When a bus load of American photographers stop in a Havana neighborhood that’s off the beaten path, the word spreads quickly among the Cubans. They come to their doorways with their families and want to interact with us. I’m sure they’re looking for small gifts or money, but they do seem as genuinely interested in us as we are in them.
On our return trip from the Cementerio de Colon we stopped at the “Yankee Stadium” of Havana, a good-sized arena in a quiet area. At least it was quiet until we arrived. There was a gang of swaggering young men that started to yell and taunt us, but it’s all in their culture. Cuban men routinely ogle and make comments to women. We all ignored them and spread out on a few side streets to meet the people.
As I approached a cross street there was a man in a second story window waving an American flag and yelling. We made eye contact and I communicated for him not to move and that I was going to photograph him. I rushed to my vantage point and he continued his flag waving. Then he called his family to the window and held up his daughter. I called him down to the street to give him a few gifts and what happened next was a moment I’ll never forget. This young man rushed up to me and presented me with a carved wooden plaque. He said it was his gift to me. In a country where everything has value and nothing goes to waste, I was touched. We shook hands, hugged, then he raced back inside to call more of his family to the window to see the Americano.
I have that plaque hanging next to my desk and that moment etched in my memory.