Yoani Sanchez ~ After Five Years

Slender, dark-haired, Yoani Sanchez walks the streets of Havana. Passing into and through the shadows of the Castros, she thinks of toasters and lemons, a scarcity of pork and the hunger of children. Fingers curled around the flash drive pushed deep into her pocket, she walks quickly, intending a liaison, a tryst, an encounter far removed from the world’s prying eyes.  Her longing is for a computer – her desire, to send her words into the world.

A young Cuban woman who blogs from Havana, Yoani Sanchez has built a worldwide readership. The circumstances of her life, her straightforward words and incisive intelligence make her someone worth reading.  They also make her someone to fear, particularly if you happen to be a Cuban official whose only desire is to maintain order and preserve the status quo.

Dictators may smile benignly when philosophers and thinkers use large, rectangular words to ruminate over grand issues like Freedom, Censorship and Ineffective Government.  But when pretty young bloggers begin to describe the realities of life in words everyone can understand – toasters and oxen, lemons and milk – dictators pay attention.

I was introduced to Yoani Sanchez in 2008, shortly after beginning my own blog.  Curious about her journey, I found an article detailing her blog, Generación Y, in a 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Reading it, I was transfixed by the description of her actions.

”On a recent morning, Yoani Sanchez took a deep breath and gathered her nerve for an undercover mission: posting an Internet chronicle about life in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.”
“To get around Cuba’s restrictions on Web access, the waif-like 32-year-old posed as a tourist to slip into an Internet cafe in one of the city’s luxury hotels, which normally bar Cubans.  Dressed in gray surf shorts, T-shirt and lime-green espadrilles, she strode toward a guard at the hotel’s threshold and flashed a wide smile.  The guard, a towering man with a shaved head, stepped aside.  ‘I think I’m able to do this because I look so harmless,’ says Ms. Sanchez, who says she is sometimes mistaken for a teenager.  Once inside the cafe, she attached a flash memory drive to the hotel computer and, in quick, intense movements, uploaded her material.”

At the time, Ms. Sanchez’ own words about her extraordinary actions were modest.  “The sensation of losing fear, of risking, is a sensation that is normally irreversible.  After you cross certain lines, there is no way back.”   A lifetime of internalizing the constraints of life in a dictatorship brought her to blogging as a way to escape her “internal policeman”, a way “to push the limits, to find the line where the internal limits end and the real limits begin.”  Comparing blogging to a child’s game of “let’s pretend”, Sanchez said, “You…believe that you are free and try to act like it. Little by little, acting as though you are free can be contagious.”

At the time I discovered Generation Y, most bloggers I knew had chosen to remain anonymous.  Whether grounded in caution, insecurity or fear, the anonymity seemed to provide a sense of comfort, a bit of privacy and a certain kind of freedom.  It also made issues of honesty and accountability less relevant. 

Ms. Sanchez appeared to have few problems with honesty and accountability. She expressed her opinions and defended them publicly from the heart of Cuba’s dictatorship, signing her name and posting her photo in the process. Such forthrightness, I thought, earned her a prerogative or two.  I began to imagine Yoani Sanchez, thirty-two years old and living  in a crumbling, restrictive nation, turning to me, a sixty-one year old, completely unoppressed woman living in comfort and asking, “What about you?  Where is your picture?  What is your name?  Tell me your convictions.”

After some thought, I began signing my name to my work, pondering Sanchez’ words as I did: “Once you experience the flavor of saying what you think, of publishing it and signing it with your name, well, there’s no turning back.  One of the first things we have to do, a great way to begin to change, is to be more honest about saying what we think.”

Ms. Sanchez has a history of saying what she thinks.  Admitted to the University of Havana for the study of philology, she nurtured a love for Latin American writers.  But her thesis topic, Dictatorships in Latin American Literature, ended her academic career.  “The thesis wasn’t overly critical,” Sanchez says, “but the mere act of defining what a dictatorship is in an academic paper made people really nervous, because the definition was a portrait of Cuba.”

Forced to move from academia to the public forums of the Internet, she unnerved the regime less by overtly political criticism of the Castro brothers than by her vivid descriptions of daily life.  On March 24, 2008, Cuban authorities became nervous enough to take action. They blocked or slowed access to Sanchez’ blog, reportedly placing filters that delayed viewing of her web page on a server in Germany.  Her response, offered here in translation, has been described as classic Sanchez.

“I recognize that I have been misbehaving.  I rebel against orders; I look for lemons that never appear; I demand excuses that never arrive; and – a great absurdity of mine – I put my opinions in a blog, with photo and name included.
As you can see, bcause of these thirty-two impertinent years, I am not being corrected.  As a result, the anonymous censors of our ravenous cyberspace have wanted to enclose me in the room, turn off the light and not let my friends enter inside.  That, translated to the language of the Internet, means to block my site, to filter my Web page; in short, to puncture the Blog so that my compatriots cannot read it.
Ever since a few days ago, “” is merely an error message on the screen of many Cuban computers – another site blocked for the “monitored” Internet users of the Island.  My words, my text, and that of other bloggers and digital journalists, have caused the presser foot of the inquisitors to do its ridiculous part.  We have received a slap on the face, the “severe wink” and an admonishment from these arrogant and rebellious adolescents.  Nevertheless, the reprimand is so useless and pointless that it is an embarrassment, and so easy to outmaneuver that it turns into an incentive.”

