In The Cuban-Americans Geandy Pavon contributes a series of photographs on displacement and longing.
When I left Cuba with my family, the only thing we brought with us was a photo album everything else was left behind. For many people in exile Cuba has become a photograph, a memory they protect and long for. I have the feeling that this strong connection to the past has made us forget our present, in some ways is like everything that really matters has a direct connection to the island, meanwhile we forget about the memories we generate somewhere else. To me, photography has become a way to document everyday live of the Cuban Diaspora. I have realized that this is a story that has not been told yet, at least from a photographic perspective.
- Three times five This photo was taken at the birthday party of triplet brothers Salvador, Leandro and Malcon. The sons of afro-Cuban dancer and academic Yesenia Sellier, they live in the large Cuban community in West New York, New Jersey. For Cubans it’s customary to celebrate a girl’s fifteenth birthday; a picture with the birthday cake is a must. Here the three boys, who have just turned fifteen, are breaking that rule, while they make fun of the tradition.
- Latin jazz Jam sessions at the home of legendary Cuban-American jazz musician Paquito D’ Rivera. The old lady been held is Nelsa Marquez, a member of Cuba 1950’s famous duet Las Hermanas Marques. Paquito has become an icon for Cubans in the exile community, not only for his achievements as a Latin jazz musician, but also for his commitment to the pro-democracy struggle in his native country. Paquito escaped from Cuba in the 80’s, during a trip with the Latin jazz Cuban band Irakere. Since then, neither Paquito nor his music are allow in Cuba.
- Luis Posada Carilles Luis Posada Carriles is a Cuban ex-CIA agent. The Israeli Mossad also trained him. He was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion, even though he never landed. Posada was very active in the 80’s in Central and South America in the fight against the revolutionary movements backed by the Cuban government in that region. For many Cubans Posada Carriles is a terrorist, for others he is a brave hero of the anti-Castro struggle. This photo was taken after a photographic session in one of the local restaurants in West New York. He was when he passed me and did that gesture.
- Gitana tropical Cuban Americans at a party in West New York, New Jersey. The girl is Alexa: she is the daughter of Cuban refugees. Lila Del Risco (the headless character in the photograph) is the daughter of Cuban-American writer and intellectual Enrique Del Risco. Lila is wearing a kitchen apron with the image of Gitana Tropical, a famous image created by Cuban painter Victor Manuel Garcia. Gitana Tropical is our own Cuban Mona Lisa.
- The way, the truth and the light The boys in this photo are Jehovah Witnesses—preachers in West New York, New Jersey. They preach in a mostly Cuban neighborhood. When I approached them, I immediately notice they were not Cubans, even though they were trying to fake their accent. Maybe they though that to convert a Cuban, you have to first be a Cuban.
- Cuba This is a portrait of my mother Carlina Zayas: she is having her very strong coffee in the morning. My mother has surrounded herself with memories from her native country. The image in the cup of coffee is the Cuban flag. She wakes up every morning thinking of her relatives in Cuba. Even though she is an American citizen, she has never adapted to living in the cold weather of the north. She lives in her own Cuban world.
My ongoing series The Cuban-Americans is an attempt to tell a story of Cuba outside Cuba. The series takes off from a concept put forth by Cuban-American writer Gustavo Pérez Firmat: a hyphen that both binds and sets apart—nominally and culturally—the Cuban and North American identities. This in-between realm, almost a no man’s land, creates a sort of a-temporal existence and, hence, a strangeness, a complex, un-definable and anachronistic space, the key element of my work.