People to Know: Yoani Sánchez


I bought Yoani Sánchez's book Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today because I wanted to read something that wasn't a historical account of the city.  As well, it's not that I didn't understand that life for Cubans was harder than anything I myself had ever experienced, it's just the knowledge I had wasn't specific enough to relate to, especially in the present day.  The book is actually a compilation of posts from her blog, Generación Y.  The blog's name reflects all the children whose first names were inspired by the cultural influences of the Soviet Union and thus started with a Y (Yoani herself was born in 1975). 

I've copied and linked two of her posts below that I particularly liked:

Come and Live It

Inspired by one of the many tourist advertisements, an idea occurred to me to attract visitors to the Island.  It is not an ecological tour to appreciate nature or an historic tour of the country’s plazas and monuments.  Stay “a lo cubano,” as a Cuban, could be the slogan of this tourist campaign, condemned in advance to lack interest for its possible target audience.  Come and live it, it would say on the cover of a ration book, which would be given to each of those who embark on this adventure.

Accommodations would not look like the luxurious rooms displayed by the hotels in Varadero or Cayo Coco, since our tour operators would suggest dingy rooms in Central Havana, tenements in Buena Vista and a crowded shelter for hurricane victims.  The tourists who buy this package wouldn’t use convertible currency, but for their expenses for a two week stay would have half the average monthly wage, three hundred Cuban pesos.  Thus, they could not ride in foreign currency taxis, or drive a rental car on the country’s roads.  The use of public transport would be obligatory for those interested in this new method of travel.

Restaurants would be forbidden to those who opt for this excursion and they would receive eighty grams of bread each day.  Maybe they’d even have the good fortune to enjoy half a pound of fish before they leave on their return flight.  To travel to other provinces they wouldn’t have the option of Viazul, but instead of spending three days in line for a ticket, they could be given the advantage of being able to buy a seat after only one day of waiting.  They would be prohibited from sailing on a yacht or renting a surfboard, so they wouldn’t be ending their stay ninety miles away rather than on our Caribbean “paradise.”

At the end of their stay, these risk-taking excursionists would get a diploma of “Connoisseurs of the Cuban Reality,” but they will have to come several more times to be declared “adapted” to our everyday absurdity.  They will leave thinner, sadder, and with an obsession with food, which they will satisfy in the supermarkets of their countries, and above all with a tremendous allergy to tourism ads.  The golden advertisements that show a Cuba of mulattas, rum, music and dancing will not be able to hide the panorama of collapsing buildings, frustration and inertia that they have already known and lived.

Translator’s note:
300 Cuban pesos is about $12 U.S.


HOSPITALS: You bring everything?

A bucket in one hand, a pillow under my arm, and a fan balanced on my hip.  I enter the door of the oncology hospital and the backpack over my shoulder blocks the custodian from seeing my face.  It’s of little importance because the man is used to the fact that the patients’ families must bring everything, so my Baroque structure of fans, bucket and pillowcase doesn’t surprise him.  He doesn’t know it yet but, in a bag hanging off me somewhere, I’ve brought him an omelet sandwich so he’ll let me stay after visiting hours.

I come into the room and Mónica is holding the hand of her mother, whose face is increasingly haggard.  She has cancer of the esophagus and there is little that can be done, although the woman still doesn’t know it.  I’ve never understood doctors’ refusals to inform one, directly, how little time is left before the end; but I respect the decision of the family, although I don’t join in the lie that she will soon be well.

The room has a thin light and the air smells of pain.  I begin to unpack what I’ve brought.  I take out the little sack of detergent and the aromatic with which I’ll clean the bath; its aroma floods everything.  With the bucket we can bathe the lady, using the cup to pour, because the water faucet doesn’t work.  For the great scrubbing I brought a pair of yellow gloves, afraid of the germs that spread in a hospital.  Mónica tells me to continue unpacking and I extract the package of food and a puree especially for the sick.  The pillow has been a wonder and the set of clean sheets manages to cover the mattress, stained with successive effluvia.

The most welcome is the fan, which I connect to two peeled wires hanging from the wall.  I continue to unpack and come to the little bag of medical supplies.  I have obtained some needles appropriate for the IV, because the one in her arm is very thick and causes pain.   I also bought some gauze and cotton on the black market.  The most difficult thing—which cost me days and incredible swaps—is the suture thread for the surgery they are going to do tomorrow.  I also brought a box of disposable syringes since she yells to high heaven when she sees the nurse with a glass one.

To distract her, I’ve come loaded with a radio, and a nearby patient has brought a television.  My friend and her mom can watch the soap opera, while I look for the doctor and give him a gift sent by the sick woman’s husband.  When bedtime comes a cockroach crosses the wall near the bed and I remember that I also brought some insect spray.  In the backpack I still have some medicines and a little gift for the girl in the lab.  I have money in my pocket, because ambulances are for the most critical cases and when they send her home, evicted, we will need to take a Panataxi.

In front of our bed there’s an old woman who eats the watery soup she’s been given by the hospital staff.  Around her bed there’s no bag brought by her family and she doesn’t have a pillow for her head.  I position the fan so that she will also get the cool air and talk about the arrival of another hurricane.  Without her realizing it I touch the wood of the door frame, whether to expel the fear of disease or in horror at the conditions in the hospital, I don’t really know.  A woman passes by shouting that she has bread and ham for sale for the visitors and I lock myself in the bathroom which smells like jasmine after my cleaning.


A Tale of Three Cities...?

"It's complicated" wouldn't even begin to describe the United States' relationship with Cuba and I'm only at the start of understanding it all.  

