Cuban Blogger Experiences ‘Repudiation’ New York style

Celebrated Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, known for her critical view of the Communist regime in the island, had a tumultuous first visit to New York.

Sánchez, who last month embarked on an 80-day multi-national tour, was greeted with jeers from some of the attendants at a forum organized by New York University and The New School about technology and the Internet.

During her intervention in the panel “The Revolution Recodified,” some people interrupted displaying pro and anti-Castro placards and Cuban flags, and threw fake dollar bills with her face on them. There were also cheers and applause for the 37-year-old journalist, known worldwide for her blog “Generation Y.” Panelist and filmmaker Joey Huertas taped the incident.

A protestor during Yoani Sánchez’s panel at The New School. (Photo by Humberto Arellano via El Diario-La Prensa).

After the shouting was over, and the placards came down, Sánchez quipped: “Cuba’s most exportable area: the act of repudiation” (“El renglón más exportable de Cuba: el acto de repudio”), a reference to the verbal insults and some time physical attacks that Cubans unleashed on their compatriots who decided to leave the island, particularly during the tense months of the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

The Spanish-language outlet Queens Latino reported about a previous Sánchez event with Columbia University journalism students, part of her three-day stay in New York City. The story was translated by Emily Leavitt.

Together with students, professors and other guests, Sánchez addressed Cuba’s technological needs such as the political, social, and economic cost of sending a Twitter message, which according to the blogger exceeds one dollar per message.

“My first suggestion is to send us technology, a flash drive, a memory stick, or help recharge activists’ phones, because a single ‘tweet’ costs us $1.15,” she explained.

Sánchez participated in the conference titled “Yoani in the U.S.: Primeras Palabras” (“First words”), organized by Columbia University, which gave her an honorable mention in 2009 for the Maria Moors Cabot award in recognition of her journalistic efforts on the island.

Sánchez was interviewed by Professor Mirta Ojito of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The March 14 event was taped.

According to the Queens Latino story, Sánchez’s addressed many questions regarding her work in a society that punishes her for her words.

“Like all journalists I’m used to facing challenges, and challenges don’t scare me. When somebody asks if I’m afraid of the authorities manipulating my words, I answer that I’m most afraid of them manipulating my silence, which is why I don’t keep quiet,” said Sánchez.

She said she draws the strength to keep going from small things like “my husband waking me up with a kiss, or my teenage son, who is going through a rough adolescence and slams the door when he leaves.”

When asked how to collaborate to help spread the message, Sánchez replied that the best way is to analyze the topic in depth.

“Sometimes I open the newspaper and read ‘Cuba condemned for’ something to do with human rights at the United Nations and I tell myself, ‘Not Cuba! It’s the government.’ Cuba isn’t a man. I think the first journalistic exercise that would do us a lot of good, that would help Cubans, is to finally separate those things.”

Sánchez said the best way to help people discover Cuba is abandoning “those stereotypical images of false folklore, of an island filled with rum, dominoes and salsa music, because Cuba is more than that.” And she said that  frequently she comes across “many simple articles, which are based on the premise that we are poor but happy, without freedom but smiling.”

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