Cherie Cancio is a Miami native whose commitment to service has led her to a career in education equity, community building, and developing transformative partnerships in Louisiana and Florida. She has served with volunteer organizations throughout the South where she was an AmeriCorps member at City Year Baton Rouge and is an active alum, where she serves as co-chair on the City Year Miami’s Alumni board. Her parents’ American experience and her pursuit in exploring her personal history and cultural identity, led her to become a founder and board member at the CubaOne Foundation. Currently, Cherie serves as the Director of External Engagement at Fuego Enterprises, Inc. and leads its travel division, OnCuba Travel.
CubaOne Foundation offers a new generation of Cuban Americans the opportunity to give back to Cuba, build relationships with the Cuban people, and explore their heritage through high-impact trips to the island.
My mother is Puerto Rican and grew up a few blocks away from Roberto Clemente Park in Wynwood, and my father came to the U.S. from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift exodus. I grew up in Miami surrounded by the smells of cuban coffee, spanglish spoken around me, and the sounds of Marc Anthony and Celia Cruz blazing from my mother’s radio. I grew up knowing that we were a world seperated by our history, our culture, and by a people in exile. When I was 22, I returned to Cuba for the first time as an adult. It was a profound experience, as I reconnected with my identity and cultural roots in a very pure way, through family, stories, music and food. It allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of our city’s journey and our collective history as a community.
I left Miami 5 years ago not knowing whether I would ever come back. I served as an Americorps member and later as a City Year Impact Manager in Baton Rouge, Louisiana working toward supporting students and community members in their efforts to impart change in their own community. I found myself asking how was I investing in my own community. It led to a desire to return to the community that raised me.
“In a global economy powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people. In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build — it’s called Miami.” President Obama’s words to the Cuban people during his historical visit to the island last year were inspirational. It was a proud moment to be from Miami, a city that was built by our parents, our abuelos, and immigrants from all over the world.
For most Cuban-Americans born here, Cuba has existed in the form of nostalgia and black-and-white photos. A place whose culture, heritage, language and food has been recreated in exile but could only be experienced vicariously through our parents and abuelos. As the next generation of Cuban Americans, it’s our responsibility to lead the way forward. Miami can help bridge the divide between Cubans on and off the island. Our city can bridge the disconnect and misunderstandings between one people a process of reconciliation and acknowledgment of what has happened in our past.
Healing the wounds of separation is an emotional and complicated process, but to create understanding and look towards a brighter future we must first acknowledge our past.While respecting the histories of our parents and grandparents who immigrated from Cuba, we need to determine for ourselves what it means to be a Cuban American today. We are at a turning point where we must decide what our role will be in the future of US-Cuba relations, we can be the movement, we can lift each other up, and come together to build something new for generations to come.
Our generation has come of age during a time when the world is more connected and innovative ideas and information are more accessible than ever before. By connecting Cuban Americans with with their cultural identity and their peers, both in Miami and in Cuba, they can better serve their communities.
The December 17, 2014 announcement on the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba sent ripples across both sides of the Florida straits. My co-founders and I viewed the December 17 re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba on December 17, 2014 as a opportunity to heal the wounds of separation by introducing our generation to Cuba and its people. We were inspired by the re-establishing of relations between the two countries and thought of ways that young Cuban Americans can lead the way forward. CubaOne Foundation envisions a future where our programs serve as catalysts of innovation and unity, where people can naturally pursue their passions and dreams and work together toward both here in Miami and abroad. Through our trips to Cuba, we have connected over 30 Cuban Americans with their peers on the island and reunited 16 families.We believe that taking young Cuban Americans to Cuba to engage the Cuban people will allow for a deeper understanding of our identity, our family heritage, our community, and place us on the path toward reconciliation.