2004 — student winner
Marie Arago is a documentary photographer who was born and raised in Northern California. Marie studied film at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and photography at the International Center of Photography in New York. Arago has many years of experience working in the photography industry and has created photography workshop programs in New York and Mexico with the photographer David Alan Harvey as well as a photography program for children in Anguilla in partnership with the Anguillia National Trust. Marie currently lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where she works as a freelance photographer and director of FotoKonbit, a non-profit initiative that teaches photography to youth and adults in rural and urban Haiti.
The cities of Miami, Florida and Havana, Cuba are roughly a hundred miles away from each other. Miami shares more characteristics with a Latin American capital than a major American city. Miami-Dade County has the highest population of Cubans outside of Cuba. Isolated from America for over forty years and entering the thirteenth year of what Fidel Castro named "The Special Period," Cuba is an island adrift between communism and capitalism. My project will focus on the new Cuban immigrant, who shares more similarities with other Latin Americans who are motivated to make the journey to the United States by economics, rather than politics. I will document families that are separated because a member has fled Havana to seek a better life in Miami, and how this separation affects the family unit.
Havana is a city that has captured my heart. In Cuba I have seen the human spirit that prevails over a difficult existence. The Cuban people are loving and filled with life. There is so much beauty as you walk the streets, but there is also great tension caused by a country that is struggling to survive an economic crisis. In a country where a doctor's salary is less than that of a taxi driver's, and US dollars are flowing out of tourist's pockets, it is not a surprise that Cubans want to immigrate to the US. The bright promise of the American Dream seems to radiate across the Florida Straight onto the streets of Havana, whispering promises of an easier life.
In January I will be traveling to Cuba for a month on my break from school to photograph seven families. Each family has members who either immigrated to Florida, or are in the process of doing so. I am interested in documenting what gets left behind in Havana and what a person's new life is like in Miami. What happens when Cubans make the trip to Miami, leaving their families behind? How do they manage in Miami? Florida's (federal) minimum wage of $5.15 an hour may sound like a lot of money in Havana, but in America there are many bills that can easily eat an entire paycheck. In Miami I want to explore how an exile feels about living in the United States. Is it everything they have dreamed of? Is it a disappointment? Have they fulfilled their dreams? How has the separation affected everyone involved?
The following is a description of the seven families that I will be documenting:
• A woman whose husband left her and her son to live in Miami.
• A young man working to save money for his departure who will be leaving his family behind.
• A woman who won the lottery offered by the US Interest Section and left this past December with her son. She was the primary source of income for her two elderly parents.
• A woman who has three sons, two of them in Miami. One is now a "successful" club promoter.
• A man of fifty who will be leaving Cuba with the help of the Jehovah's Witness Church. He wants to earn money to send back to his seventy-eight-year-old mother.
• A man who married an American woman and lives in Miami. He left behind his mother, father and three siblings.
• A woman whose father left Cuba by boat ten years ago to work in Miami.
The description for this grant states that students are encouraged to photograph subjects close to their homes. I am from Northern California and am currently living in New York, but my heart resides in Havana and so, for me, this story is close to home. I am seeking grant funding for the part of the project that will take me to Miami to document the relatives of the seven families that I will be photographing in Havana this January. This project will allow me to explore and express how the US Embargo and Fidel Castro's government have affected the lives of Cubans.