Yoani Sanchez, a University of Havana graduate in philology, migrated to Switzerland in 2002, to build a new life for herself and her family. Two years later, she decided to return to Cuba, promising herself to live there as a free person. Her blog Generation Y is an expression of this promise.
Not allowed to work openly as a journalist, Yoani Sanchez has persisted in covertly publishing unbridled observations and reports about her native Cuba via the Internet. She uses her blog, Generacion Y, to communicate with the world in a way that she ordinarily would never have been able to. She won the Ortega and Gasset Journalism Award in Spain but was forbidden to travel to the ceremony. Through the Internet, however, Sanchez continues to practice her journalistic dream.
Yoani calls her blog ‘an exercise in cowardice’ that allows her to say what is forbidden in the public square. It reaches readers around the world in over twenty languages. One of her latest posts is about food shortages, in which she responds to tourists’ questions about typical Cuban cuisine with “I don’t remember.” She goes on to describe a common meal as rice flavored with bouillon cubes, and uses the visual image to describe the political climate in Cuba: “pre-digested news” and “canned speeches”. In November 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama wrote that her blog “provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba” and applauded her efforts to “empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.” Time magazine listed her as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2008, stating that “under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practised what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot; freedom of speech.
Of course, she does not publish or promote her work in her native Cuba. There, she is merely a Spanish teacher for tourists. She publishes her blog from Internet cafes, hoping to stay below the radar of Cuban officials. What she has done, however, is provide an outlet for one citizen’s unedited descriptions of real life in Cuba, defying a totalitarian regime, profit-seeking media, and agenda-pushing politicians.
Generacion Y is a window into a socialist state, complete with propaganda campaigns and highly-restricted access to outside news sources. Having lived in Switzerland for 2 years because of “disillusionment and economic frustration,” Sanchez gained exposure to outside sources of news and history, which no doubt have allowed her to compare life and politics in Cuba to that of other nations. Those years also allowed her to learn the skills needed to build a blog –- a blog that she now uses to share the struggles of the people of Cuba with the rest of the world, filter-free.
She has received much international recognition for her works, including: the Ortega y Gasset Prize, Spain’s highest award for digital journalism; the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University; the World Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute; and the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands. Foreign Policy magazine named her one of the 10 Most Influential Latin American Intellectuals in 2008, and one of The World’s Top Dissidents in 2010.
Yoani lives with her husband, independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, and their teenage son Teo, in a high rise apartment in Havana, overlooking Revolution Square. There they host the “Blogger Academy” to help grow the Cuban blogosphere.