In her presentation at the iconic Freedom Tower, Yoani Sánchez, gave evidence once more that she is an exceptional woman. Hundreds of people were inspired by her and shouted her name repeatedly, as masses acclaim great leaders, “Yoani! Yoani! Yoani!”
As I listened to her, I remembered that in the early 1990s a group of Cuban women and I organized “The Future of Women in a Free Cuba” and affirmed that freedom and the future of Cuba depended largely on what Cuban women would do, both those who lived there as well as those who resided here. It was the time when the fall of communism in Europe gave us hope that Cuba would be free at any moment. In this conference, which was attended by hundreds of Cuban-American women, then-Rutgers professor Ileana Fuentes brilliantly criticized the “machismo-Leninism” of Fidel Castro, noting that machismo in Cuban culture was a key element in the caudillo mentality that has so damaged the Cuban people.
At that conference we honored the Cuban poet María Elena Cruz Varela, who had recently been chased and assaulted by a mob of “rapid response” in Cuba, and we paid tribute to so many Cuban women who have suffered political imprisonment and persecution for fighting against the Castro dictatorship. Years later the Ladies in White have set an example of courage, and a young Generation Y Cuban woman, Yoani Sánchez, who is seemingly fragile, serene of spirit and with an incisive wit, has succeeded in bringing to the world the message of freedom-loving Cubans.
Thanks to her Generation Y blog, her ability as a communicator, her humor, her balance and her love for exact and elegant words, Sánchez has become a world leader. How is Sánchez faring with this great responsibility and the adulation of the masses that comes with this leadership?
A detail made me realize that her common sense and humility protect her against the danger of an inflated ego. She warned the public that Cubans should never be blinded by a charismatic leader and cautioned us not to repeat the mistake of giving “a blank check to another adventurer who may come.” It seems that Sánchez would protect us from ourselves, from our passionate temperament, from believing that the solution to our problems lies in a single leader, as if one man or one woman could achieve a great country.
Sánchez’s gentleness was reflected in a small gesture of gratitude when an honor was bestowed upon her. When Dr. Eduardo Padrón presented the Presidential Medal to her, she moved back her long hair, which she usually wears on the left side of her body, so that everyone could see the medal. She treated all with courtesy and kindness and patiently posed with the politicians who presented her with flags, proclamations and keys to their cities. Her answers were always calm and intelligent. And she even maintained a sense of humor when Miami Herald Editorial Page Editor Myriam Marquez inquired about her personal life and the fact that her husband is many years older than her. “No one is to blame for his age,” she answered gracefully.
Sánchez also communicated a message of tolerance. She stressed that, although some of her ideas are different from those of other Cubans in the United States, these differences should not separate us. It is essential, she stressed, that no one be able to divide us again, that we should not accept that there is a Cuban people there on the island and another one outside of Cuba. But it is equally important that this terrible experience of 54 years of dictatorship should teach us not to make the same mistakes again. Power should not reside in a charismatic leader, whether man or woman, but in every citizen, each of whom has a duty to act and question the government, in order to ensure that Cuba is free in the future and a place where differences of opinion are always tolerated — and even celebrated.
Aida Levitan is president of ArtesMiami, dedicated to supporting and promoting Hispanic artists and cultural organizations.