Essay No. 5
My father is a Cuban refugee. I remember once, twenty years ago, on a family get away to Key West, that I saw a vintage marketing poster from the 40’s that had described the island as “so near, and yet so foreign.” That’s profound. The past recedes so quickly from us, and yet the all-powerful present can’t really ever break free of it. We can be reconciled, I’m pretty sure, but the thread connecting things cannot be unwound. And, what was once everyday life really does seem foreign, like someone else lived it, when you look back.
His family came to Miami in 1959, some jewelry hidden in the hollowed-out bread of a Cuban sandwich his mother somehow talked through all the security checkpoints, and got onto the plane. For lots of immigrants, America is not only the beginning point for a new narrative, it’s the end point of a story that came first. One opportunity opens, as another set of possibilities and dreams decisively ends. America’s Horatio-Algerian-magic ran backwards, before it went forwards; riches to rags, is their original story. My father’s family ran the Cerveza de Tropical beer brewery in La Habana. Batista stole their money in the name of the crony elite, and Castro stole their money in the name of the crony non-elite. They weren’t allowed to not pick a side. Hypothetical question: is beer political? As a girl, I decided to hate that paradox, that not choosing is choosing. But, I think I was wrong. We have to keep growing, can’t sit still. That’s what the paradox really is.
I’ve got a photograph of a sea star, and the pattern of its movement in one of the tidal pools. It was buried, went one way, and turned around to cross back over its own tracks. What I like about that image is the aesthetic resonance between the implied motion of the waves that sculpted the pattern of the sand, and the crawl tracks. You can’t see the first action of movement, wave or sea star, but you see the second moment, evidence that there is change and energy in what appears static. Maybe slow change is what’s stable.
Reinvention is the continuity of barrier islands. Another image that I like shows a decaying, fallen tree on the Sound side of North Captiva Island. There are so many depths of field in that photograph; the tree limbs projecting themselves into the mirror world of the water’s surface, reaching for the reflected sky that goes down instead of up. And, underneath the quicksilver barrier of the water, I know that a new world is starting. A photosynthetic life, that went heavenward, is being reinvented as the cradle for marine life, sanctuary for fry, host for snails, anchor of oysters.