Querida Cuba

This work was recently featured on LensCulture

It was also exhibited in the Gulf & Western Gallery at 721 Broadway in New York City from March-May 2018.

In the spring of 2017 I spent the shortest three months of my life in Cuba. I was overwhelmed by the island, its people, and every fleeting moment of my sojourn. 

Despite the familiar geo-political and societal matters that define Cuba’s history and contemporary culture, I was captivated by aspects of simplicity everywhere I turned.

Immersed in a world of Afro-Cuban traditions and mesmerizing people, I was compelled to capture profound moments, intricate details, and fleeting beauty. I began to form a nonconventional vision of Cuba, one revealed in its simple graces. 

When I returned last fall, my earlier impressions were confirmed. Again, I saw the transparent beauty of the relatively simple and non-material lives of these people displaying a mystery right in front of me of a world so unusual to Americans.

Querida Cuba re-contextualizes the island and its culture. Paired with accounts of personal experiences, these images convey my sense of the realities and depth of the culture I saw. 

Cuba seems like a succession of charged moments, at once quiet and enchanting. Guards sit outside of their designated doors and think to themselves. People walk to work alone in the darkness of the early morning, a tattered briefcase in hand. They stand on the streets, leaning against a wall selling the morning's newspaper to passersby. As the sun rises, one last fishing line is cast into the ocean from the Malecón. They sit on the gua gua in transit to another place, sometimes reading the paper and sometimes watching out the window as the streets pass by. All in quiet moments.

Thousands gathered on the steps, a stage and lights on Calle L just below as the sun set and allowed the dark to fall, engulfing the bird’s eye view of Havana and everything within. Each of us held torches- sticks with empty cans and a bit of cloth doused with kerosene. Within this chaos people took the stage, one by one, each with something new to say, new chants to lead. Somewhere within the speakers was Raul, the younger brother of the recently deceased Fidel Castro, making his voice heard about the importance of the night and the event taking place. The torch march was started by Fidel as a university student. It commemorates José Martí and all that he stood for in a time when those ideals had been lost under the Batista regime. On January 23rd, Martí’s birthday, Fidel led his fellow students in a march from the university stairs to the Malecón emphasizing the point of the revolution, reminding the Cubans what they fought for and what they wanted to achieve. During a time of struggle and confusion, the march was reminiscent of what it meant to be Cuban. "Cuba es nuestro" "Viva la revolución" was shouted back and forth between the speakers from the stage, the sea of the crowd increasingly aroused by the idea of marching through the streets. And all at once, the thousands of torches were ignited in flames, illuminating the city and the revolutionary vision once again. We marched and shouted, chanted revolutionary sayings- "Hasta la victoria siempre" "Viva Fidel, viva Cuba libre!" Heads poked out from the buildings above the crowd and spectators gathered on the stairs. Everyone shouting, cheering, and embracing the march. The invigorated pride of being Cuban galvanized the crowd and the streets and made one feel alive. The march reiterated what being Cuban was about- a sense of pride and fight that ran blood deep from generations back. In that time, the only thing on people’s minds was that they were Cuban. They were drunk, sober, laughing, crying, shouting, and embracing but through it all, they were Cuban and it was something they would never forget. 

When we reached the top of the hill we found a one room café closing up for the night. We bought TuKolas, Cuban versions of Coke, and strong Cuban cigarettes. We walked up a long set of stairs and sat under a hut at the top of the reserve, leaning against a coffee grinder from hundreds of years ago. We were alone. It was us, the view, and giant turkey vultures with 3 foot wingspans and bright red heads.

For the last 8 hours of the day, the earth around us couldn't decide if it wanted to pour rain or be sunny, and we had been there for every change of its mind. 

Sitting at the top of BuenaVista, it continued to do the same. It was quiet all around, the silence broken by my friend Victoria thinking out loud- “I love how it rains really hard for a little bit and then gets calm and mystical again.” The forest below us was the most unreal thing either of us had ever seen-pathways of green lined gently by blue and violet stitches up into the hazy sky.

“When you are a colonized people you are very different, we had to fight to become citizens. Our pride started in the fight. Cubans learned very well how to fight in every aspect, how to survive, luchando. To tell you the truth I believe we never stopped fighting, we are still fighting, every day in different ways with weapons or words, with ourselves, always fighting, every day. It is luchando, to fight.”

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