CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 7, 2014) – The Cuban connection continues for Jim Larrañaga. During a domino tournament held Wednesday night as part of a weeklong celebration of Cuban culture, the University of Miami Hurricanes basketball coach received one of the Federación de Estudiantes Cubanos’ YUCA Awards.
Arriving on the Moss Terrace at the Student Activities Center to a sea of applauders, Larrañaga closely inspected the plaque bearing his name, making sure the surname had the “ñ” that signifies his Cuban heritage.
“I had to make sure the “ñ” is on there,” he said, eliciting laughter from members of the federación, know by its acronym FEC, or, in English, as the Federation of Cuban Students.
The YUCA (Young Urban Cuban American) Award recognizes outstanding Cuban leaders in the University community and beyond—leaders who take their time every day to do something spectacular and out of the ordinary for their community, and for a cause.
It was about this time last year, during UM’s March Madness NCAA tournament run, that someone noticed that Larrañaga’s last name was spelled with the telltale “ñ” on his business card. Media outlets across the country picked up on that fact, and Larrañaga made headlines not just for an ACC championship win and a trip to the Sweet 16, but also for being at home in Miami, where he could wear his Cuban-American identity with pride.
As the sun set on the Moss Terrace, Larrañaga told the crowd about his family’s Cuban roots and how the “ñ” in his name reverted to a simple “n” when the nuns at his Catholic primary school in New York couldn’t pronounce it. Growing up, Larrañaga said, each of his siblings pronounced their last name differently, depending on how their teachers pronounced it.
Larrañaga also took a moment to express his pride over his teams’ success, calling this year one of transition, following the graduation of five seniors last spring and the loss of sophomore star Shane Larkin to the NBA draft. Before leaving to watch tape of an upcoming opponent, Coach L—as he is affectionately known on campus—encouraged the crowd to attend Saturday’s final regular season home game.
Every year, FEC promotes many aspects of the rich Cuban culture to the University community and the community at large through “A Week of Cuban Culture.” As FEC’s largest event, the weeklong programming showcases the Cuban culture through food, art, music, and more.
Michelle Maldonado, associate professor of religious studies, and Miami-Dade Chief Judge Bertila Soto, J.D. ’89, also received the the YUCA Award this year.