Photo Courtesy National Geographic
Photo Courtesy National Geographic

When Karla González Toro turned 15 on September 9, she knew the day would not be marked with a party. Havana, where she lives, was under lockdown after a spike in COVID cases, and Cuba’s food shortages were the worst in recent memory. The González family had meat to eat only because Karla’s parents had begun keeping pigs three years earlier to raise money for a special event: their only daughter’s quinceañera.

In Cuba and across Latin America, the quinceañeraa blowout celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday—is a monumental occasion. In a Cuban house, the framed photograph from that event is as cherished and proudly displayed as a bridal portrait: a teenager encased in a layered taffeta dress, hair piled into curls or straightened down her back, lips brightly glossed. “For Cuban people, it’s like a religion,” says Eliana Aponte, a Havana-based photographer who spent a week documenting the González family’s quest last fall. No matter how long it had to be delayed, no matter how much they would have to scrounge, they were determined to pull together Karla’s quinceañera.

Mirelis Toro and Juan Carlos González, Karla’s parents, had been breeding the pigs and selling piglets for the equivalent of U.S. $40 each. Toro cared for them in a muddy enclosure behind their house; González went out to fish on his rented boat. In accordance with Cuba’s Communist system, most of his haul must be sold at set prices to the government; the rest he can sell on his own, or keep for the family to eat. By last spring, the family had managed to stash away nearly $1,300.

Then the pandemic hit. As the virus ravaged Europe and the United States during early 2020, it appeared to be under control in Cuba. By July 20, Cuban authorities announced no new cases had been registered that day. In August they loosened restrictions, opening beaches and allowing some tourism. But within weeks, dozens of new cases were being reported every day. Beaches and restaurants were shut down again, and travel between provinces was closed. On September 1, Havana was put under a 7 p.m. curfew.

Read the full story at National Geographic.

 332 total views

Similar Posts