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Cuban-American solidarity; Generations: Anti-Castro sentiments are more nuanced among the young, but they respect the passion and experiences of their elders.


MIAMI -- They grew up amid strip malls and McDonald's rather than monuments to Che and the revolution. They speak English as easily as Spanish, moving from one to the other even within the same sentence, and are as likely to drink Starbucks as cafecito.

Bilingual and bicultural, they are young Cuban-Americans in a city that is as much one as the other. Which is perhaps why their views on the saga of Elian Gonzalez represent a wider range of opinions than their elders: While some adhere to the party line set by the older, singularly anti-Castro exiles who want the 6-year-old boat-wreck survivor to stay in the U.S., others are at least open to the notion of sending him back.

"The younger Cuban-Americans are less adamant about it because most of us don't have a Cuba to remember," said Nory Acosta, 19, a college student here who has written about the experience of her generation. "Our parents have much stronger memories."

Acosta, whose family left Cuba when she was 6, has wearied of the extended drama over whether Elian should stay or go.

Today, the fight goes to federal court, where a judge will hold a hearing on a lawsuit filed by Elian's Miami relatives in an attempt to force immigration authorities to consider the boy for political asylum.

But the real issue has become lost in the battle between the Cuban government and Miami's exile community, both of which are using the boy to fight their increasingly tiresome battle, Acosta said.

"There really is no legal standing for him to stay here. But instead of focusing on that, it's become this whole deal of who's going to win or who's going to lose," she said. "Let it go."

Her view is by no means representative of all young Cuban-Americans. In fact, there are many young people here who feel passionately that Elian should be given the same opportunity that they have, to live in the United States.

"There are areas in which there are divisions between younger Cuban-Americans and older ones, but on the big-ticket items, there's still a general consensus. And the Elian issue has become part of this consensus," said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University who has studied second-generation Cubans.

Younger Cuban-Americans, he said, can be less hard-line than their elders on other issues. Last year, when controversy erupted over whether bands from Cuba like Los Van Van should be allowed to perform in Miami, the issue broke down along generational lines: Younger Cuban-Americans believed they should, older ones would ban them.

And even when it comes to Elian, there are differences, albeit subtle ones. For some, the issue is not the do-or-die political showdown that it would seem from the dualing demonstrations on the streets of Havana and Little Havana.

"I'm here in the middle watching the whole thing," said Hugo Cancio, 35, a filmmaker and music promoter who has clashed with older exiles in the past over Cuban musicians.

Cancio has a complicated view on Elian: It's both personal and political.

"As a father myself, of three beautiful daughters, I believe Elian should be with his father," said Cancio, who left Cuba with his mother in 1980 in the Mariel boat lift. "But I also think that this is the best country in the world, and I want my daughters to grow up here. That's a decision a father makes. I would love for Elian to grow up here -- if his father decided that."

Cancio said he is no less anti-Castro than other exiles. But, he says, the time has come to abandon Cold War-like antagonisms that haven't worked. He opposes the U.S. embargo that many exiles support as a way of bringing down the Castro regime and believes there should be greater cultural and travel exchanges between the two countries.

"What is going on here in Miami is that the older generation is holding on to their way of doing things. It's never worked, as we all can see. It's only added to the problem," Cancio said. "When something doesn't work, you try something else," he said. "I'm for reconciliation through dialogue."

Cancio, though, said he understands why so many older Cuban-Americans cannot accept any contact with the government they fled. The wounds are too deep, he said, for any forgiveness.

And that is why so many younger Cuban-Americans feel as their parents and grandparents do about Cuba -- even if they don't have first-hand experiences.

"It's such a closely knit society, there's less of a generational divide than you might think. When your parents don't have their land, when you see their pain, you understand their suffering," said Bill Teck, 32, who publishes a magazine, Generation n, geared toward younger Cuban-Americans in Miami. "People died here with their suitcases packed. They thought, 'I'm going to go back someday.' "

Teck, who as the son of a Jewish father and a Cuban mother calls himself "Juban," said Miamians of all ages live with constant reminders of the long-running turmoil that has sent so many fleeing across the Florida Straits.

"You have a unique situation in Miami. Unlike other immigrant groups, there is still a constant influx coming over from Cuba. Everyone has a cousin trying to come from Cuba," he said. "Plus, the old country is just 90 miles away."

Teck's magazine, which he began in 1996, is a window into a generation that has experienced Cuba through the prism of Miami. It's a glossy monthly -- complete with the requisite Absolut vodka ad -- that has a certain Spanglish sensibility. A recent story was titled, "El Summer de Ricky Martin"; an item about a club noted, "This is para las ninas only, fellas."

Teck is frustrated that so many have focused narrowly on a single aspect of the Elian case: Where will he live?

"As a freedom-loving exile, I'd love for the child to stay," he said. "But at the end of the day, we're discussing what Castro wants us to discuss instead of what is so bad in Cuba -- how repressive is the regime -- that people would jump into the ocean to get away?"

Teck said he doesn't want to "sound like the Foundation," referring to the Cuban American National Foundation, a hard-line anti-Castro group that has successfully lobbied for sanctions against Cuba. But if younger Cubans are less than comfortable with the foundation's reputation for stridence, they often take similar stances.

A group of teen-agers, speaking about Elian on a recent day as they waited for rides home from Coral Gables High School, said they generally think the boy should stay here in Miami. And their reasons are similar to those of their parents and grandparents, the ones who fled Cuba.

"I believe he should stay because his mother lost her life to get him here. And his father is saying what he's saying because of the Communist Party," said Lisbett Remedios, 17.

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