“This breath of fresh air has disheveled the hair of bureaucrats and censors,” she said of her blog, vowing to continue her writing.  “Anyone with a bit of computer skill knows how to get around them.  The aim of government censors is to block readership in Cuba, where people have limited access to internet.  They are admitting that no alternative way of thinking can exist in Cuba, but people will continue reading us somehow.  There is no censorship that can stop people who are determined to access the internet.”

Sanchez’ creativity and persistence were rewarded when  Generación Y  received Spain’s Ortega y Gasset prize for digital journalism.  The Spanish newspaper El Pais, which awards the prize annually, said Sanchez won it for her “shrewdness” in overcoming hurdles to freedom of expression in Cuba, her “vivacious” style and her drive to join the “global space of citizen journalism”.

Speaking with the Reuters News Service by telephone from her home in Havana, Ms. Sanchez said, “This is great encouragement for Cuban bloggers, who are still at an embryonic stage.  It recognizes that Cuban blogs can be a parallel source of information, reflection and opinions independent from Cuba’s official media.”

The Ortega Y Gasset did much more than that. Winning a prestigious prize in this country gets you dinner, a check, an NPR interview and a swing around the talk-show circuit.  In countries such as Cuba, winning an international prize can save your writing and perhaps your life, as the additional attention and scrutiny set up useful barriers between the writer and those who would silence dissent.

In the five years since the birth of Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez has confronted questions common to thoughtful bloggers:  “Am I writing for myself alone, or am I seeking to engage the world in which I live?  Am I willing to accept responsiblity for my creation and defend my words?  Will I accept or refuse criticism or dissent?  To the extent that my words touch other lives, what effect do I wish them to have?” Asking and answering such questions inexorably changes the questioner. In her fifth anniversary post, Sanchez says,

“The truth is that when I left home that morning to hang my virtual page on the Internet, I never could have imagined how much this action would transform me. Now, whenever the apprehension that the Cuban political police are “infallible” assaults me, I exorcise this thought by telling myself that “they didn’t know, that day, they couldn’t even guess that I would create this site.” 
“What happened afterwards is already well known: the readers arrived and took over this space like citizens take over a public plaza; many others knocked on my door wanting help to create their own spaces of opinion; the first attacks appeared, as did the recognitions. Along the way I lost that 32-year-old mother who only spoke about “complicated issues” in a whisper, I misplaced the compulsive woman who barely knew how to debate or listen. This blog has been like experiencing — in the time and space of a single life — an infinity of parallel existences.”

It’s easy for most of us to overlook the decisions we make on a daily basis because the process of blogging is so easy.  We make coffee, we turn on the computer, we begin to type.  We post photographs or poetry, we review books or ponder current events, we chronicle our lives. Occasionally, we speak our minds.  If we are challenged or rebuffed, if we experience disagreement or simple misunderstanding and have our feelings hurt, we can turn off our computer and walk away without consequence.

In the midst of so much ease and comfort, perhaps we need an occasional pause in order to think about what we are doing. I certainly don’t intend to argue for one form of blogging over another. Poetry, painting and humor have as much right to exist on these pages as family history, book reviews and political screeds – not to mention the ranting, raving and sheer stupidity that can be found. But there is a place for Yoani Sanchez, too – for the lessons she has learned and the lessons she has to teach us about the life-changing power of blogging.

“I have never again been able to walk the streets incognito. That gift of invisibility that I boasted of possessing fell by the wayside, between the hugs of those who recognized me and the attentive eyes of those whose job it is to watch me. I have paid an enormous personal and social price for these little vignettes of reality and yet I would do it again, taking my flash memory to the lobby of that hotel where I launched my inaugural post on the great world wide web.”

It pleases me to imagine Yoani Sanchez still walking the streets of Havana, leaving her house on these delicious afternoons with lime-green espadrilles on her feet, a flash drive in her pocket and a map to the nearest safe internet connection in her head. 

Imagine, if you will, her languid smile as she slips past the guard, her studied casualness as she sits at a rented computer and draws her treasure from her pocket.  Imagine her relief as the latest set of entries uploads properly, fleeing to the safety of her foreign servers. 

Imagine, if you can, that Yoani Sanchez finds herself with an additional ten minutes of allotted time and decides to indulge herself in the luxury of a quick surf across the world wide web. Imagine that, with a click of the keys and a sudden, unbelievable flash of serendipity, she arrives at your blog’s home page and begins to read.

What would Yoani Sanchez think?

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And please – no Reblogging. Thanks!
Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 11:16 am  Comments (60)  
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  1. Linda, you’ve given me so much meat to chew on in this post (as usual). At first I am overcome by this woman’s inordinate amount of courage to speak truth about her government. But then follows the deeper question about speaking the truth of our hearts. Dare we do it rather than hiding behind You Tube clips, recipes, book reviews?

    It’s not only a question of writing about meaningful content, but having the courage to reflect on, and disclose, what’s in our hearts. Perhaps I ever so lightly touched on this in my last post, that blogging about trite stuff is meaningless and boring. May I find the courage to write deeply of what is essential.

    I so value the input you have given me into life.

    • Bellezza,

      Part of the beauty of the blogosphere is its variety. When I think of the blogs I follow – photographers, book and film reviewers, historians, humorists and tellers of tales from everyday life – I wouldn’t want any of them to disappear.

