist, and two other gentlemen, who when compared to the leftist were a bit and quite a bit more conservative. The different perspectives were well received by both panelists and participants. I heard everything from “top down entrepreneurship will be hard to create” – in reference to the Cuban government preparing to eliminate 1 million public sector jobs and instituting microloans, to “Cubans need to be infected with the ability to dream” – suggesting that dreams are what create the entrepreneur.

The participants’ questions were insightful and often difficult for the panelists to answer. They ranged from the technical to the philosophical.

-”What size microloans are likely?”
-”How can the population’s moral and ethical values be reformed? Too many things are excused by the ‘necesidad.’”

The best part for me wasn’t that first panel, it was the second half of the day. I got to fulfill one of the “high expectations” from the day before. During workshops (I attended one on academic travel to Cuba) and time between things I got to enjoy my fellow roots. Guess what?! We’re branching out! Not everyone is from el quinto piso de la Habana…I spoke with at least three other friends from Santa Clara. As always I was impressed by recently arrived Cuban students who were attending honors colleges and major universities and speaking perfect english. But I was equally impressed by the number of non-cuban supporters and enthusiast.

So I’m pretty much keeping the perfect record of being inspired by Raices conferences and can’t wait to get home and get to work!

Miraisy Rodriguez was born in Santa Clara, but raised in Miami. She is a second year law student who likes to blog on her free time and volunteers with the Miami Roots’ Network.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 1: (Trans)formación: Inspiring Hearts, Empowering Minds

The First Full Day

By Miraisy Rodriguez

I was so surprised when the first three panelists of the day began their discussion in Spanish that I leaned over to another conference participant and asked “do these people (referring to the rest of the audience) speak Spanish?” She nodded yes, and I thought wow, and was then able to concentrate on the panel.

Being involved with Raices since I myself was in college, I’ve gone through phases where I wished we, as an organization, did a lot more. I’ve also been more or less involved depending on the school year, and other life impacting factors. But yesterday was definitely not a day of wishing we would do more. Yesterday we did something awesome; we had a conversation with three Cubans who live on the island, and like most us, flew into Boston just for our conference. There’s always room for improvement, but listening to conference participants enjoy asking questions related to everything from whether the Catholic Church really enjoys freedom of expression in Cuba to what it specifically meant for Padre Conrado to be the “people’s Cardinal,” directly of representatives and members of the Church on the ground in Cuba felt like a big achievement.

The excitement by no means ended there. The second panel was full of realistic ways in which Cubans on the island are being supported, or will soon be supported by the exile and general international communities. If the Catholic Church representatives of the panel before had suggested that we should ask our counterparts on the island what they need from us before deciding how to help, then organizations represented in this panel, like Friends of Caritas, gave us a way to learn what people need by partnering with the only local NGO (non-governmental organization) in Cuba, Caritas. It was simply encouraging to see pictures portraying Cubans on the island at work with the business that they say would benefit from the microloan programs various organizations are trying to get off the ground. And that was just one of the contexts during the panel when a picture was worth so much more than any words.

When at the end of the day participants were asked for their “highs” and “lows,” the answers were varied. Some of the most memorable “highs” included having panelists directly from Cuba, having found a group of young people with whom to share the experience of having visited an island with so much history and feeling for the first time, and “Felice’s three piece suit.” And the “lows,” well they weren’t so “low” as they were “high expectations for the next two days.” Among them, having more time to meet all of the wonderfully intelligent and passionate people in the room, and having more time to flesh out ideas for action.
And as any good day filled with Cuba enthusiasts should, we brought Friday to a close with our dancing shoes on.

Miraisy Rodriguez was born in Santa Clara, but raised in Miami. She is a second year law student who likes to blog on her free time and volunteers with the Miami Roots’ Network.