In Cuba, the Voice of a Blog Generation
In Cuba, the Voice of a Blog Generation
Published: July 5, 2011
Ms. Sánchez's blog, Generation Y, chronicles daily life under Castro.
"The content of the book entitled 'Free Cuba' transgresses against the
general interests of the nation, in that it argues that certain
political and economic changes are necessary in Cuba in order for its
citizens to enjoy greater material well-being and attain personal
fulfillment," stated the document, which Ms. Sánchez posted on her Web
site. Such positions "are extremes totally contrary to the principles of
Outside her homeland, though, Ms. Sánchez's writing is free of such
censorship, and she has emerged as an important new voice, both literary
and political. Published in the United States in May under the title
"Havana Real" (Melville House), her book draws on the same collection of
sketches of daily life in Cuba — a dreary, enervating routine of food
shortages, transportation troubles and narrowed opportunity — that she
has been posting on her Web site, Generation Y
(desdecuba.com/generationy), since 2007.
"This country is so saturated with contaminated, corrupted political
discourse, with empty pamphleteering, that I wanted to explore other
areas," Ms. Sánchez, 35, said last month in a telephone interview from
Havana, interrupted several times when the connection broke down. "I
write about my interior life, the intimate sphere. It's the sentiments
of one person but sums up the reality of many people and shows just how
sick this society is."
Globally, Ms. Sánchez's blog, whose name refers to the Russian-sounding
names beginning with "Y" that many Cubans her age were given at the
height of their nation's dependency on the Soviet Union, is available in
a score of languages and gets up to 14 million visits a month. Within
Cuba, though, the dictatorship of Fidel and Raúl Castro has from the
start sought to silence her and prevent other Cubans from reading what
she calls her "little vignettes of reality."
Ms. Sánchez will not, for example, take a book tour to promote "Havana
Real" because she is prohibited from leaving Cuba. "We Cubans are like
small children," she has written, "who need Father's permission to leave
the house." But she has sought to evade that restriction through
videotaped virtual book readings, smuggled out of Cuba on flash drives,
in which she explains her situation and reads sketches from her book.
She has used similar subterfuges just to post her blog.
That stubborn cat-and-mouse battle, along with the forceful nature of
her writing, have made Ms. Sánchez a potent symbol of resistance to five
decades of totalitarian Communist rule. Former president Jimmy Carter
met with her during a visit to Havana this year, President Obama did an
online interview for her blog in late 2009, and in 2008 Time magazine,
praising her "charming but pugnacious slice-of-life portraits of life in
Cuba," put her on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
"The logic of events has made her a kind of leader, perceived by people
as giving voice to all the discontent of an entire generation," said
José Manuel Prieto, the exiled Cuban novelist and former visiting
scholar at the New York Public Library. "She is not a news agency, so
she circulates the population's feelings rather than journalistic
scoops. But it bothers those in power that she has challenged their
monopoly on information and offers a different reading of the country's
The Castro dictatorship has responded to her challenge by doubling down.
In the state-controlled media, Ms. Sánchez is often accused of
conducting a "cyberwar" against the government, and Fidel Castro has
singled her work out for criticism, calling her the leader of a group of
"special envoys of neo-colonialism, sent to undermine" his rule.
By training Ms. Sánchez is a philologist and once worked at a publishing
house specializing in children's books. But the start of her political
problems can be traced to her thesis at the University of Havana, "Words
Under Pressure: A Study of the Literature of Dictatorship in Latin
America," which was seen as containing veiled criticisms of Fidel
Castro's rule and praised writers she admires but who have had work
banned, like the Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
Her political profile sometimes obscures Ms. Sánchez's prose style and
connection to Latin American and other literary traditions, say those
familiar with her work. "She's a very gifted writer, and she's in a
zone, like Federer playing at his best, able to choose what kind of shot
she wants to make," said Oscar Hijuelos, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
writer. "She has a novelistic sensibility, but I am particularly touched
by the down-to-earthiness of her portraiture, her reporting from the
front lines of daily life in Cuba. She has some very interesting chops
that any writer would admire."
Ms. Sánchez seems particularly drawn to the essaylike genre known as the
crónica, or chronicle, which she has helped bring into the 21st century
by putting it online in compressed form. "With her focus on the
quotidian, she is very much a part of that tradition," said Enrique Del
Risco, who left Cuba in 1995 and now teaches contemporary Latin American
literature at New York University "It's precisely that grounding in the
domestic and personal plane that allows her to show how exhausting and
crushing daily life can be."
Recently Ms. Sánchez completed a second book, a manual whose title
translates as "Wordpress: A Blog for Speaking to the World." A new
fiber-optic cable connecting Cuba with South America has just been laid,
and when it begins fully operating later this summer, it is likely to
increase opportunities not just for her, but for other dissident
bloggers and writers, many of whom have attended the seminars she
conducted that led to the writing of the second book.
"It's interesting that we're talking not about a bearded 80-year-old
man, but a sharp, fearless, skinny 35-year-old mother," said Ted Henken,
an expert on Cuba and the Internet who teaches at the City University of
New York and visited Ms. Sánchez in April. "That's new, and in some
ways, by spreading the virus of blogging and tweeting to others, she has
displaced Che and Fidel among young, progressive people."
A version of this article appeared in print on July 6, 2011, on page C1
of the New York edition with the headline: In Cuba, The Voice Of a Blog