The photograph on the old passport is very small, and so easy to overlook. Using a scanner, I enlarged it, bringing its beauty and power into sharp focus. From that moment, the photograph centered me in this writing project, and I knew it must grace the cover of the book.
Miguel passed by Havana’s shopping district, strolling the famous streets—Muralla, Neptuno, San Rafael. There was El Encanto, the elegant department store, always with an exclusive clientele. How modern! What progress!
My father poured his heart and his lifesavings into the small shop with its specialties, just like they had at the big department store nearby: Ladies Dresses. Ladies Coats. Ladies Underwear. Pocketbooks. Perfume.
I found the business card for the store on Calle Neptuno among my father’s papers. The tagline, “Templo de la Elegancia femenina” (Temple of Feminine Elegance) signals this would be a sacred, special place where a woman could become the classiest, most sophisticated, most graceful of all—she could be transformed by American-style fashion. In his book, On Becoming Cuban Louis A. Pérez, Jr. dates the Americanization of retail businesses in Havana to the early 1900s.
In this video clip, my father offers tidbits on Alfredo Hornedo who built the residence hotel Rosita de Hornedo and the country club Casino Deportivo. Someone could start with those tidbits to develop a rich study on the intersections of race, class, prison labor, architecture and tourism in 1950s Cuba.