On April 1 the Freedom Tower echoed with cries of liberty as crowds of Cuban exiles eagerly awaited for Yoani Sánchez to appear on stage.
Once the Cuban blogger emerged, supporters applauded and shouted her name, while opposers simultaneously yelled “liar”.
Despite the cries of advocates and adversaries, Sánchez’s message of unity was the loudest of all.
Sánchez began the presentation with an anecdote from a time in Germany when a young German man on a train asked her where she was from: “You’re from Cuba? From the Cuba of Fidel or from the Cuba of Miami?”
Sánchez then replied: “I’m Cuban, from José Martí.”
Her opening speech supported the idea that although Cubans have been separated from their lives on the island, they should strive to become unified and maintain their sense of identity.
“I am here because I don’t believe the story they told me. With so many other Cubans who grew up under a single official “truth,” we have woken up. We need to rebuild our nation. We can’t do it alone,” Sánchez said. “Those present here – as you know well – have helped so many families on the Island put food on the table for their children. You have made your way in societies where you had to start from nothing. You have carried Cuba with you and you have cared for her. Help us to unify her, to tear down this wall that, unlike the one in Berlin, is not made of concrete or bricks, but of lies, silence and bad intentions.”
The conversation was led by Myriam Marquez the Editorial Page Editor for The Miami Herald. Topics included the origins of her blog, her family and her decision to speak up on the issues affecting the Cuban people.
“I left [Cuba] with an asphyxiated of expression, material things, and I reached the conclusion —like many other Cubans—that I would never have the opportunity to grow in the country in the country where my roots were” Sánchez said.
In 2002, she moved to Zurich, where she taught Spanish as a foreign language illegally. While there, she recalls feeling remorse for the opportunities she faced such as eating a plate of warm food or even buying a pair of shoes. She decided to return to Cuba after realizing that was where her heart was.
“I promised myself I would return under one condition: I would never be the person who I was before I left,” Sánchez explained. “I will not be the same person that holds back her words, that disregards her opinions, and I refuse to keep wearing a mask. If I come back I want to be the person that I am now.”
After her return to Cuba, her blog Generation Y has reached thousands around the world and has been translated into 17 languages. The conversation at the Freedom Tower was part of her world tour, which according to Sánchez has been mostly funded by fellow bloggers, universities, and supporters.
“The Cuban government says that I’m a millionaire, it’s true, I’m rich with friends” Sánchez said.
After the event, Senator Bill Nelson presented her with the flag that was flying in Washington during her visit. She also received the key to Miami from mayor Tomás Regalado, and the key to the city of Doral from mayor Luigi Boria. Miami Dade College presented her with its Presidential Medal for campaigning for human rights.
“The fact that she was here means that there is only one Cuba and that she is the bridge that is unifying us,” Regalado said.
Sánchez understands she will face repercussions when she returns to Cuba.
“Fear reaches a point in which it doesn’t affect you anymore…” Sánchez said. “What I fear the most is for something to happen to my family. As far as I go, what’s the worst that could happen, the end? I’ll leave in peace, I have lived life with the liberty I’ve been granted.”