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Cuban-Americans Discuss Their Hopes And Expectations For Cuba's New President

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There are around 2 million people of Cuban descent in the United States. So what do they think of Raul Castro stepping down from the presidency? The answer to that question probably depends on when their family arrived in the U.S. and, maybe most importantly, their age.

We're going to hear now from LeAnne Russell. She's a 30-year-old Cuban-American filmmaker. Her mother fled Cuba in 1964 after years spent in hiding from the Castro regime. Her mother settled in Miami, where Russell was born. Welcome.

LEANNE RUSSELL: Hello.

CHANG: You're someone from more of a younger generation that was born in the United States. You did not experience the Cuban Revolution, but many in your family did. What kinds of conversations have you all been having these days about this transition of power?

RUSSELL: So the types of conversations that we're having these days - some people are hopeful, but there's so much uncertainty. We don't know Diaz-Canel. We don't know what he's like. There is a video that came out last year. And in the video, he is quite aggressive and comes out as a real party loyalist. And he says, like, at one point in the video very confidently but sort of awkwardly - he says, let the people say that we censor; everyone here censors.

CHANG: So 12 years ago when Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul, Cuban-Americans went out on the streets of Miami, and they celebrated. There was all this fanfare. But they're not celebrating like that today. Why not, you think?

RUSSELL: I think that people aren't going out to celebrate because at the end of the day, you still have a one-party system with one candidate who was selected, not elected. No one's surprised by anything (laughter). I think a good soundtrack or campaign song would be Radiohead's "No Surprises."

CHANG: (Laughter).

RUSSELL: There's no - there's absolutely no surprise. There's nothing that's changed. We hope that there might be some sort of shift in perspective where Cubans see that Castro is not president - Raul is not president anymore. But I don't think it's going to happen overnight.

CHANG: Well then what will it take? What will it take to see real, meaningful change in Cuba? What are you looking for, hoping for?

RUSSELL: I hope that at least this ushers in a period of more curiosity from the Cuban-American community, which is really already happening, and a reckoning of sorts. I think that we should also realize that Cubans who have lived most of their lives here and also the first generation of Cuban-Americans - we're coming from really different realities than our contemporaries on the island, and I think that we should be cognizant of that. I think that we should be helpful where we can and supportive how we can.

But at the end of the day, to answer your question, it's really the Cubans on the island who have to decide to implement these changes, however it may be. And we continue to wish them well and have continued hope for the enlightenment of those here and there, but I really don't know. I think a lot of people know that there needs to be change. People want change. It's - and I don't know if it's out of fear or apathy, but at the end of the day, they haven't stepped up yet.

CHANG: LeAnne Russell is a Cuban-American filmmaker. Thank you very much for joining us.

RUSSELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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