Mariantonia Mejia | Staff Writer
In the wake of the hiring freeze, a once exciting project promising a space to uplift Cuban voices across the globe, has now seemingly abandoned support for voices actually hailing from Cuba.
FIU’s CasaCuba project, which aims to create a “physical gathering place where all can come to celebrate the Cuban heritage”, has received a $10 million donation from Benjamin Leon Jr., founder and chairman of Leon Medical Centers.
This donation will help in the creation of a new building to house the project, which is expected to open in 2027.
The donation and the fanfare surrounding it comes at a time of great uncertainty for the Cuban population at FIU as the hiring freeze on “countries of concern” looms overhead.
The hiring freeze, in compliance with Senate Bill 846, bans FIU from negotiating with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela.
It was heavily implied at the Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 18 approving the donation that CasaCuba would focus on uplifting and supporting the work of Cuban researchers and scholars across the world.
However, when asked about the difficulties this freeze may bring to the project, Lili Betancourt Space, Executive Director of the CasaCuba project, said: “We are not bringing folks from Cuba, that’s not the mission. The focus is really on this rich heritage.”
There is absolutely a need to celebrate and uplift Cuban voices, particularly in South Florida when so much of our culture is informed by the Cuban population.
To claim to want to focus on the rich heritage of a country while simultaneously discounting potential contributions from those who actually live in that country feels pretty tacticless.
On CasaCuba’s website, they claim this new building will “serve as a gathering spot for the brightest minds from around the world to discuss issues related to Cuba’s past, present and future.”
The approach that CasaCuba appears to be taking in response to the freeze is bluntly ignoring the lived experiences of the people that make Cuba “present”.
CasaCuba and its efforts are noble. Leon’s efforts to preserve his culture are also noble.
A space where Cuban students and staff can celebrate their people’s contribution to South Florida and the world at large is by no means a negative thing.
It is also important to note that CasaCuba is wrestling with working around state laws, but the lack of transparency is disconcerting.
However, if the only voices being amplified are those outside of Cuba, there is no true way for CasaCuba to provide an honest and authentic experience.
As a result, a project which originally had a great deal of promise begins to feel like scraps to placate students who may feel afraid during this freeze.
Rather than being a safe haven or a home for Cuban students, it becomes a way to go through the motions of giving an international population a seat at the table, without actually doing so.
Further, while there is value in preserving Cuban heritage, this highlights the inherent injustice of the hiring freeze, where Cuban students in a majority Cuban area cannot fully appreciate the development of something meant to celebrate them, like CasaCuba.
Not to mention students from Iran, China, or Venezuela, who aren’t even afforded the privilege, if it can be referred to as such, of their own space.
Of course the enforcement of this law does not fall entirely on the shoulders of FIU, but if administration does not act quick and ensure a way to mediate the damage this bill may have, they’re failing students.
We are an international university but we cannot pat ourselves on the back for this fact alone and claim that we are the best place for an organization celebrating an international population if we can’t so much as make a bare minimum statement speaking out against xenophobic laws.
No matter which way you look at it, FIU’s, and in turn, CasaCuba’s silent compliance with this law shows a spinelessness that leaves our international students out in the cold.
The opinions presented on this page do not represent the views of the PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.