After 16 years, I returned to the United States. My first impression is to see my cousin, jumping with joy, on the other side of a glass wall. We have not seen each other since 22 years ago and feel like if it had been yesterday even with all the history that we lived since he left Cuba. My first photo is of my meeting with part of my family that decided to live on the other bank.
I started to feel in my camera the cost of not being in my land. There are not many people on the street and I feel not the same freedom to photograph them with impunity as I do in Cuba. Despite the novelty to be here I began my journey with empty photos. Now I remember the phrase of many photographer friends when they come to Cuba, "here there is a picture in every corner."
At the memorial of the veterans of Vietnam, Nancy copies with coal the name of her dead friend. He was 25 when died. His airplane, after a first pass for bombing, returned to photograph the damage. In that moment it was shot down. Nancy visibly moved, mourns the death of her friend. Her son, already retired from the army, completed missions in several conflicts. The wars only bring suffering for the families and honors for the politicians.
In the Newseum a boy plays or chats on his phone, around him the recent story, told by the photos, is a quiet witness of who we are. Most of the time people are conscious about their environment and capabilities. The point is how to tell others what are you worried about.
Even when things are crumbling down you still need to be connected. I found this scene in Ellendale, a small traditional town in Delaware. The old and forgotten Chrysler is oxidized and the house looks like abandoned but a TV antenna shows that the place is still alive.
Almost three weeks ago, when I came to Washington these two people were the first homeless that I saw. They're still hanging in the same place, on Constitution Avenue, for weeks. I didn't ask them why they're having that life but the fact is they're settled just in front of the Federal Trade Commission as an ironic reminder of how deep we can fall down in this life.
More than 100 flavors and ice cream combinations. That's too much for a person like me. Options have been the main shocking experience for me in this trip. Coming from a country where to select is not a useful verb, trying to figure out what I really need or what is good or not makes a mess in my head. That's one of the market economy's essential pillars dancing in my face everywhere.
For a minute looks like all the differences and fears disappear in this New York place. People from everywhere gather up to enjoy the astonishing exhibition of lights and human power rising up from the ground. All that show is built by the reality, on the ground of immigrants and common people. Like Lego pieces, they are the bricks who create the same show they enjoy and at the same time make powerful others.
I'm living an interesting moment in the USA. Two presidential candidates: "the bad and the worst" that's what people said around me. Meanwhile, in my experience as a visitor, some people are experimenting a kind of political awakening through Bernie Sanders's proposal. Is such a revolution where young people are the protagonists. All this is a new deal for me but at the same time is enriching and reinforcing my political position. In some way we're living a new revolution in Cuba too. I hope for good.
Ironically one of my last New York photos should be one of the first ones. I'm not a pioneer but I was on the brink of a new experience in a urban jungle. This man with his old camera, use to be sitting outside B &H, one of the biggest photography's stores of the world. His presence there is a big contrast between the new times and and the beginning of photography.
If I have to describe the Smithsonian's National Zoo in only one word I would say: Connection. That's what I felt in that place, connection with the animals. To visit the zoo was an educational experience to me in many senses. Trying to describe it easily: I felt like a kid.
Arriving in this city, with many TV, documentary and movies stories in my background, all about violence, mafia and murder, the first impression that I get is about art. From my train's window mostly what I see are murals and amazing architecture. That's Chicago for me: a city where the old and new art blends everywhere, a huge show of colors and concrete.
These two guys were smoking vapors on Michigan Avenue and I looked twice to them. The image of these two was very attractive for me. I couldn't avoid aiming my camera. Just a few words and they accept to be photographed. Some blocks ahead two big black guys with amazing motorcycles pose for me too. The "windy city" people are friendly. "Is the Midwest," said my friend. I like this city! Shikaakwa, or "stinky onion," in the indigenous miami-Illinois language. It doesn’t stink, it is spectacular.
For me food is always an adventure and I'm living a nice one here. United States is an immigrant nation so food is an international experience. All this time here I have tried Indian, Irish, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, homemade and the classic American pizza and hot dogs. The traditional Chicago pizza, deep dish pizza, thick and crusty, yummy. Chicago's people are proud of their food. The first advice before I come here is about food. "One of the best in the country." True, I could live it in first person. Another curious fact here is that they consider it almost an offense to add ketchup to the hot dogs – they eat it with relish.
Several times on this trip I wondered why people like to take smiling pictures in front of places or objects designed to remember the worst moments of the history of the world. In New York I saw people taking selfies with a big smile in front of the 9/11 Memorial. A big smile in the same place where thousands of people died. In the National Air and Space Museum a family pose in front of the Enola Gay, the bomber who dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. I wonder if it is OK to have a memory like this or I'm being an extremist.