      The one quality they share in common is just that – quality. The topics are interesting to me because they’re also interesting to the blogger. The photographs show me the world in new and unusual ways because the photographer took the time to look beyond the surface of things. The humor and music delight because they’re chosen for a purpose, not just slapped up to fulfill some imagined requirement for daily posting.

      If the wordpress forums are any indication, there are a lot of people who spend their days worrying about keywords, SEO, “likes” and site statistics. I think more about honesty, intentionality, courage and what I call, for lack of a better term, “consonance”, a living connection between what I believe and what I post here.

      I suspect that’s part of what you mean when you speak about expressing the truth of our hearts. I can’t help thinking again about that marvelous quotation from Georgia O’Keeffe: “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant… It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

      Linda

  2. As one response to this, I have added Yoani Sanchez’s blog to my “good reads” list, and thank you for pointing it out.

    I have been struck by an issue like this in writing about the Chinese instrumentalists I heard in Wales. I had the thought how nice it would be to write to them to let them know what a wonderful experience it had been to hear them play, but it’s not so far been possible to find a way. Nor, unlike for the group from Copenhagen about which I also wrote (which greeted seeing that post with much delight), there is no traffic from China to the post about these fine musicians.

    Of course, my blog is but a little thing, and likely not noticeable without it being pointed out to them, but it did also put me in mind of the issue that, even on the internet, there is sometimes such a thing as a “border patrol.”

    • Susan,

      WordPress recently began providing us information about the countries from which our readers come. I’ve not paid much attention to it, but after reading your comment I went and took a look. In fact, not a single hit from China, nor from Cuba, for that matter. Border patrol, indeed.

      Of course it’s a fact that proxy servers and such can mask a location. Still, your point is well taken. There are so many factors in other places around the world that make free and easy access to the web impossible: censorship, of course, but also the absence of needed infrastructure. There’s a fellow in Liberia named Alfred Sirleaf who “blogs” in the middle of Monrovia, using chalk and a chalkboard. He’s found a way to provide his fellow citizens with information about the wider world despite the ravages of civil war.

      If you look at the top of Yoani’s blog and click the “How to Help” link, you’ll get a quick overview of how some of the technological obstacles are being overcome. Even more interesting is the translation project, where volunteers around the world help to make accessible the work of other Cuban bloggers. You can see their work here .

      Creativity does take many forms.

      Linda

  3. Linda, what a fascinating post. I admit I’ve never heard of Yoani Sanchez, but I will pay attention to her story and works from now on.

    You raise such interesting questions here, particularly: Why do we blog? What makes our words worth it? I know for me its simple inspiration–and that really does sound so simple compared to Sanchez’ purpose. When I was barely twenty, I had a naive wish for MORE oppression in my life so that I’d have something worthwhile to write about. Crazy. A student enamored with “real life,” I suppose. I’m thankful now, of course, that I don’t have to take the chances Sanchez does. What a brave woman.

    Thank you for introducing me to Sanchez, Linda, and to these thoughts.

    • Emily,

      I suspect there are as many purposes for blogging as there are bloggers. Some of those purposes would be recognizable to a writing instructor (to inform, to entertain, to persuade and so on) while others are no less real and just as important: to stave off boredom, to experiment with words, to be flat nasty to other people without suffering consequences, and so on. The web is a strange place, with some very mysterious creatures inhabiting its corners!

      I smiled at your wish for oppression. I think all of us at one time or another have had the feeling that “real life” is happening elsewhere. In my earliest college years, we all caught existentialism like the measles and spent our days sitting around coffee shops, reading Camus and wishing we were on the Left Bank. Eventually some of those friends moved on from Camus to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. The hippie life was a lot more interesting, but unfortunately it wasn’t very conducive to the disciplines of writing. ;)

      I’m glad to introduce you to Yoani and all the Cuban bloggers. There’s as much variety in their little corner of the blogosphere as there is in ours, and if you have the time, I think you’d enjoy exploring the whole range of their work.

      Linda

  4. I know how Ms. Sánchez feels. The constant fear, nervousness, cold and sweaty hands, and sleepless nights were much too often ingrained in twenty-one years of military dictatorship, from 1968 to 1989. I always felt butterflies in my stomach. Torrijos was bad, but Noriega was even worse. He was a monster who only believed one thing: brutal violence. His conviction of limitless power caused his fall from grace. He was incarceration in the United States, France and currently Panama.

    I write my blog posts under my own name. Everywhere I travel on the Cloud, I try to use my own name. Sometimes I use the alias Epiac, I don’t know why. Perhaps I still have residues of the fear that accumulated during the Horror Years of the “dictadura”.

    I try to stay away from politics. It’s a controversial issue. People are passionate about politics in this country and many times will say things which are not true or half truth. Some days I feel tempted to refute them in my blog, but refrain from doing so. I don’t have the guts of Ms. Sánchez. This blog post is challenging my will, even as we speak.

    After twenty-three years of Democracy, we still don’t understand what it really means. Democracy is not a definition of a word you read about in a dictionary. It’s a lifestyle that you live, breathe, eat and sleep with. Freedom should not be taken for granted, yet we seem to accept the literary illusion of the construct.

    Fidel Castro has dominated Cuba since 1959; that’s more than half a century. His power has not been challenged and people have learned to accept the fact that Castro impersonates the nation itself. I strongly hope persons like Yoani Sánchez will shake the tree and remove the evil fruit. This happened in the Middle East with the Arab Spring. Maybe we are at the brink of a Cuban Spring. But I have my doubts, mind you.

