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Googler Susanna Kohly on “building digital bridges” in Cuba, her family’s homeland

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re celebrating the fascinating stories and important contributions of our Hispanic Googlers. Over the course of the month, we’ll share a bit about their histories, their families, and what keeps them busy inside and outside of work. First up is Susanna Kohly, builder of “digital bridges,” San Francisco resident and mother of two boys (and mini Instagram celebrities).

Give us the ten-second, one-sentence version of what you do at Google.

Here's Susanna in Old Havana during a work trip this year.

My job has two parts (so I might need 20 seconds!). I work on the Hispanic Marketing team to help the 57 million U.S. Hispanics connect with Google as a company. Inspired by my Cuban heritage, I also co-founded Google Cuba, a team that brings greater access to connectivity, new technologies, and Google products to Cuba to “build digital bridges” between Cuba and the rest of the world.

When did you (or generations before you) immigrate to the U.S.?

I am a product of the Cuban diaspora. My mother is American, my father was born in Cuba, and I was born in Miami. I grew up speaking two languages, blending between two cultures and nationalities, so I understand the ambiguity of identity—how you can belong and not belong at the same time. This has helped me adapt to different environments and given me the ability to blend in, to understand, and to empathize. Growing up around other people who had left everything to make a new life for their families, I became obsessed with my own family’s story, Cuban history, and politics. I started reading and taking courses—anything I could learn that would make me feel closer to my heritage and where I came from.

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

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My Abuela (translation: grandmother) Carmen

My abuela Carmen—a mother of eight, an immigrant, and the matriarch of our family. Upon leaving Cuba, she sold every valuable thing she owned (including her wedding ring!) to provide for her family and put her kids through school. She worked three jobs, learned English, and has never complained about what she lost. Growing up, she told me stories of survival, and instilled in me a notion of hard work and sacrifice.  

I’m grateful to Google for giving me the opportunity to work on projects that bridge generations of Cuban people. My hope is that my two sons will have a sense of their own Cuban identity, just like my abuela made sure I had.  

Tell us about something you're proud of doing at Google

In December 2016, I accompanied our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to Havana to sign the first-ever internet deal between Cuba and a U.S. internet company. The deal represented a barrier that hadn’t been bridged in more than five decades. I remember standing in the press room before the announcement, running on pure adrenaline and too much café Cubano. Despite our sheer exhaustion, the team was proud to help  to help set a precedent that will  hopefully open the door for more commercial and cultural exchanges between our two countries.

Like many Cuban-Americans, I feel a responsibility to reconnect with the island that our grandparents left. I’m a firm believer that we can grow stronger by working together as opposed to growing apart in isolation.

Like many Cuban-Americans, I have a responsibility to reconnect with the island that our forefathers left. I am a firm believer that we can grow stronger by working together.
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    An old photo taken in the family car, Havana 1947.
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    Susanna, Eric Schmidt, Brett Perlmutter and Florencia Bianco in Havana after announcing Google’s first internet deal with Cuba’s ISP monopoly, ETECSA.

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    Marketing VP Lisa Gevelber and Susanna during the Havana virtual reality launch of the documentary “Nuestro Martí,” where hundreds of school children experienced VR for the first time.

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    People sit in front of the a sign that reads ‘Con internet, yo puedo...” meaning “with internet, I can...”

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