I'm sure, by now, you've heard of Yoani Sanchez. She's the Cuban blogger currently making headlines as she travels the world, eloquently narrating today's Cuba to those outside the island as she goes.
More specifically, she's the Cuban author of Generación Y, a blog she started in Cuba in 2007. By 2008, she was already one of Time Magazine's "Most Influential People," and winner of Spain's prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize for digital journalism -- a prize she was not allowed to accept in person. Before this current trip, Sanchez was denied an "exit permit" from Cuba 20 times. She accepted the prize, and others, perhaps appropriately -- digitally.
Although the Cuban blogosphere is large, and includes an array of journalists, writers, artists, and even priests, Sanchez is the face of that blogosphere. She is the facade of a million hypertext messages sent into the dark, hoping to connect; the symbol of a generation inside Cuba that wanted to reach out, touch the space around them -- the world beyond the Malecón, that four mile border of sea-wall surrounding Havana.
And the world has listened -- controversially at times -- but it has heard the blog-call nonetheless. In large part, this is thanks to Sanchez's guts and her direct, succinct, and often poetic style. She's a good writer, simply stated. Thanks too, in large part, to translators like MJ Porter, who through a series of unlikely events, became the blog's English translator. And, to those like Dr. Ted Henken, a scholar working on the Cuban blogosphere, who brought Sanchez onto YouTube through a succession of interviews.
The point is -- Yoani matters. And this is why she matters, particularly to me. The Cuban blogosphere has us talking about Cuba again, first of all.
As an ABC (an American Born Cuban), Generación Y is the Y to my A. Somewhere between that A and Y point, there is the invisible alphabet of the Cuban Diaspora, a long and crooked line of exile and loss. As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, I've wanted to reach Cuba in some way, shape, or form, for as long as I can remember. So much of the time, this meant taking "alternate routes" to Cuba in order to reach my true roots. It meant listening to stories, Cuban music, reading books by Cuban authors that made it out of the island, and books written by exiles. When Sanchez came around, and started writing her blog, and initiated the blogger academy in Cuba, I thought: this changes everything. For the better.
My equal and opposite pull towards the island made me and Generación Y the stuff magnets are made of. The draw was inevitable. It allowed a virtual Cuba to appear on my computer screen every day. I wanted to be part of spreading the word about these bloggers. This was my same generation, except inside the island. And so I told everyone I knew. I also wrote a play. A play called Island Blogsophere, about a writer inside Cuba (Sanchez) and a writer outside Cuba (me) that could meet only in cyberspace because of the politics and embargoes that lay between them. The play showed in NYC and Edinburgh and night after night, people came up to us saying: "Wow, I didn't know that was going on in Cuba!"
The irony, of course, is that Cuba didn't know it was going on in Cuba. Sanchez is more well known outside the island than inside. News still travels slowly in the island and Internet is limited. Just recently, on Feb. 25, Sanchez wrote a blog about trying to get information from inside the island, as she traveled, about the newly named future presidential "successor," Miguel Díaz-Canel. Not only did the phone call to the island take ages to connect, but once connected, there was nothing but a lack of information on the other end of the line. She wrote: "I realize that I suffer from the evil of hyper-information, mixed with a certain distortion, produced by my distance from Cuba. I had forgotten the indifference shown by many of my compatriots when confronted with certain issues that are so predictable they no longer generate any expectations."
Sanchez has known that distance before. Once an exile herself, Sanchez left Cuba in 2002, to make a home in Switzerland. But, she returned to Cuba just two years later, in 2004. Dr. Henken writes that one of the reasons she returned was that Sanchez realized: "Life was not in another place, but in another Cuba." This desire to change Cuba from within was the engine behind her blog and the net she threw out into the world. One can only hope that the blog-call will eventually echo back to the island itself. For now, in an interesting twist, I will soon meet her in the United States, where she has been allowed to travel. It seems that, even if just for a short time, the writer inside Cuba and the writer outside will be able to meet in the space of the real world, paved by the virtual.