Yoani Sánchez, born in Havana, 1975.
I studied for two terms at the Pedagogical Institute, majoring in Spanish Literature. In 1995, I moved to the Faculty of Arts of Letters, and after five years finished a degree in Hispanic Philology. I majored in contemporary Latin American Literature, presenting an incendiary thesis entitled, “Words Under Pressure: A Study of the Literature of the Dictatorship in Latin America.” On finishing at the University I realized two things: first, that the world of the intellectual and high culture is repugnant to me and, most painfully, that I no longer wanted to be a philologist.
In September 2000, I went to work in a dark office at Gente Nueva publisher, meanwhile arriving at the conviction—shared by most Cubans—that with the wages I earned legally I could not support my family. So, without concluding my social service, I asked to be let go and dedicated myself to the better-paid labor of freelance Spanish teacher for German tourists visiting Havana. It was a time (which continues today) when engineers preferred to drive a taxi, teachers would do almost anything to get a job at the desk of a hotel, and at store counters you could find a neurosurgeon or nuclear physicist. In 2002, disenchantment and economic suffocation led me to emigrate to Switzerland, from where I returned—for family reasons and against the advice of friends and acquaintances—in the summer of 2004.
In those years I discovered the profession I continue to practice today: computer science. I discovered that binary code is more transparent than affected intellectualism, and that if I’d never really come to terms with Latin, at least I could work with the long chains of HTML language. In 2004 I founded, with a group of Cubans all based on the Island, Consenso, a magazine of reflection and debate. Three years later I work as a web master, columnist, and editor of the site Desde Cuba [From Cuba].
In April 2007, I entangled myself in the adventure of having a blog called Generation Y that I have defined as “an exercise in cowardice” which lets me say, in this space, what is forbidden to me in my civic action.
To my surprise, this personal therapy earned me, in a short time, the attention of thousands of people around the world. Thanks to the virtual citizens’ network that has woven itself around GY, I have been able to update this blog every week. Since March 2008, the Cuban government has enforced a computer filter that prevents seeing my blog from public Internet sites in Cuba. So I need the solidarity of friends off the Island to post my texts on the web. Thanks also to other volunteer collaborators, Generation Y is translated into fifteen languages.
In May 2008, my personal exorcism also won me the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Award in the digital category. I was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in the “Heroes and Pioneers” category, and my blog was included on the list of the 25 Best Blogs in the World issued by Time Magazine/CNN. I won the Jury Prize on the Spanish blog contest, Bitacoras.com, and top honors in the well known blog contest, The BOBs Awards, with more than 12,000 participants from around the world. The weekly magazine of the Spanish newspaper El Pais named the 100 Most Notable Hispanic Americans of 2008 in November of that year; Foreign Policy listed its 10 Most Influential IberoAmerican Intellectuals of 2008 in December; as did the Mexican magazine Gate Pardo. Your humble servant is included in each of these lists. Much more than I could have dreamed of, when I started to combine sentences to upload my first post!
I live in Havana, I opted to stay and every day I am more computer scientist and less philologist.
Yoani has continued to receive international recognition for her work since she wrote this profile. In 2009 she became the first — and so far only — blogger to interview U.S. President Barack Obama, who commented 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.” Also in 2009, she received a special citation for journalistic excellence in Columbia University’s Maria Moor Cabot Awards, was named a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum, and Time magazine named Generation Y one of the 25 Best Blogs.