Vintage pin found on Ebay

Vintage pin found on Ebay

I've found little information on the origin of this pin.  While the Ebay seller described it as anti-Kennedy another article wrote that the pin was part of the anti-Lyndon B. Johnson campaign in 1964 (when he ran for a full term after assuming the role of President upon Kennedy's death).  Funny how sarcasm is easily recognized even half a century later...

See the original Keynoter excerpt here.

Image vs. Representation

IMAGE (noun): 

1. An artificial imitation or representation of something, especially of a person or a bust of a person.

2. The aspect, appearance, or form of someone or something; semblance, likeness.  Now only in allusions to, or uses derived from, biblical language, especially Genesis 1:26, 27.

3. A visual representation or counterpart of an object or scene, formed through the interaction of rays of light with a mirror, lens, etc., usually by reflection or refraction.

4. A thing or person in which the aspect, form, or character of another is reproduced; an exact likeness; a counterpart, copy.

5. A mental representation of something (especially a visible object) created not by direct perception but by memory or imagination; a mental picture or impression; an idea, conception. 

6. A representation of something to the mind by speech or writing, a vivid or graphic description.

7. With of.  (a) A thing that stands for or is taken to stand for something else; a symbol, emblem. (b) A thing or person in which some quality is vividly exhibited, so as to make it or the person a natural representative of the quality, a type, a typical example, embodiment



1. The action of standing for, or in the place of, a person, group or thing, and related senses. (a) Something which stands for or denotes another symbolically; an image, a symbol, a sign.  

2. Senses relating to depiction or portrayal (a) A depiction or portrayal of a person or thing, typically one produced in an artistic medium; an image, a model, a picture.

3. The action or process of presenting to the mind or imagination.

4. Philosophy - An image, concept, or thought in the mind, especially as representing an object or state of affairs in the world; specifically a mental image or idea regarded as an object of direct knowledge and as the means by which knowledge of objects in the world may be indirectly acquired (now chiefly History). 

5. Law - The fact or process of standing for, or in the place of, a person, group, institution, etc., especially with the right or authority to speak or act on behalf of these.

6. Appearance; impression on the sight; bearing, air, demeanor.

IMAGE (verb):

1. To form a mental image of. (a) To imagine, picture in the mind, represent to oneself. (b) With something to be executed as object: to devise, plan.

2. To represent or expound in speech or writing; to describe especially vividly or graphically.

3. To form an image or counterpart of; to copy, imitate.  rare

4. To make an image of; to represent by a sculpted, painted, or other artistic image; to figure, portray, delineate.  

5. To represent by an emblem or metaphor; to symbolize, typify.

6. To reflect, mirror.  rare



1. To take or fill the place of. (a) To assume or occupy the role or functions of (a person), typically in restricted, and usually formal situations, to be entitled to speak or act on behalf of (a person, group, organization, etc.); (in later use especially) to act or serve as the spokesperson or advocate of.

2. To present the image or appearance of; to resemble. 

3. To symbolize (something abstract or intangible, as a quality, concept, etc.) to stand in the place of.

4. To make present, bring to view; to depict, portray. (a) To render perceptible, make plain or manifest; to communicate to the senses, especially the sight.

5. To bring clearly and distinctively before the mind or imagination; to describe, evoke, conjure; to imagine, conceptualize.

6. To portray in an artistic medium or by artistic means (typically painting or sculpture); (of an artist, etc.) to depict or evoke (a subject).

7. To set out clearly before a person (an argument, account of a situation, etc.); to submit formally to a person or audience, typically with a view to influencing action or opinion.

Images as...


Here the image must bear a certain degree of likeness with the original, whether conceptual likeness or visual likeness.  In the example of a floorplan or section drawing the likeness is direct but scaled. An architectural render attempts to be a direct likeness but many times is merely atmospheric, a conceptual likeness.  The markings used on a mechanical plan are symbolic representations. 



Images because of their ease of creation and ability for autonomy are the grounds for many speculations.



For some the pages of Architectural Digest, World of Interiors, or Dwell reflect reality but for many more the images shown are aspirational and inspirational.  

 Are aspirations and inspirations the same? 



This image is created with the intention of recording things as they are, presenting a objective reality. 

Can documentary photography (etc.) truly be objective?

"Ideology Colors Interpretation"

Excerpt From: The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics 

Edited by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff

Pope John Paul II clasps hands with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on Jan. 25, 1998, at the end of his five-day visit to the island.  Image Credit: Ruth Fremson / Associated Press

Pope John Paul II clasps hands with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on Jan. 25, 1998, at the end of his five-day visit to the island.

Image Credit: Ruth Fremson / Associated Press

"The following joke, circulating in Cuba at the end of the 1990s, pokes fun at the ways that ideology colors interpretations of events on the island:

When Pope John Paul visited Havana in 1998, he was personally welcomed by Fidel Castro, who invited him to tour the city.  They rode in the Popemobile, and since it was a warm day, they opened the roof.  Everything was fine until they reached the Malecón, when suddenly a gust of wind blew up and swept the Pope's zuchetto off his head and out into the sea.  There it floated, bobbing on the waves.

"Don't worry, your Holiness," exclaimed Fidel, "I'll get it for you!"  He jumped over the side of the Popemobile, leaped over the seawall, and sped out over the water.  Yes, he actually walked on top of the water, all the way out to where the zuchetto lay floating on the waves.  Then he turned and dashed back, still skimming over the surface, leaped over the seawall, and jumped back into the Popemobile, without getting a drop of water on his clothes.  "Here, your Holiness," he panted.

The next day, newspapers all over the world reported this amazing incident.

In Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, the headline read "Fidel is God; He Walks on Water."

In L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the headline read "Pope Performs a Miracle: Makes Fidel Castro Walk on Water."

And in the Miami Herald, read by the Cuban exile community in Miami, the headline read "Castro Doesn't Know How to Swim."