    Thank you Linda for this strong message of Freedom, determination and courage of a young woman in a Caribbean island called Cuba.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Thank you so much for your words. They help to make real the experience of life under dictatorship – a reality most of us think about only in the most abstract of terms.

      I worry from time to time that today’s younger Americans are unable to recognize the thirst for power that can lead to dictatorship or other forms of governmental control. As my parents’ generation disappears, and the memories of even my own begin to fade, we need to remind one another not only of the past, but also of the perils of laziness and inattentiveness to the world around us.

      Like you, I tend to stay away from partisan politics, although I’m more than willing to write about the underlying convictions that shape my life and my vote. Anyone who’s spent even an hour reading the so-called “political” blogs and the comments that follow knows what a waste of time that can be. The name-calling and nastiness are off-putting, to say the least.

      As for falsehood and half-truth – what to do? Everyone loves a straw man these days. People say, “Liberals believe this”, or “Conservatives believe that”. They define Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, women, Indians, blacks or whites as they choose, and then proceed to savage them. The phrase “more heat than light” comes to mind.

      One of the lessons of Yoani’s blog is that a frontal assault isn’t the only useful approach. Through the years, her simple piling up of stories, of details about daily life in Cuba, has provided a counter-weight to the regime’s propaganda about quality of life on the island. What comes next? Who knows? But it is true that butterflies sometimes betoken excitement, rather than fear.

      Linda

  5. Oh thank you for this! You bring such clarity to questions I have had regarding YS. She walks in a storm, that is for sure and it eludes me why she hasn’t met the same fate as someone such as José Daniel, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who has served years in Cuba’s prisons.

    I had not considered that the Ortega y Gasset prize could have saved her life. I can imagine that as slowly as things churn, she was running in front of Caribbean winds that have spawned a hurricane with a name that begins with “Y”. She was shrewd. The attention could have swallowed her, but she has instinctively and decisively placed herself in the eye of this storm at great price. I wonder if there is a screenplay in the works. Her story, a story so close to us, in the hands of talented writers, a team if you will, is yet to be written. All I can find is her blog, some articles and some youtube interviews.

    I ask Cuban friends about her, two friends whose names begin with “Y”, one a woman another a man, and to my amazement they respond with not knowing about YS. “That’s right,” I think to myself, “only Caribbeans know the devastation of Hurricane Marilyn in ’95, Hugo in ’89, and San Felipe in ’28. If one lives in the States, one only knows of Ike, Rita, Katrina.” So I guess I do understand, why they don’t know who this “hurricane” is.

    So I read her blog to get it from her perspective, because those who have an opinion — in my real life, not cyberworld — are few and far between. I read her, inspired by her courage, awed by her prolific output, conversational style, her memorable images, her stories, her memory that records life in Cuba as she sees it. Where will the path of this hurricane lead?

    I am drawn to read this brave feminine voice because I am beyond saddened to know what is happening in Mexico. The issues are complicated and the two countries are very different. The issues surrounding entrenched political ideologies are very different from terrorizing drug lords, but still I look for answers and she offers hope one post at a time, in that her voice gets out.

    • Georgette,

      I suspect the screenplay will be a long time in coming – a very long time. From the beginning, Ms. Sanchez has promoted an awareness that the Cuban blogging movement is more than one person. In the “How to Help” section of her blog, there is this:

      “Avoid the cult of personality of a single emblematic blogger and take the alternative blogosphere as a phenomenon in which a growing number of Cubans are participating. Don’t repeat in the virtual world the adoration of individuals that does so much damage in the real world.”

      Our American culture is so steeped in the idiocy of cult-like veneration of sports players, hip-hop artists and people who are famous for being famous, she might as well be speaking Martian to us. But she’s right. The development of the cooperative translation program which allows many Cuban bloggers to speak to the world in German, French, Dutch, English and other languages is a marvel, and a direct result of the desire to promote the community over individuals.

      As for other voices and other resources, if you don’t know Babalú Blog, you’ll probably want to add it to your reading list. There have been several features recently on the Women in White – another group of focused and courageous women.

      The Atlantic Online recently published a disturbing photo essay on the violence in Mexico. Like your friends who don’t know of Yoani, and Americans who have no grasp of the damage done by Caribbean hurricanes, millions of Americans simply don’t understand the nature of what’s edging closer to our borders – and spilling over in myriad ways.

      I can’t help but wonder what effect a blogger like Yoani might have if he or she chose to send the same sort of weekly dispatches from the border. One thing’s for sure – journalists and bloggers inside Mexico are dying at the hands of the drug lords, who care not a whit for the niceties of political pressure.

      Linda

  6. I have wanted to visit Cuba for a long time. It wouldn’t be hard to do. Panama has diplomatic relations with the country. It would simply be a matter of going to the airport, getting on a plane and going there.

    But many things stop me from doing that. . . Eunice Perez, my old girlfriend when I was going to the University of Miami back in ’61, her brother Joel and their parents. Juan, “Johnny” Beltran, my roommate at U of M who somehow wangled his way into the school and then, without knowing a word of English, spent nearly every minute of every day with his text books and an English/Spanish dictionary and managed to rack up a 3.5 GPA while I had a great time, flunked out and joined the Navy. Then there’s Mary and Linda Rodriguez and their mom and dad. All good friends. People I love. People who lost everything when Castro assumed power.

