to celebrate my 4 decades on earth, my husband, stefan, and i headed to my family's homeland, cuba. i'd had a profound relationship with this place my whole life, but had never stepped foot on it. my relationship with it was a made up of hundreds of personal tales, history books, news reports, novels, coffee table picture books, and political debates, all smashed up with melancholy, nostalgia, bitterness, hopes, dreams, aspirations, love and loss, coated with a heady philosophical debate on the meaning of libertad. over the last 5 years, yet another volume of information has come to me via the internet in the shape of blogs and tweets from my generational counterparts on the island. first person accounts from the other side! their connection with the outside world appears to have the potential to be destiny-changing for cuba, but for me, it already has been. in no small part, knowing more about them - the cuban kids whose parents stayed home as opposed to all of us cuban kids displaced all over the world - about what they think, how they express themselves, their desires for cuba, their thoughts about us, moved me to finally get my damn visa and plane ticket and take the ridiculously short airplane ride across the florida straits. 

with stefan's support, encouragement and crazy camera skills, we moved across the island over 10 days that i will undoubtedly remember as some of the most important of my life. acting as my personal reality show production crew, my husband followed me into adventure after adventure: meeting, for the first time, my uncle, the brother my mother left behind; a cousin who mirrors the face of my beloved grandmother; more than a dozen cousins ranging in age from 20 to 80 in 4 different cities. we also managed to stand on the land where my mother and my father's childhood homes had stood, and to drink in the incredibly beautiful landscape that surrounds it. we talked and talked with this recovered family, and cried and cried, and laughed and laughed. they enveloped us with warmth and love, welcoming us like their lost children. in the film you'll see here, all of this happens in spanish, but i'm confident every exchange will be internationally understood.

i've come away from the trip with a much more informed point of view - about the island and its people, inside and outside its borders, but perhaps not surprisingly, i've also realized that i've opened up the proverbial box... and i'm not quite sure what is going to come of it. i am quite sure the box is packed, and under so much pressure for so many decades that this trip and this film will be just the beginning of something. what lies below this precious series of encounters will be much more complicated, just as cuba is so much more complicated than those coffee table picture books  and che t-shirts would 
have us believe.

- gina alvarez

ed. note: check out the flickr set here:

and a visit to the spanish fort in santiago de cuba which had to remain on the cutting room floor:


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