By Ylena Zamora-Vargas
THEY PREFER speaking English to Spanish, they feel as American as a McDonald’s Big Mac, and they are tired of the insistent preoccupation their parents’ generation has with the current regime. But when second-generation, third-generation, and fourth-generation Cuban-Americans travel far beyond Miami, they are uniformly struck by just how Cuban they feel. They ache for dishes of black beans and rice and they search the radio dial for salsa music.
Elements of both cultures run deep in the blood of Cuban exiles, many of whom were born in the United States or were so young when they left Cuba, as is my case, that the few memories they have left of the island pretty much stayed there along with the rest of the belongings they were forced to leave behind.
It is for this sector of the population that the importance and impact of Cuban bloggers can perhaps be most pertinent. For Cuban-Americans, removed from the lifestyle on the island and caught up in the quotidian hassles of this i-oriented society, it is easy to forget or become distanced from the Cuban reality that might have been theirs were they not so fortunate to emigrate or be born in a democratic country. Moreover, under constant pressure exerted by U.S. culture, movies, and electronic media to assimilate, Cuban roots tend to blur. A great way to reconnect to that alter ego that could have been in another parallel universe, is through these blogs.
I reconnected with Cuba through Raíces de Esperanza in 2009, my freshman year at Columbia, as well as through Yoani Sánchez’s personal blog Generación Y. At first, as I read and translated the blogs, I felt that I wasn’t doing much for Cuba – that reading and translating was passive and fruitless. I found that in blogs there was always loss. Loss of time. Loss of pain. Loss of a little bit of everything that words can’t hold but that through their unique arrangement on a canvas paint a glimpse of some world for those willing to interpret the brushstrokes. Words hold nothing and require enormous effort and in a world where time and energy are of the essence who has either leftover for words or writing?
Then I thought, it’s the actions. The fact that people are writing about their condition, needing to release their pain, in which case the words and the translation barely matter. Cuban bloggers are going to therapy or as Yoani Sánchez expresses “exorcising” pent up and auto-censured feelings, a consequence of the régime’s continued ideological stronghold over the Cuban people. They are a platform of rebellion, of freedom of expression, a breath of fresh air amidst stuffy ideology, a glimmer of hope in the dead night.
Looked at in this way, blogging is an active activism, not just “palabrería” or hot air talk. I realized that it has the capability to inspire and spread the “flu” against apathy as Yoani likes to metaphorize. Yoani Sánchez has repeatedly said that she prefers Cubans apathetic than fanatic, because apathy is something that can be awakened, while fanaticism is much more difficult to restrain and moderate. Yet, we tend to look at Cubans in the island as apathetic and forget that Cuba is also the exile community. In many ways the exile community has not done enough either.
Recently, I remember a terrible and overwhelming breakdown of sobs. I felt disappointment with myself for not being informed, for my skepticism at the power and potential of blogs, for not knowing about Law 88, for not knowing many things. I felt the urge to read everything about Cuba, to devour all that fraternal pain and to do more. I knew I had abandoned the cause many times, caught up in the trivialities of the routine, only to pick up the fight in the summers when I had more time or whenever something drastic happened that trended on twitter. I am embarrassed to confess such wavering involvement, but I do so emboldened by a renewed commitment to be consistent, to be informed –an invitation I extend to you.
There is a responsibility for more collective brainstorming especially if as observed by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, another dissident blogger, the Cuban blogosphere threatens to sizzle out.
The youth in exile need to be as much awakened as the Cuban people, to feel the obligation to stay connected, to give back, to echo the dissident voices through social media, to ensure that an alternate version of the Cuban reality continues to be propagated. If Yoani made one thing clear, it’s that visibility empowers continual defiance. Social media has provided a visibility that shields dissidents from reprisals and counterattacks from “Soldiers of the Web” or government intimidators who try to sabotage their cries of truth. Nevertheless, our activism should not stop there, it should not stop anywhere.
Ironic as it might seem, especially after all of my own cynicism about blogging, perhaps, in the spirit of Yoani, we should exorcise our pain in the form of a collective blog called “The Y Youth” (La Juventud Y), and there share our ideas for change on the island, our grievances, our regrets, our questions. After all, why (Y) is the most important question of all, no?
Perhaps it could serve as a bridge and networking tool to create a unified dialogue, an example of pluralism many in Cuba could benefit from witnessing. I cannot say now what more we could do because how-to’s are something we should develop collectively, but for that we need to initiate a public and more importantly continual conversation.
Why should Cubans within the island unite if those outside who have more resources such as widespread internet access aren’t connected? What shame should our apathy and division carry? Our commitment to our homeland should be more than just aching for dishes of black beans and rice and searching the radio dial for salsa music, especially when there are those who risk their lives for the possibility to eat a Big Mac and listen to Celia Cruz in a free Cuba.
Ylena Zamora-Vargas is a Senior at Columbia University. She is originally from Miami, FL. This article originally appeared on the Roots of Hope blog.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.