Yoani Sánchez’s visit to the nation’s capital started off with a tweet. While reading my Twitter, I found out that the Cuban dissident blogger who writes Generación Y blog is touring the U.S., visiting New York City, Washington, DC, and Miami, as part of a three month world tour.
Excited to hear Sánchez speak and write about it for my Latina readers, I tweeted:
The 37-year-old mother has become the face of opposition to the regime of Raúl and Fidel Castro with the latter surviving CIA assassination attempts during the most frigid diplomatic moments of the Cold War. What the Castro brothers may not ward off are the protests coming through the circulation of information enabled by new technologies.
One tweet, text, and blog entry at a time, this new wave of activists is questioning and rebelling against Cuba’s current way of life which Sánchez and fellow dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo (also on tour) described as totalitarian with repression rampant: dissenters are arrested and phone lines are cut.
Sánchez said regular Cuban citizens are armed not with guns but simple cell phones, thumb drives, internet connections, SMS messages, and social media. Through technology, they are hacking what she called a monopoly of thought.
“Technology alone will not save us or democratize Cuba but it has an important role to play. If one person, one thousand, one million people follow those [dissident] Cuban bloggers, it helps spread awareness and information. That exposure works as a protective shield to keep us safe as we work to make a more democratic Cuba,” said Sánchez.
With knowledge of what’s happening on the island and around the world through non-state run media sources comes power combined with Cubans’ desire, demand, and a method of expression. Sánchez believes this is what will ultimately break the “wall of censorship.”
As soon as her talk wrapped up, a tsunami of supporters and well-wishers rushed Sánchez, which required some sharp use of my elbows to get to this petite, simply dressed woman who also has been named one of the world’s most influential people by leading publications such as Time and Foreign Policy magazines.
I asked: What can Latinas in the U.S. do to help the people of Cuba?
“Help us get the word out about what’s happening in Cuba. All of us inhabit this continent called America. Help us break the isolation and be a part of it,” Sánchez pleaded.
When I asked her to explain, she described how in the morning she had reviewed her Twitter timeline, to re-tweet the bloggers on the island she is following: was someone detained; was there a power outage; is there no milk at the grocery store? This is a powerful act because retelling these truths counters what the regime officially says is happening.
As a Twitter addict, I paused. Here, we take democracy and freedom for granted, having the luxury to tweet a picture of what I had for lunch, my latest bad date, or crush on Prince Royce.
But realizing that we also can be a part of something larger by using some of our online time to become informed on issues here and around the world, and then become involved with a few clicks or RTs is powerful.
Think about our power to make something trend: retweeting Justin Bieber will keep him at the top of iTunes.
Retweeting a Cuban dissident blogger can shield her from arrest.
Viviana Hurtado Ph.D., founder of the Hispanic woman-focused news and current events website The Wise Latina Club, is Latina’s Washington, DC-based political correspondent. Read Viviana's political posts here.