Even after being labelled communists by their conservative counterparts, this new generation of liberal Cuban American activists still think dialogue is the way ahead, together.
Cubanos Con Biden
A demonstrator holds up a Cubanos Con Biden sign. Photo: Cubanos Con Biden

I recently had a chance, on an unusual 52-degree day in Miami’s Wynwood district, to sit down for an 8am cafecito (or six) with Daniela Ferrara and Mike Rivero of Cubanos Con Biden – now Cubanos Pa’lante. Formed last year on May 19th (Cuban Independence Day), Cubanos Con Biden is a grassroots activist group originally set up to educate Cuban American voters about the Biden/Harris ticket. Now that the election is over, the group is focused on inserting itself into the policy conversation in Miami with their new movement, Cubanos Pa’lante — a discussion typically driven by conservatives in the Cuban American community.

Young, full of energy, and forward thinking, Ferrara and Rivero represent the newest generation of Cuban Americans. It’s a generation that’s not without respect for their elders, just in complete disagreement with their politics. Daniela, who came to Miami on a boat from Cuba when she was three years old, tells me that she recognizes that the initial Cuban exiles laid the groundwork for the opportunities she has now. She’s beyond grateful. That still doesn’t stop her and Mike from their on-the-ground organizing around the issues that they believe will prop up Cuban Americans going forward: climate change, healthcare, education and… engagement with Cuba.

… when it comes to Cuba, this new generation of political activists want virtually the same thing as the old guard that came before them — a free and open country. Yet, they believe that the better path to get there is through engagement.

Surprising to most, when it comes to Cuba, this new generation of political activists, and their new vehicle Cubanos Pa’lante, want virtually the same thing as the old guard that came before them—a free and open country. Yet, they believe that the better path to get there is through engagement. “A lot of people like to talk about, ‘well you know, [Donald Trump]… has actually been a true hardliner when it comes to Cuba policy.’ But where are the results?” Daniela Ferrara says. “Did the Cuban people actually gain more democracy? Did they gain more freedom? Did they gain more human rights under the last four years of Donald Trump? No. On the contrary.” She and Rivero tell me that more and more frequently, emotionally driven abuelos in Miami are starting to harbor this same frustration and in confidence, they tell their grandchildren that they feel the same way.

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While Cuba engagement is important to them, it’s vital to note that neither Cubanos Con Biden or Cubanos Pa’lante is solely focused on that issue. It’s just one of a portfolio of topics that they highlight. In fact, despite healthcare concerns and economic pressures in front of the Cuban American community, closing the gap with their conservative counterparts is priority for them. They believe that that’s how to tackle the big issues impacting their community. It’s for this reason that at the end of the day, CCB believes conversation is needed and must happen as a first step. 

Sitting down to talk with those who don’t agree with them is more difficult than it sounds, though.

mike rivero and daniela ferrara of cubanos pa'lante talk with startup cuba's ken deckinger
Startup Cuba sitting down to talk with Michael Rivero of Cubanos Con Biden in Miami.

Sitting down to talk with those who don’t agree with them is more difficult than it sounds, though. During the 2020 election, the Trump campaign successfully leveraged the community’s painful past to create fear and split the group in the name of securing votes. Liberal Cuban Americans were labelled communists and were painted as the enemy. It’s a tough road ahead. “The moment you approach to have that conversation, you’re labelled a communist and there’s no conversation to be had,” Mike Rivero tells me.

“Are you a communist?” I ask.

Cubanos Con Biden
Photo: Cubanos Con Biden

Laughter ensues. Then in lock-step with Rivero, Ferrara, who has clearly been through this before, doesn’t miss a beat and points me to the slogan on the back of Mike’s T-shirt that reads, “100% anti-comunista, 100% anti-fascista, 100% anti-racista, 100% con Biden.”

Conversation: the only way to heal the divide.

🕗 Updated 10:50 AM ET, Tue February 1, 2021

Daniela ferrara and mike rivero of Cubanos Con Biden and cubanos pa'lante.
Daniela Ferrara & Michael Rivero of Cubanos Con Biden. Photo: StartupCuba.tv

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Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com. Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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