    My best friend Stephen took his boat to Cuba years ago as a part of the Mariel boat lift. A few years ago he and another friend had a great opportunity to visit the island. He was all hot to go. It was going to be “great fun.” Really, I said. Are you going to tell Mary and Linda’s folks what a great time you had when you get back. Tell them how much “fun” you had down there?

    In the mid ’90s Stephen and I had a contract with the U.S. Marshall’s service to take care of all federally arrested boats from Cape Canaveral to Key West. Many were beautiful yachts whose owners got behind in their payments and had the boats repossessed. Some were boats caught smuggling drugs, and yes, smuggling human beings, mostly Chinese, in from the Bahamas. And then there were some that came from Cuba. I especially remember one. It was about 15′ long. It had a little “one-lung” Russian diesel engine. In the bilge of the boat I found a jackknife that had the inscription “Ho Chi Minh City” (Saigon) on the handle. There had been 23 people on that 15′ boat when it was intercepted by the Coast Guard. Under the U.S. “wet foot, dry foot” program they were all sent back to Cuba. But you’d look at that little boat and wonder what must be the depth of your despair that you would get on it with 22 others and leave your home?

    I really would like to see Cuba but I can’t until the Castros are no longer in power.

    • Richard,

      I know a few people who have visited the country – maybe a half dozen. One couple enjoyed it very much, but the others were so distressed by what they saw they wouldn’t go back. There’s always talk among the cruisers of how to pull off a visit, but caution prevails. Rightly so, I should think.

      Your stories of the Mariel boatlift and the little boat that was intercepted remind me of some stories I heard recently when friends from my days in Liberia stopped by for a visit. They’ve traveled back to the country since the civil war ended, and told amazing tales of Liberians walking to the Ivory Coast and Ghana to escape the violence – then, when it was possible, walking back to their home.

      The longing for freedom and the instinct to survive are amazing to behold. I lived aboard a Catalina 31′ for a time. To think of that boat halved in size, and then loaded up with 22 more people for that ninety-mile crossing? I can imagine it – but only with fear and trembling.

      Linda

  7. Wow this is wonderful and so inspiring! Thank you

    • Julie,

      It is an inspiring story – an on-going story whose end isn’t yet known. While television seeks to feed us a steady diet of “reality programs” that are shot through with pretense, real people are engaged in much more interesting and inspiring stories.

      As you know. ;)

      Linda

  8. As I read this it kept occurring to me, the value of the blogs. For her, the freedom of thought and expression. For us here an almost equal, yet more insidious freedom, freedom from the media.

    • montucky,

      Isn’t that sad – that we should even utter the phrase, “freedom from the media”?

      Of course, yellow journalism has been around for a good long time.Some of the broadsides published at the very beginning of our country were remarkable for their invective, and the involvement of media in shaping politics rather than reporting its developments isn’t new.

      Still, I remember the respect – if not reverence – accorded “The Paper” in our household. My dad didn’t always agree with the editorials and my mother often thought their advice columns were entirely too modern, but we trusted that the news it brought us was factual. I don’t think that trust was misplaced.

      Today, we’re having to adjust our expectations, just a bit.

      Linda

  9. I’m not sure what she would think, but reading hers would certainly make ME think!!! You have used the internet as a valuable multi-faceted tool, Linda, and the things you find there about which to write and things that enhance your writing, and the research are just amazing to me! Carry on, my friend, carry on!!!

    • Wendy,

      Sometimes, things just show up and demand attention, like that marvelous pink cattle egret you showed us. It’s part of the reason I enjoy blogging so much. I never know ahead of time what I’ll find or what I’ll write about. The chance to do some research always is a plus – I love learning things, and a blog’s a great excuse to spend a little time learning about a plant, a poet or a politician.

      Beyond that, a blog entry’s very often a gift that keeps on giving. Just today I glanced at my search engine terms and found someone had googled “what happened to the naked church group from lubbock tx that was…” Just think – someone, somewhere is listening to “Twenty Naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac” and grinning. It’s blogging at its best!

      Linda

  10. My father’s family first lived under the Tsar, which was bad, and then under the Communists, which was bad. A dictatorship, by whatever name you call it, is still a dictatorship. In the 1920s, my father and his immediate family managed to get out and come to the United States. With that sort of family history, I was never under any illusions, as so many of my fellow college students in the 1960s were, that Communism was a good thing.

    • Steve,

      I still remember my first reading of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.

      In a “NY Times” review published shortly after the book’s release, Harrison Salisbury said,

      “Solzhenitsyn has written no mere propagandistic expose. He has created a small, almost flawless classic employing the eloquence of reticence and understatement in a manner which even the fumbling of hurried translation cannot obscure.”

      I would say “the eloquence of reticence and understatement” perfectly captures the sense of your comment.

      I’m glad your family got out.

      Linda

  11. If she came to my blog she’d say what a waste of time and effort. But then I live in a free country where I can say what I want at any time and anywhere, which means that my blog can be as frivolous and meaningless as I can thoughtlessly produce.

    I daresay, if I were to risk my life and/or freedom I might think twice about blogging.

    People like this young blogger are the ones to change the world; there was the Bagdad blogger, who literally risked execution if anyone had found him out. And all the bloggers and twitters in the Arab countries who started bloody revolutions.

    The likes of us, who blog for fun only and to satisfy our own vanity (I am the first in that line-up) can have no idea what it’s like to step out of line and risk everything.

