MIS ABUELOS

My paternal grandparents have always played an inspirational role in my life, so it was rather natural for me to use them as subjects. But beyond simply wanting to photograph the people I love, they have a unique cultural history that I aspired to pay homage to through photographs. My grandfather was born in Havana in 1940 and my grandmother in 1942. They fell in love in true boy-meets-girl-next-door fashion and together pursued a life in Havana. In the years following the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s takeover, they were stripped of all of their belongings (my grandma’s wedding ring included). After months of my grandpa working in a concentration camp, they immigrated to Spain and eventually the US in the 70s. They were forced to flee (and never return to) the country they called home for so many years.

I wanted to capitalize on the bittersweet nostalgia that characterizes not just their personal stories but also their collective one. I wanted to express their absolute love for each other but also the hardships their love has had to endure. My grandparents are incredibly strong people, but I wanted to convey strength in a way we don’t often see it—that is, in a vulnerable and imperfect way. And by doing that, I could create a dynamic and powerful portrait of who they are and what they have gone through. I don’t know that there is one single message I hoped to convey through this project. I wanted to create a visual representation of their relationship and all of the unspoken complexities inherent in it, thus capitalizing on the notion that love is multi-dimensional. It is driven by who we are but also by the circumstances that surround us. For me, recognizing love in many forms is so important. And for my grandparents, love extends far beyond themselves. They are some of the most selfless people I know, so their love—for each other, for country, for family—is equally selfless.

I also wanted to break down the traditional image of love into its parts, rather than create an artificial image of a happy couple. My grandparents might truly be the happiest couple on earth, but the tumultuous lives they have led would perhaps tell a different story. And I think that in the world we are living in now, recognizing the many layers that make up this abstract concept of love is increasingly important.

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My grandma's kitchen has been the representative core of family ever since I can remember--from childhood days spent peering over pots and pans while she cooked to the countless birthday photos full of dogs and children and adults snapped at that table every year to just two days ago, when I watched the endless movement of bodies in and out of this slightly claustrophobic space and heard the lingering chatter of one conversation until the next one took its place, while, all this time, the irreplaceable smell of Cuban food--the smell that doesn't leave your clothes for days-- remained still in the air, as if this smell itself is what has bound us all together all these years // this Christmas, the symbolic value of my grandma's kitchen struck me more than it ever had and I decided to snap a photograph of her with my dad, thus uniting in this moment three generations (me as the third) who have belonged to this space. I like to think this is what my grandparents' kitchen looked like in Havana, perhaps tinier and with less modern appliances, but with that same smell that has so powerfully managed to traverse both time and space.

 

On June 30, 2018, Mirta, 76, and Sergio, 78, celebrated the 55th anniversary of their marriage. Below is a collection of photos and documentary interviews taken on this day.