Even though American had welcomed me with open arms, I never had the same sense of feeling, of belonging, as I had in my birth country. The smell of America was different than that of Cuba. I remember asking my mother why, ‘the ocean smells different here.’ Years later I understood that in Cuba the seaweed, when caught on the coral reef, would dry and develop a unique scent. This was not the case of the white sandy beaches of Miami Beach. Everything was different to me, and for me.
As an exile I became a photographer, and grew as a photographer. Fro, 1971 onwards I started photographing the ‘counter-cultural movement.’ Some of us took our cameras and started photographing the Vietnam War; others took to Selma, Memphis, and Washington, D.C., photographing the revolutions within our borders; while others dropped acid, embraced the hippie movement and free love, and migrated to the music festivals. It was here that I found my place. But I still hadn’t quite found my identity as a person. After a while, exhausted from the sensual headiness of the rock ‘n’ roll scene, I wanted out. My reprieve came by way of an invitation to Mexico. It was on that trip in 1974 that I regained the identity all exiles lose. When I landed in Mexico I took one deep breath. Even though I was not in Cuba, I understood the simplicity of that moment: I am Latin, this is my identity.
In 1999, after almost four decades, I finally closed the circle by going back to the place where I was born. I went back to Cuba and began to regain my sense of smell. “Over the years I have embraced my roots to the point where I have photographed sixteen Latin American countries. The results of those years are who I am: I am an artist whose images will always say more than any of my words ever could.
Text by Mario Algaze