    Thank you for introducing me to Yoani Sanchez

    • friko,

      Of course I can’t say how Yoani would judge your blog – or mine either, for all that. But I suspect she might take some delight in the beauty of our gardens and landscapes, the pleasures of friends around our tables, the freedom we do have for frivolity and joy.

      After all – even in Cuba, people have parties and music. They know the meaning of family and friends. They tell jokes – sometimes even quite pointed and slightly dangerous jokes that help them cope with their circumstances. They share food and drink, just as we do. And they dream.

      If we have any lack, perhaps its only that we’ve stopped dreaming as we should. What if an old blogger could help to change the world? What if a chance came along to step out of line and risk everything? Would we recognize it?

      I watched the film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” yesterday, a real gem about a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to India. It was such fun, and I must say watching Judi Dench turn herself into a blogger was a delight.
      But there they were, stepping out of line and risking everything. The returns were pretty good!

      Linda

  12. Thank you for this intriguing introduction to Yoani Sanchez’s life and blog from Cuba. While bold self-identification gains her some measure of protection by public awareness, many of the rest of us are concerned about identity theft. I love the blogging phenomena for allowing a glimpse into other lives and scenery and experience even if their writers are anonymous.

    • nikkipolani,

      You raise a valid point about the perils of identity theft, albeit one that highlights the differences between our lives and that of Yoani Sanchez and others who blog from the heart of dictatorships or societies in the midst of turmoil.

      After all, who would want to steal the identity of a person who’s under constant surveillance, subject to harassment and threats, and, in some instances, targeted for death? Not me!

      And of course the other side of internet anonymity is that it allows everything from boorish behavior on forums and in chat rooms to stalking, harassment and threats. We call them trolls, but they’re not nearly so cute as the little dolls that were popular some years ago.

      Like you, I read many blogs by anonymous authors – photoblogs, essays, political commentary, criticism of art and books – and I enjoy them tremendously. But I do favor the ones that have a face and a name.

      Linda

  13. I particularly loved how you finished this post, Linda, with WWYST! I suddenly wondered if a bracelet has already been made and what would happen if it donned the wrists of “believers” all over the world who could tell her story.

    A previous commenter mentioned identity theft as a reason for anonymity. I wonder why some of us fear it and others don’t. What’s that about? My former partner often said to me, “I would never say that!”

    • Ginnie,

      WWYST? That’s just funny! On the other hand, I’ll bet you a good cup of coffee that if we suggested it to Ms. Sanchez herself, she’d say something like, “What difference does it really make what I think? What do YOU think?”

      As for anonymity, see my response to nikkipolani just above. Of course I take the threat of identify theft seriously. I don’t use “password” as my password, for example, and there are several other cautions I pay attention to – but the paranoia of my first year on the internet is gone.

      Linda

  14. Very interesting. I will check her blog.

    • Bente,

      Quite apart from her writing and reporting, I suspect that you’ll find the photography of interest. Her blog – and those of the other Cuban bloggers – provide intriguing glimpses into a quite different world.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the entry here. Thanks so much for leaving a comment – you’ll always welcome!

      Linda

  15. Linda, I started reading this earlier and then had to stop because it was meatier than what I had the time for at that moment. I return now with more time and to savor your words and her story.

    I have recently dealt with a crisis of conscience in saying what I think — to do so would put me in jeopardy at work, and so I politely say, “I will listen as long as you want to talk, but you understand why it would be inappropriate for me to comment one way or the other.” Weasly, isn’t it? I don’t like it — but must to feel safe. I sometimes wonder what kind of blog post I will write on my first day of retirement! If I return to this post, I fear it will be a little “hot.”

    • jeanie,

      Your words don’t sound “weasly” to me as much as rational and well-considered. Once upon a time, I spent my days in a work environment that preached tolerance but practiced something rather different. There was a lot of self-censorship going on there, and the phrase “picking your battles” often was heard in the halls.

      The longer I’ve read Yoani’s blog, the more I’ve come to understand the power of what she is doing. There are more bloggers than I can count who do little more than ranting and raving. They ridicule people who don’t share their views, adore setting up straw men and often resort to sheer nastiness. Sometimes, they remind me of children behind the barn, smoking cornsilk and saying bad words just for the pleasure of it.

      Yoani, on the other hand, simply describes life on her island. Her hallmarks are understatement, irony, and (as far as I can judge) absolute truth in the details. There are some lessons for all of us in that,

      Linda

  16. Linda, wow… whoa. This is so very timely for me. I needed to ‘hear-listen’ to this. I must reread this and ponder more deeply. I understand anonymity and the why as a writer. All I can say for now is thank you very much for this insightful post.

    • Nor had I heard of Yoani Sanchez, but her story speaks to the heart of all of us bloggers. I tried to “follow this blog,” but it said it no longer existed, so obviously I’ve done something wrong. I’ll find a way. Thanks Linda for another great post.

      • I don’t think you did anything “wrong”, Martha. I got the same response. I think the Blog Network that she’s linked with requires joining, or some such. I just keep the link in my separate list for Blogger blogs. I can’t seem to get email updates from half of them, and I always miss getting to them in a timely manner, so I set up my own system.

        Glad you enjoyed it. Doesn’t it make you wonder what else is out there that none of us has discovered yet?

