Yoani Sánchez is known for her mordant accounts of the vicissitudes of life under a repressive government. Yet on Wednesday night, at an auditorium at Georgetown University simply adorned with a Cuban flag, I was inspired not only by the lyricism of her Spanish, but by her tone of reconciliation and hope. In wide-ranging remarks, the dream of “a Cuba where all Cubans fit” was the recurring theme.
The island of Sánchez’s imagination celebrates intellectual pluralism, suppressed for decades but now growing from a whisper to a clamor in the “virtual Cuba” of dissident bloggers. It also unites Cubans “from the two shores.” Sánchez vividly conjured the image of islanders and exiles looking at two sides of a mirror and recognizing each other, in direct defiance of a government that has separated gusanos (worms) from revolutionaries.
The equally intrepid blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, who joined Sánchez on her whirlwind speaking tour in Washington DC expressed the joy he finds in building bridges with the Cuban diaspora. Responding to requests from Cubans around the world, he snaps photographs of stucco houses shaded by mango trees, family crypts in the Cemetery of Colón, even the graceful slope of Havana’s seawall—all frozen in the memory of the exiliado.
This message of inclusiveness dares to suggest a happier future for a country that has lost more than a tenth of its population to other lands since 1959. Sánchez, Pardo Lazo, and other independent journalists bravely refuse to emigrate, remaining as agents provocateurs in the face of both government repression and the political apathy it has produced.
Instead of bitterness or hostility toward those who fled, however, they project a nuanced understanding of Cuban identity that embraces diversity yet diminishes the fragmentation and dislocation wrought by revolution and exile. As Sánchez tweeted yesterday afternoon, she is “completing the jigsaw puzzle that is Cuba thanks to the multiple pieces” she has discovered on her trip abroad. According to another tweet, she has “found Cuba outside of Cuba.”
As the daughter of a Cuban mother and a Kiwi father, I am left to ponder my own relationship with this enigmatic country. My abiding fascination with its past stemmed from the stories of older generations, beginning with “In Cuba I remember” and ending with a nostalgic sigh. My hope for its future lies with the powerful vision of “a Cuba where all Cubans fit.”