Humid and hot. That was the first impact of this city on me. In my opinion the city moves slow, a big difference with the north, but music is everywhere. From the Second Line Bands, the jazz groups, single musicians or improvised artists, it is impossible to escape from music here. In any corner you can find somebody singing, dancing or performing, most of them incredibly good. New Orleans belonged to the Spanish Crown a time ago and still keeps the spirit and architecture of Spain and France, so is it like my bootcamp before reaching Miami and later Cuba. It is the last piece of authentic American culture before my encounter with the Cuban one.
I'm going back to Cuba. After all this incredible experience my last travel log post is not really mine. My 14 year-old cousin makes me an extraordinary gift that resurrects my feelings and touches me deep. The best words are hers from her Instagram: “The last time this guy saw me I was about 4 years old . I don't know much about him, but besides the fact that he holds his family close. Yesterday I saw him after what I believe have been 10 years, and it feels like I've known him a lifetime. He has such a calming voice and kind heart that really attach people. And yesterday he brought a group of family members, that hadn’t talked for years, together as a family and that really touched me. I never really think about these things, but little gestures like these are just so nice to have around. And honestly I had the best time seeing my family together. Imma miss you primo! Hope you can come back soon!"
"This is, maybe one of the few colorful moments in DC," my wife said to me. And I´m happy to be here and share this day with thousands of people who support the idea that diversity is ok. Never before have I had the opportunity here in this country to be so close and engage with people in the street. Happy and gay everywhere, forgetting for awhile the real life around us.
Ángel Roque has been my friend since 5 years ago or more. He was one of the ones to encourage my interest for Cuban food. He founded Ajiaco Café, a restaurant in Havana, and now lives in Virginia and works for Cuba Libre restaurant, a rum bar in DC as Executive Chef. Part of his dream is accomplished but he's alone in this country, his family lives in Cuba. Ángel does not have friends here like in Cuba. Also his deep desire to grow as a professional, and the necessity to join other countrymen, makes his dream still far away.
. In many United States homes people place a flag at the entrance. It's beautiful to see the respect and pride that they feel for their symbols. In Cuba, of course, we love and respect our flag and our patriotic symbols, but the custom of having a flag in our homes should be something common in our lives. It is a beautiful way to teach love of the homeland.
Sanvika Shrestha from Nepal is one of the 22 kids from 17 different countries that became American citizens yesterday at the National Mall in DC. They all made a pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. They all met a commitment even if they don't understand at all the real dimension of their pledge but they open a new door of opportunities for themselves and their families’ future in this country. According to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, during the last decade, more than 6.6 million of people became naturalized American citizens.
Barbecue in the United States is a beautiful and tasty tradition where gather around friend and families. A barbecue is an opportunity to hang out with old friends and debate about the trending topics or simply get the update of our personal stories. For me, to join an Afro-American barbecue is like a space-time trip. I feel that I'm at home with my loud, smart, and funny friends I have known forever.
And the mom said: Usually we bring an Uncle Sam but this year I want to make a political statement to remind people what this country is about and not what it's pretending to be.
Having visited Little Havana in Miami was for me as a trip to another dimension. Detained in between yesterday and today, they were my people and they were not at the same time. They were my codes but they were expressed in a different way. The spirit of Cuba floats bittersweet in this antipodes of my country.
A neighborhood where humble and mostly Afro-American people live is now on the brink of new developing changes. My friend said that this Southeast river neighborhood wasn't the same a few years ago when drugs reigned in the streets. Two years ago, Charles Wilson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative for the community, expressed in a Washington Post article, about how these changes will make a difference. “There’s that anticipation, but also a nervousness — because people want positive change, but they want to be included in that change.” Most of the time when a community starts to grow economically and becomes trendy, the original population is displaced because they can't afford the new costs of living there.
Evidently I was a fish out of water walking with my camera in this street. Lee noticed that, and with welcoming gestures, that I only saw before in Cuba, almost dragged me to show me the mural. "This is the greatest one, the Washingtonian's proud: Chick Brown, The Godfather of Go-go music!" Go-go is a popular music originating in Washington, D.C. It was created during the mid-60s to late-70s and is a uniquely regional music style. If D.C. had a dancing arena like La Tropical in Havana, that should be the kind of music they would play there.
Senator John McCain: We must do the work our citizens deserve. The Senator was one of the three Republican Senators who joined with all 48 Democrats in voting against the measure "Repeal & Replace Obamacare" after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
I met a Cuban in a coffee place. After a few introduction commentaries he said: "As you I come here in 1961 running away from a dictatorship". My response: "I'm not running away from any dictatorship, I'm here because of love. I live in Cuba, I decided to live in Cuba." He didn't like my answer. Evidently we have different points of view about how to confront our realities. He didn't want to shake my hand when I said good bye. "I don't stretch the hand of anyone who decided to live in that country". I think his a perfect post on Fidel Castro's birthday and specially when a extremist demonstration took place yesterday in Virginia.