        Linda

    • Anna,

      Even for those who choose not to be anonymous, there’s a lot of value in a good, old-fashioned practice called “discernment”. When my mother was dying last year, there were many details I didn’t record here on the blog. It would have served no purpose for me to rant about the care she received. Instead, I channeled my energy into dealing with the problems themselves, and alerting people to some of the things they should look out for in similar circumstances. Of course there were times I was tempted to “go off” here, but in the end it would have served no purpose.

      The same is true about the details of our emotional lives. While I appreciate the expression of any deeply-felt emotion – grief, frustration, tenderness, joy, anger – there’s something about a “navel-gazing blog” that wears after a while. The honest expression of emotion is good. Simply wandering around in the depths of our psyches can be a little …. um….. boring. In other words – we need to learn to be editors as well as writers!

      And of course, we always have that wonderful line from Emily Dickinson to guide us along: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant…”

      Linda

  17. What would Yoani Sanchez think? Intriguing thought. While she struggles and takes great risks to publish her words, and often we hit the publish button and go on with out daily routine, never even giving a second thought to our right to spread our perspective far and wide. And the world really could go without a couple of those perspectives. My whining about insomnia and weight gain comes to mind.

    My DIL landed in America through a disturbing chain of events. Some of her family members were in politics. There was a civil war. Her family was targeted. Some relatives were taken from their homes and never returned. Her family fled and managed to, after a couple of years, arrive in the U.S. and eventually become citizens. It’s quite a story, but not mine to tell. First generations are sometimes reluctant to detail their stories. The fear is still present, and the knowledge of the sacrifices already paid is still fresh.

    Thank you for the link. I’ve already browsed and will continue to visit Generación Y.

    • Bella,

      You call it whining. I call it an inspirational reminder that I’m not alone out here. Well, except for that insomnia business. I fear the day I finally figure out what that’s all about.

      You’re right about the reluctance of the newly-escaped to tell their tales. There’s also the fear of those who aren’t sure where the threat is, or how significant it might be. Bloggers and journalists in Mexico already have paid with their lives for their willingness to speak up about the drug cartels. Most of us are too busy with important matters to pay attention, lulled by a government that continues to insist there is no threat.

      Meanwhile, the threat already has crossed our borders. In New Mexico, wildfires burn that were set in Mexico. In Texas and New Mexico, armed guards are needed for tours to place like the Organ Pipe National Monument. Unfortunately, political considerations are dictating the government’s (lack of) response.

      See how easy it can be to slip toward a rant? ;)

      Linda

  18. Love the image of the fellow Blogging with chalk and blackboard in Monrovia.
    So many of the issues you include above need more consideration so I’ll come back but for now regarding censorship, surveillance or interference on the internet (and simplifying the issue to: “Them or Us?”) I choose “Us”!

    • Ken,

      I knew you’d like the Monrovia story. Learning to cope with unhappy realities – a third world specialty.

      As for “us” vs “them” – is there anyone who wouldn’t chose “us” in that situation? It’s part of what makes that kind of division so – unworkable in the long run. Of course, taken out of any kind of context it’s hard to make any kind of choice, no?

      i still remember a funny, funny exchange from the old Bob Dylan/Tom Paxton/Woody Guthrie days of my youth. A couple of acquaintances were having one of “those” conversations. It got louder and louder, and finally one said to the other, “Look. I don’t know if God’s on my side or not, but he sure as h*** isn’t on yours.”
      I seem to be hearing more of that these days.

      Linda

      • I’ve been trying to think about what happened there lately (and here). C.I.C. is incarcerated for longer than he will live. I’m not saying that’s a bad call – Charles ran with some serious bad dudes – Varney, who I met and some young scary “dead eye'” (read snake) “Generals” in the NPFL.
        Oh my – I have to go back and see what your blog was about. I doubt it was concerned with Liberian politics.

  19. Amazing, Linda! Thank you for sharing with us. ~ Lynda

    • Lynda,

      There are some new and interesting developments just now. She’s filed a demand for a response from the Interior Minister regarding her inability to travel. You can see the Miami Herald article here.

      I saw on her twitter feed tonight that the police have arrested two Swedish friends visiting in her father’s home, and that they’ll be expelled from the country. I don’t have any details about that, but I’m sure we’ll learn more. I think the phrase for that sort of thing is “leaning on” someone.

      Linda

      • Ohmygoodness, Hope everyone is safe! ~ L

  20. A thought provoking article.

    I know a little of what Yoani is going through, having experienced for almost 25 years what it means to live under a dictatorship. I was in my teens when President Marcos declared martial law in 1972. From that time up to the People Power Revolution in 1986, which toppled his regime, we lived in fear, unable to really speak our minds. The few who did ended up in prison or, worse, we’re killed for having the courage to speak against the dictatorship.

    I admire her courage, and what she does makes me reflect – What am I doing now with the freedom that I now enjoy? I have to admit that I have taken it for granted.

    Freedom is a basic human right, and it’s sad that citizens in a country like Cuba don’t enjoy it. For us, who enjoy freedom, the challenge is to value it and not to take it for granted, and use our freedom in a constructive manner.

    May we all, following Yoani’s example, express ourselves with courage, honesty, and integrity…

    ~ Matt

    • Matt,

      It’s been quite enlightening to read comments from people like you and Omar, who have your own experience of living under dictatorship.

      I think quite often of the difference between the time I lived and worked in Liberia, and the return visit I made in the early 80s. By that time, a coup had occurred, and while it wasn’t precisely a dictatorship, the level of fear was considerable and the atmosphere had changed. Guns were everywhere on the street, and it was impossible to take a taxi without being stopped, made to show papers and undergo some level of interrogation.

