Blog author Yoani Sánchez and freelance writer Orlando Pardo emphasized the importance of social media in the fight for self-expression in Cuba Wednesday evening.

According to Pardo, he and Sánchez began blogging in order to promote self-expression rather than because of political motivations.

“We just share views and we get together to create and deliver voices in an independent forums, but we’re not advocating any policy or ideological platform,” Pardo said.

Nevertheless, Pardo and Sánchez’s online activity has attracted a large amount of political interest. Both have faced arrest and questioning in Cuba, but Pardo said that the risk was necessary to the fulfillment of their ultimate goals.

“In the middle of stigmatization and repression, we are agents of provocation united under a mission of creating a more inclusive society,” Pardo said.

Sánchez agreed and said that the sacrifice was worth the result.

“There’s something changing in Cuba,” Sánchez said. “Now, we can tell the world what’s going on for the first time.”

In her speech, Sánchez stressed the evolution of social media’s role in Cuba. Sánchez, who began her journalism career in 1994 when she built her own computer to work on literary magazine Lettra Lettra, spoke about the difficulty accessing the Internet in Cuba. Sánchez added that this difficulty often leads to a feeling of isolation.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba experienced a severe economic downturn. Coupled with the Cuban government’s infrastructural weaknesses, the country’s economic problems resulted in the Cuban people’s near-total inability to access international news.

According to Sánchez, however, a new generation is using social media to reopen these lines of communication. Sánchez cited the intertwining of the virtual and real worlds as the main reason for this phenomenon.

“Sometimes, we think that the virtual world is just some distant space of kilobytes totally disconnected from our lives, but that’s not true anymore,” Sánchez said.

As an example, Sánchez cited her 2012 arrest.

“Had it not been for the emergence and increased usage of social media in Cuba, I would not have been released so quickly,” Sánchez said. “That wouldn’t have been possible before; people would have to stay in prison for years and years.”

To Sánchez, this was proof of progress in the fight for self-expression.

“Now, I teach other Cubans how to work with these new social media platforms, and I always tell them this: tell your own story,” Sánchez said. “You now have the power of the first-person.”

Overall, Sánchez stressed the importance of self-expression.

“Cuba deserves self-expression for Generation Y, and everyone deserves a voice,” Sánchez said.

Irini Pitta (SFS ’15) said that she was inspired by Sánchez’s unwillingness to be silenced.

“As a member of a younger generation, it’s refreshing to see someone so dedicated to giving the youth a voice and also acting as a role model for doing so,” Pitta said.

Multilingual students also said that they appreciated that Sánchez spoke in her native language.

“The fact that she spoke exclusively in Spanish definitely added to the cultural authenticity of the presentation and drew together such a wide range of cultural communities under a common language,” Hayden Freedman (COL ’15) said.

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