Alexander Correa, a senior at the University of Miami, could easily be mistaken for a non-Hispanic. But when he puts on his straw fedora and speaks with clear traces of a Cuban accent, the misconception is shattered.
Add to that the fact that he is president of the student organization Jovenes por una Cuba Libre (Youth for a Free Cuba) and often engages in discussions about the political situation on the island, you might even think he was born there.
Correa, an international relations and economics major with plans to attend law school, labels himself using the politically-correct term “American of Cuban descent.” Raised in the Miami home of his maternal grandparents, Correa said he never lost the flavor of his culture.
“Miami is a great incubator of Cuban society,” Correa said. “Living here, you wouldn’t think you were different. I’ve never felt like a minority.”
Correa’s mother and grandparents emigrated from Cuba in 1967 as part of the Varadero Freedom Flights. During that time, more than 120,000 Cubans left their communist homeland for the United States, landing at an airstrip outside the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.
And although he is Cuban by blood, Correa believes that his peers of third-generation Cubans are born with Cuba as a faith, which is a trend called Cubanísmo.
“We eat the food and live the culture, but we have no real ties like our parents, who knew that they would never go back,” Correa said. “We’re too American to be completely Cuban.”
As a sophomore, Correa joined Jovenes, soon to be renamed CAUSA: Students United for a Free Cuba. The organization was founded in 2003 to give UM students an outlet where they could gather and discuss Cuban politics.
This past summer, the executive board voted on and approved to change the name of the group so that it would be more representative of the goals of the club. CAUSA reflects the members’ belief that Cuba is a cause.
“The new name is easy enough that one word describes who we are,” Correa said.
Raul Moas, a sophomore and executive vice president of CAUSA, believes that Correa’s leadership of the group has allowed the image of the organization to change while still keeping true to its mission and objective.
“I think [Correa] has done a fantastic job as president this year,” Moas said. “CAUSA has never been stronger or better positioned to carry out our mission.”
Correa’s dedication to CAUSA is rivaled only by his determination to remain true to his heritage. He compares Cuban-Americans to the Irish- and Italian-Americans who emigrated more than a century ago, who he believes generations later have lost their heritage.
“My 80-year-old grandfather is the only link I have to Cuba,” Correa said. “If we [our generation] don’t come to terms with our heritage, it will somehow be lost forever.”
CAUSA works to maintain awareness with monthly events in collaboration with their parent organization Raices de Esperanza (Roots of Hope). Every two months, members of CAUSA sit in on a conference call with people still living in Cuba. The calls offer an opportunity to understand what is currently going on in the country.
When rumors of Castro’s death began circulating again, Correa was not surprised.
“I’ve been burned by that flame many times,” he said of the rumors that have cropped up every so often since Castro ceded power to his brother Raúl last July. “It’s been up there like a ‘que cera,’ who knows?”
And although Correa feels that Castro’s death would be a prerequisite for change, there has to be more to come before change can be instituted. He also said that any change in Cuba’s government has to happen internally.
Last year, Correa represented Cuba while participating in a Model United Nations competition in New York City. After the Cuban team won the competition, he was invited to speak with the Cuban consul.
“I told him ‘somos hermanos de la misma sangre,'” Correa said. “We are brothers of the same blood, but when it comes to politics we have to agree to disagree.”
Megan Ondrizek may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.