If symbols matter, then surely Yoani Sanchez won the hearts of Cuban exiles everywhere when she rushed from Miami International Airport straight to the Virgin of Charity Shrine so dear to so many on both sides of the Straits of Florida.
There she sat on the sea wall on Thursday afternoon outside the Coconut Grove shrine to Cuba’s patron saint, while visiting with Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski. "Miami’s Malecon," she called the wall — capturing exactly the yearning that Cuba’s first exiles experienced in the 1960s when they decided to pool their pennies to build the shrine overlooking Biscayne Bay, a view that many likened to Havana Bay and its famous sea wall.
Still, 54 years separate the 37-year-old wife and mother from those who first stepped on freedom’s soil in Miami after the 1959 revolution. Her beliefs and experiences, for a woman born a generation after the revolution, are in many ways unique to her so-called generation Y (those who grew up in Cuba under the influence of the former Soviet Union) and yet universal for those who believe that freedom comes from the people and not from a dictatorship’s decree.
Ms. Sanchez has faced many more fans throughout the world than pro-Castro mobs during her 80-day tour through three continents. In Miami, she’s likely to face some protests from another faction — the dwindling number of hard-right exiles who view her with suspicion. (Or those pro-Castro operatives who are known to infiltrate such groups to agitate.)
It would not be the first time that such a small, and increasingly on the fringe, group would get disproportionately more attention from the media than their numbers warrant. But as Ms. Sanchez stated in Brazil and Mexico when she was staring down leftist radicals with their 40 questions supplied courtesy of Cuba’s communist regime, "I dream that one day people in my country will be able to express themselves ... publicly like this, without reprisals."
There will be many questions for Yoani, whose first name has become a household word in Miami if not in Cuba, where her blog and her tweets are blocked by Raul Castro’s government so that they do not penetrate the limited access that Cubans have to the Internet. Certainly she has answered anything thrown her way with aplomb
She surely will speak out again against a regime that quashes most every basic human right and note, as she did in a small room at the United Nations when Cuban officials threw a tantrum after learning that the blogger was meeting with international correspondents: "If this meeting had been held in an elevator, it would have been freer" than what the Cuban people face on the island.
Castro sympathizers claim the same old line they’ve employed on other dissidents: that she is working for the CIA. Some exiles, having been burned before by Cuban agents in Miami pretending to be anti-Castro activists, wonder if this young woman is beholden to government officials in Havana.
What’s clear is that Ms. Sanchez does not shy away from telling us how she sees it. She is in Miami visiting her older sister, who arrived two years ago.
"I am truly happy," Ms. Sanchez said upon her arrival to Miami. "I feel in the air and in the people a lot of respect, a lot of freedom. I feel like I’m in Cuba but free."
Bienvenida a Miami, Yoani. Welcome to the Magic City.