Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"71" Series Photo Essay

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"71" Series Photo Essay

Article excerpt

Cuba was always a far away dream for me. It was a place that I understood to be home, yet a place I had never visited. I'm a first generation Cuban-American, and both my parents are from Pinar del Río, Cuba. Growing up we were always taught about our family in Cuba, especially my father's younger brother from the Chinese side of the family.

I was able to go to Cuba in 1998, and it had a powerful impact on me as an outsider and artist. I documented that trip and subsequent travels there mainly through photography and journals. Later I employed mixed media and video, as I started a personal documentary on my Cuban-Chinese ancestry and history.

My uncle in Cuba spoke to me about my grandfather, about his two half-sisters born in China, and about the importance of preserving our Chinese heritage. He went on to tell me that when my grandfather died, communication with his daughters was lost. He attempted to write to them but never heard back. Not understanding what happened to them and intent on knowing their status, he wished to find them. Inspired by his wish and my desire to know about my Chinese family, it became my personal imperative to search for my aunts.

Starting with the only document I had on my grandfather's Chinese identity, a visa written in Spanish and Chinese, I knew that he arrived in Cuba in 1916 at the age of sixteen. I went to Chinatown in Havana looking for further information. On the streets of Barrio Chino, I documented what I saw as it unraveled before me.

The Chinese association signs and the way they looked against the activity on the streets caught my interest. They were like small treasures to be found, resilient and symbolic in their own right. Depending on your Chinese last name, you belonged to a certain association that held records on your ancestry. I started at Casino Chung Wah (the umbrella organization for all Chinese associations) and ended up at Lung Kong-the designated home of the Laus.

I shot the photographic series from Chinatown with film using in-camera, double and triple exposures. The juxtaposition of the layers will always have a unique chance element using this style. The photo process was similar to the feeling I had during the search-a constant unknown element playing out amongst a structured framework.

There was no information in Cuba on my grandfather, and my search brought me back to the States where I enlisted the help of the Chinese Consulate General in New York. …

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