Discovering the Motherland: Cuba

I’m finally doing it, I’m visiting my motherland! Corey & I booked our tickets to Cuba for mid-November and I’ll be shooting photos along the way for a photo essay feature on‘s travel blog! I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do more than document my first-time in Cuba and share it with people who also are eager to discover more about this beautiful and isolated place.

Above photo by: Ian Cowe

There’s so much to do in preparation!

  • Brush up on my Spanish (I understand 70% of it from my mother speaking to me in Spanish as a child, but I’m completely tongue-tied the moment I open my mouth).
  • Watch as many documentaries and educational shows about Cuba’s history and culture
  • Book a car, so we can drive around the island
  • Stock up on film for my film cameras!
  • … and I’m really not going to list everything here right now… let’s not get overwhelmed with To Do’s, okay?

Ernesto-Che-Guevara,-Camilo-Cienfuegos-Gorriaran,-Julio-Antonio-Mella-mural.-La-Habana,-CubaAbove photo by: José Parlá

This is definitely going to be in part a soul-searching trip. My mother was born and raised in Cuba and left in the 1970s to seek opportunities she could not find at home. She was never really forthcoming in her experiences growing up there, but now that I’m grown I’m anxious to go and try to understand this place and the people who call it home. I want to find clarity for that feeling of vague personal history that I’ve always coexisted with.

I’ll explain: I grew up in a multi-cultural family, my father was Irish-American and my mother was a half Cuban, half Chinese, a Cuban transplant in America. Growing up in the primarily Caucasian suburb of Tustin (Orange County), I always had this nagging feeling of being out of place. I felt rootless and torn between my different ethnic backgrounds, never relating completely to any one of them. Although my mother at times tried to share curated snippets of her culture with us, it never seemed authentic or “enough”. I always had the feeling that my parents were reinventing themselves in their adult lives. For whatever reason, they didn’t want to be defined by their pasts and therefore lost the desire to share it with us. Collectively, they never went beyond very broad surface details or rehashed anecdotes.

Tete and Nancy,July and Robert0001Above: My Great-Aunt July & my Grandmother Tete on the right. My grandmother holds my mother on her lap. Havana, Cuba, 1950s

So imagine my surprise when I taught my mother how to use a scanner a few years back and I started receiving scanned image files via email of old family photos, from my mother’s side, that I had never seen before! I was floored. And overwhelmed by the photo history that I was finally being introduced and connected to. Here’s a good example to spin around in your head: imagine never seeing a photograph of your favorite Grandmother (who helped raise you your whole life) before the age of 60 years old, until your first year of college. It’s an amazing feeling to understand that you came from someone and someplace, and that they came from someone and someplace before that, and so on. It’s crazy how much these things inform your identity and give you a sense of place and belonging. It startled me who much a single photograph could start to fill in the gaps and conjure up a basis for pride. I think these desires, missing parts, and then, discoveries have really informed me as a person, but more importantly, a photographer.

cuba-meAbove, left: My Grandmother Tete at 11 years old, Havana, Cuba, 1933. / Right: Photobooth photo of me at 30 years old (with Corey), Los Angeles, California, 2013.

One last note, before I leave you. I went through most of my youth thinking I didn’t really resemble anyone in my family, until my mother emailed me this photo of my Grandmother above. I am so happy now to have been proven wrong.

2 responses to Discovering the Motherland: Cuba

  1. Marisel Walston

    Your grandmother is in a picture of my cousin’s despedida de soltera in Habana in the mid 1950s. I will send it to you. My cousin’s name is Maria Luisa (Luly) Garcia Lopez. She passed away in the mid 90s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s