Super-star Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, is about to hit Miami on April 1, in what might prove to be the most interesting leg of her global tour. Skeptics and supporters abound. The two sides of the Cuban-American hyphen will tug at the Diaspora, and what will result is a taking of the Cuban-American pulse. A pulse that will play a role in U.S.-Cuba foreign policy, as it has in the past.
But, first, we will have to see how Sanchez survives the Cuban-American Wringer. A wringer that has, previously, blown up travel agencies, closed down restaurants, and booed musicians off stage. A wringer that proves to be a paradox in which Cuban-Americans exert the same kind of militant behavior and censorship they despise in the Castro brothers.
Growing up in Miami, I witnessed this behavior first hand. In the late nineties, I saw a friend's restaurant close down; a Molotov cocktail thrown through the restaurant's window when it announced a particular Cuban singer would perform. A singer who, for Cuban-American hard-liners, was not vocally anti-Castro enough to be allowed to sing.
Since then, the temperatures, many say, have thawed. I too have seen this change, this tempering of Miami's pulse. Sometimes, however, it still peaks. As late as 2009, Cuban-Americans were in an uproar against the Colombian rock star, Juanes, and his "concert for peace" in Cuba -- claiming a concert in Cuba showed support of the communist government in power.
Sanchez's visit will be a perfect time to test the proverbial waters once more.
On Sanchez's tour outside of Miami, some have called her a "tool" for the United States government. Castro sympathizers in Brazil and Mexico have insulted her, calling her a "mercenary," among other pleasantries.
Miami, meanwhile, remains a hot-house in anticipation of her visit, and often on the other end of the political spectrum. Some are even claiming she is in cahoots with the communists. Mambi Watch, a Miami-based Cuba-related blog, whose purpose it is to confront hard-liners, has called out El Nuevo Herald for headlines that sensationalize against Sanchez. Headlines that, for instance, claim Sanchez is not only anti-embargo (gasp!), but aligned with the Cuban Government, for instance, in calling for the release of the Cuban Five -- five Cuban spies held by the United States since the late nineties.
Sanchez's comments on the Cuban Five, in fact, had layers of irony, which she pointed to in blogs, interviews, and tweets afterwards, and did not call for their literal release. This was enough, however, to get hard-line Cuban-American airwaves buzzing against her.
Sanchez has, characteristically, been very careful, calm and collected since then, and overall. She has even leaned in to the Cuban-American community by giving an interview with Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular Cuban, Spanish-language TV celebrity. In this interview, Sanchez said she understood the differences between exiles and Cuban dissidents within Cuba, and even among exiles and dissidents themselves, but she linked all in opposition to the Castro regime by saying that the important thing is that everyone is connected in the "fundamentals." "We all want democracy [in Cuba]," she said.
I understand that hard-liners are comprised of an entire generation of people that had to fight -- hard -- to flee from a system that was oppressive. That those same people are the generation that gave birth to me, in a place where I can write an article like this one. Where I can speak my mind -- for that I am grateful.
The question is -- why carry on the oppression they fled from in Miami? Not allowing artists and writers freedom of speech goes against the very basic rights Cuban-Americans enjoy in the United States and criticize in Cuba.
Only time will tell how Miami welcomes or shuns Sanchez. My guess is that the reaction will be more mixed than in the past, with a younger generation leading the way. The hope is that there will be no more Molotov cocktails, of course. The hope instead: a discussion, where a long-sought freedom can reign. After all, it's a strong and steady pulse that gives life -- not one that spikes in fits and rages. No matter what it is, all eyes should be on this reception, perhaps more so than even Sanchez's recent trip to Washington. For it foretells U.S.-Cuba relations by measuring the sentiments of Cuban-Americans today.