Personal Essay
8:00 am
Fri April 12, 2013

After Yoani Sanchez: What Changes Linger In The Miami Air?

Author Daniel Rivero with prominent Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez during her recent visit to the Miami Herald's editorial board
Author Daniel Rivero with prominent Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez during her recent visit to the Miami Herald's editorial board
Credit Patricia Sagastume / WLRN

Seven or eight years ago, during a sociology class at Miami-Dade College, the professor asked us to write a sociological history of our lives. It was the first time I thought long and hard about my life in the scheme of history, about the chain of events that brought me to my life in Miami as a Cuban-American.

For people of my generation, you simply could not avoid getting a crash course on Cuban politics and the dream of a free Cuba.  The reason we are here. We are here because of him. Because of Fidel.

"Gone are the glory days, but they will come back" is the mantra.  But how long will it take?  How much time can you spend fighting before you just burn out and quit?

And with no signs of Fidel and his brother Raul loosening their grip on power, there’s not much hope in sight for generations of Cubans in exile.  The fight has been losing its edge. For too long, the discussion about how to reinstate democracy in Cuba has been limited to the older generation's hard-line. 

During her recent visit to Miami, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez spoke at the Freedom Tower, where so many Cubans first passed through on their way to new lives in the United States.

Sanchez shared a story that will become a new mantra to Miami's younger Cuban-Americans.  She’d been living in Switzerland, and while visiting Germany, a young man asked her a question:  Are you from the "Cuba of Castro" or the "Cuba of Miami"?

Turning red, she responded to him in her best Central Havana Spanish: "Chico, I am from the Cuba of Jose Martí." Jose Martí is the country's most prominent poet and most recognized national hero.

We have been divided by a dictatorship, Sanchez told the crowd -- split into "two irreconcilable worlds."  We are a diverse people, divided by geography and time apart, but we form a single heritage and history. The country needs you.  Do what you can do!

Sanchez is frustrated that in more than 50 years, the approach hasn’t changed. And by any measure, it hasn’t worked. Besides that, Cuba’s government uses the U.S. embargo as an excuse for all the country’s ills.  Her rallying cry: it’s time to try something else.

Forcing introspection onto political dogma, and providing new hope to the fatigued, Sanchez has captivated and activated the media and spectator alike.  Some of her views -- like calls to end the U.S. embargo to the island -- are politically unthinkable by Miami standards.  And yet she has merged the generational divide of Miami's Cuban community, along with those for and against the embargo.  Her pragmatic views and bold actions have rekindled a sense of unity between Cubans in exile and those still on the island, as well as among Miami Cubans themselves. Indeed, a look around the mixed crowd at the event showed Cubans spanning generations, citizenship status and sides of the political spectrum.

And for the first time I can remember, the differences that separate us from one another felt trivial.  A feeling of reinvigoration struck, a feeling still looming in Miami’s air.

As Sanchez took the stage, a chant of libertad nearly brought me to tears.  I was so unprepared for the weight of the passion, the force of the sound, the diversity of voices.

I stood paralyzed for a moment, unsure whether I should join in or not.  Should a journalist do this or would that be a political action?  Could I actually participate in a chant? 

My answer was yes. Even as a journalist, I can always stand for freedom of speech.  I can always stand for freedom from oppression.  And though we stand separated by miles and years apart from la patria, I will always stand for the vision of Jose Martí, who like ourselves, once found himself exiled in the United States.

Daniel Rivero is WLRN's social media editor. You can read more of his pieces here, like the history of South Florida's place names, an interactive map of transit times, and his recent coverage of Ultra Music Festival.