As any second-, third-, or fourth-generation Cuban-American can attest, it's difficult to really connect with your roots. Bereft of the sights, sounds, flavors, and customs of your homeland, the desire to identify with your new American surroundings is greater than the nostalgic influences around us. For collaborators Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte and Tico Torres, it took meeting the godmother of Cuban music, Celia Cruz, to spark an interest in their homeland's culture.
The pair were living in London, working on establishing themselves in the world of editorial photography and styling. "We just called her hotel, and she answered the phone," said Torres. Soon they would all be having high tea at Cruz's hotel suite. It was a long way to go for two Cuban expats, raised in Hialeah, but it was just the journey they needed to set off a rediscovery of their forgotten heritage.
Luckily for us, their collective journey of rediscovery back to their roots is the subject of Alexis' show "Cuba Out of Cuba" debuting at the Freedom Tower at Miami Dade College this Friday. The exhibit is centered on displaying portraits of Cuban cultural figures living outside the island in exile. From the second you walk in you realize that while portraits of exiles are on display, it's the collaborators' highly personal take on their own exile history that is truly captivating.
"We knew all these people, and you can tell from looking at the images," said Rodriguez-Duarte. Whether it was the the cigar butt Cruz smoked with them one boozy night in New York, or the rotary telephone Rodriguez-Duarte's family would use to dial Cuba every month, every item has a personal touch.
For Rodriguez-Duarte, this show is one small compendium of his work as an editorial photographer for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and L'Uomo Vogue. But it's this exhibit, in their adopted hometown, that is closest to their hearts.
"This is about documenting our history, and keeping it alive for future generations," said Torres. In fact, baring witness to the Cuban exile community's cultural exponents often involved a fair amount of rediscovery.
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Artist and musicians, like their other exiled compatriots, were forced to work low-paying gigs as lounge singers or repertoire players. Cuban virtuoso bassist Cachao was playing at various New York bars before Andy Garcia rediscovered him, and produced two of his U.S. records that eventually landed him his first Grammy at the age of 76.
Also on display at the museum is "Journey to Freedom," an exhibit of archival documents, photographs, and ephemera that catalogs the Peter Pan airlifts from Havana to Miami. The mass exodus was largely comprised of Cuban children sent to the U.S. by parents and relatives to live with foster families until their parents could make it to the States.
These, along with several other shows, open with a big inaugural bash this Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. If you can't make it to the party, be sure to stop in to the Freedom Tower and get a free taste of the Cuban history and culture that's left an indelible mark upon or South Florida community. "Cuba out of Cuba" will be on display through August 30, 2015.