      I see people in the U.S. as increasingly willing to turn over their freedom to an out-of-control bureaucracy – what some call a “soft tyranny”. I worry about the corruption in government, and the demagoguery of people who rage against the rich while they increase their own wealth exponentially.

      This is a time for Americans to express ourselves with the same courage, honesty and integrity you speak of. I hope we do.

      Linda

  21. Thank you for telling us about Yoani, Linda. I feel humbled by what I have just read.

    It took me some time before I set up my blog 4 years ago to decide whether to write under my own name. Reading this post, I am glad I did. Very few of us have Yoani’s kind of courage – but at least we can exhibit a small portion…..

    • Anne,

      I have this terribly old-fashioned notion that every individual counts, a “no man is an island” kind of perspective that makes a good bit of life bearable.

      In the same way, I think that even the smallest gesture of love or courage counts – sometimes in ways we can neither imagine nor anticipate.

      And it’s worth remembering that, in the beginning, Yoani wasn’t a polemicist or political commentator. She was simply a young woman, telling her story in small, ordinary ways. As I remember her saying once, “It’s very difficult to confront one who speaks only of the price of lemons.”

      Linda

  22. Great to see this post, Linda.

    Hopefully, it will lead to a widening of her already ample audience.

    • Andrew,

      Nothing could please me more than expanding her readership. I don’t know if you follow her twitter feed, but she had an interesting entry today: “Etymology doesnt lie. #Cuba “Patria” comes from the same root than “Padre”. How you raised your kids is how you helped to build your country.”

      Isn’t that just the truth. A good Fathers’ Day entry, for sure.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Linda

  23. i read this just after you posted it and thought i’d be able to put my thoughts into werds. i was wrong. moving post. i’m glad you recorded it.

    • Thanks, sherri. One thing that makes Yoani so compelling is her ability to articulate her experience of both internal and external constraints, even as she shows us the connection between them.

      Beyond that, her emphasis on the everyday and “ordinary” is compelling. I glanced at her twitter feed today, and among her concerns was the poor potato harvest. Where else would we learn of such things – and be moved by the plight of her nation?

      Linda

  24. I don’t know the history of using made up names on the net but never liked it. Seems to me someone that does that is afraid to own themselves not realizing that to own yourself is to own it all. So, I’m always John Hinds, just a man.

    • John,

      If I were starting afresh today, I’d do things differently myself – a different URL and my own name. But, “shoreacres” will do just fine, particularly since my actual name and such also aren’t hidden.

      I do have some experience of a site where “trolls”, “sock puppets” and such are common. That kind of anonymity is of a different order altogether, and generally a sign of someone wanting to create a little havoc. Well, or of youngsters trying to keep their parents from knowing what they’re up to.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

      • Well, to name your blog something other than one’s name is quite a different matter. Shoreacres captures something unique to you, Linda. Maybe you took the money from the hill country place and put it into a place on the water, a yacht?

        • If I had that kind of money, I’d not still be varnishing. It is true that “shoreacres” is a tribute to two of my Texas loves, though – the Hill Country and the water.

  25. What an amazing woman. I’ve not heard of her before. Though that may be because I’ve been buried in the country – the inertia of the insular peninsular! But I will definitely be having a read now. Some peoples courage is astounding. I wonder if everyone is capable of it – it is very selfless, and I don’t mean that as in the self-consciously worthy way, but in a genuinely open and giving way. I’m not sure that comfortable and safe lives, lovely as they are, are the framework in which to show what the human spirit can attain.

    I’m slightly regretting the anonymous route too, though when you first start you’re not sure what it’s all about so caution prevails. And there’s a deeply ingrained British sensibility of ‘not showing off’ . Hah, what luxury! Maybe I’ll come out one day ;)

    • thinkingcowgirl,

      I suspect people in the States are more aware of her because of the proximity of Cuba and the presence of people among us who’ve either come here from the island or have other interest in the Castro regime. The Cuban missile crisis is one of my most vivid memories. Even as students we were able to grasp that having missiles only 90 miles off our shores wasn’t the best thing in the world.

      But the truth is that I first learned of Yoani through a brief mention of her name on a blog. I saw the mention and thought, “Hmmm… I wonder what her story is? Why is she being mentioned?” I found out.

      What’s most interesting to me is the way her leadership developed. When she began blogging, she wrote only about the most ordinary things of life – the price of milk, for example. She didn’t begin with a frontal attack against the regime. She simply reported realities that everyone was aware of. Publicly acknowledging reality, as it turns out, has a great deal of power.

      I think everyone choses the level of exposure they’re comfortable with. I was extremely cautious when I began, too. A decade ago, there were plenty of “horror stories” about what “could” happen if our true identities were exposed. Today? Not so much. It’s not so different from what we were taught as kids – choose your friends carefully, and you’ll be fine. ;)

      Linda

  26. Wow, beautiful post. Thank you. I guess I will start blogging under my real name, for a start.

    • psqualtz,

      I still use “shoreacres” as my screen name here, mostly because I’ve heard stories of people who end up with hassles when trying to change things. Still, everyone knows my name, and after five years nothing terrible has happened. And I have found it rather freeing.

      I’m glad you liked the post. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for commenting. You’re welcome any time!

      Linda


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