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LatAm in Focus: Queens of the Migrant Trail

Cuban migrants Lisette Poole

Cuban migrants waiting for a boat. (Lisette Poole)

April 16, 2020

Hair gel, santería, and crossing rivers with strong currents on the Darién jungle. These are some details @LisettePoole1 tells of her 51-day journey following two Cuban women migrating to the United States. Get the latest #LatAmFocus episode.
Photojournalist @LisettePoole1 says documenting two Cuban migrants over 51 days in 13 countries felt like shooting a movie. In this #LatAmFocus episode, she tells @luisamhorwitz what she and the pair faced on their journey from Guyana to the U.S.

Liset and Marta left Cuba in 2016 not long before the end of Washington’s “wet foot, dry foot” migration policy that gave Cubans a path to permanent residency. Photojournalist Lisette Poole followed them on their journey, documenting the migrant trail that started in Guyana and involved 13 countries and passage through the Darien Gap to get to the United States. Poole joined AS/COA’s Young Professionals of the Americas to presented her photobook La Paloma y la ley at AS/COA in March 2020 and told AS/COA Online’s Luisa Horwitz about the work that went into the 360-page project.

Poole covers details from Liset packing a tub of hair gel to practicing santería, from crossing rivers with strong currents to reencountering other migrants along the trail they never thought they would see again. “There were times when I could only photograph with my phone, there were times when I couldn’t photograph at all, there were times when I would use an app on my phone that kept the screen black when I was shooting, so nobody knew,” said the Cuban-American, whose own role as the photojournalist plays into this migration story. “It felt like doing a movie.”

Pools speaks of how the experience changed constantly, from “long stretches of boredom, to running, uncertainty, human smugglers, other migrants, conflicts, fun, good times, humor, laughing, dancing,” she explains. “The experience was very dynamic, and I tried to encompass that on the pages.” 

“They managed to use that social currency of being very friendly and charismatic to protect them along the way, and I was lucky to be part of that by default.” 

A central theme of her photobook is the women’s personalities, which she says stems from their Cuban backgrounds and having to rise above hardship. “They managed to create that feeling of being the queens of their neighborhood, whether we were in Ecuador or Peru or Colombia or the middle of the jungle,” she said. “I felt inspired by watching the people who allowed me to document their experience, who have a huge amount of bravery and tenacity in the face of these scary situations.” 



Luisa Horwitz produced this episode. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.