As this month closes, it will be a full decade that I’ve been a photographer with the Chicago Tribune. Many times I am asked what was my favorite assignment or picture has been. Without hesitation, I can say being assigned to our Cuba bureau for a couple months was a personal and professional milestone for which I will be always grateful. It was a life dream to be able to work as a journalist in my father’s homeland, so when the Tribune became the first North American newspaper to receive permission to open a permanent bureau on the island, I was all over it. I was soon all over Havana, carrying digital and film equipment up and down every street, working every angle to get past the stereotypical images of cigars and old cars. When the Tribune delegation was met by President Fidel Castro, I met him first to be in place when the rest of the delegation came through. I still remember hearing the heels of my escort clicking on the polished floor of the palace as we turned a corner and our eyes met before meeting him.
I choose this picture to represent the assignment because of the love that sustains this family and many others. I met this mother and son just by accident on my sojourns into the city, looking for pictures. Their story is complicated. It involves previous wealth lost, mental illness, alcoholism. When I met them, they were in survival mode, living in a cramped cement cubicle. Obviously not all live this way, but most would agree on the power of family bonds in helping to cope with the economic hardship faced by the island and its people.
In my case, it was the power of family bonds that led me to their bedside. My imaginations of family in Cuba missing at holiday gatherings laid hold on me at an early age, propelling an intense curiosity about the country that led me to this assignment and to pour my heart into all the pictures that flowed out of it. You can see other pictures from my assignment in Cuba at the World Press Photo archive.