10/31/13 - Orlando Sentinel - Cuban dissident blogger draws crowd at Valencia
Superstar Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez gets millions of hits a month on her
"Generation Y" blog and has more than 500,000 followers on Twitter -
even though she lives in an island nation with only 118 places where people
can access Internet.
"I called [Cuba] the island of the unconnected, just kidding a little bit,"
said 38-year-old Sánchez, who drew a crowd of more than 100 at Valencia
College on Thursday, as part of its Distinguished Artist Series.
Her appearance drew a diverse crowd of Valencia students, long-time Central
Florida Cuban residents and even a former U.S. Senator.
The famed Cuban dissident, who lives in Havana, was named one of the 100
most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2008. She talked
about how difficult is to be a social media activist in a society where
smartphones are a novelty and in order to access the Internet, most people
have to go to a Internet cafe and pay more than $5 an hour.
Sánchez riveted the crowd with the story of her pursuit to build her own
computer 19 years ago with the goal of sharing her thoughts with others on
the communist island.
"Imagine...while I was seeing friends and people taking doors and tables
from their houses to build a raft, trying to escape, I came up with the
idea of assembling a computer to tell somehow everything that was happening
around me," Sánchez said through an interpreter. That homemade computer
even had a nickname: Little Frankenstein.
In 2007, Sánchez created her blog by posting a picture of herself - and her
real name -and began to write. Her commentaries were about the daily life
of Cubans, critical observations of the Castro regime and the lack of human
rights on the island.
Her work as blogger in Cuba brought her international acclaim. In 2009
Sánchez won the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Prize, but she couldn't
travel to New York to accept the Columbia University award.
Early this year, as part of economic reform promoted by Cuban president
Raúl Castro, Sánchez was granted a passport. Finally, she was able to meet
some of her Twitter followers, academics and admirers outside of the
She was invited to Orlando by Valencia professor Richard Sansone, who met
her during a trip to Cuba.
"I have nothing but admiration for her and respect for the courage that has
fueled her through many years of building her blog and her following," said
Sansone, who teaches English to non-native speakers and Portuguese. "She
has made changes in the world through social media."
Former Sen. Mel Martínez, who was in the audience Thursday, called
Sánchez's appearance in Orlando "phenomenal."
"I think her points of view were really, really good and I found them just
tremendously positive," said Martínez, who was born in Cuba. "I am very
encouraged by her thoughts of the potential for a better future for the
Before flying to Orlando, Sánchez was in California, where she visited
Twitter headquarters. She said she has a lot of things to thank Twitter for
- even some of the freedom she enjoys in her homeland.
Valencia student Francisco Pérez, 24, who has been following Sánchez on
Twitter, said that knowing about her accomplishments in a country with so
many restrictions has made him think about a lot of things.
"We take for granted that we have here," said Pérez.
Sánchez has a message for those who rarely think about freedom and the
benefits of living in a democracy:
"Technology - computer, Internet, flash drives, hard drives - have become
the infrastructure of liberty."
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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