El Color De

By Alina Fresquez Patrick

Early this summer, I spent two weeks in Cuba with a close friend and collaborator, Elle Rinaldi, visiting friends and taking in the vibrant land we hadn’t seen since we studied there before the pandemic hit. Together, we saw the complicated juxtaposition between the beauty of Cuba- the warm people, ever-present aroma of tropical flowers, and culture of love- and the country’s worsening struggles- extreme inflation, lack of tourism, food and electricity shortages, and more.

When asked what keeps them optimistic, inspired, or anything other than frustrated, both our long-time friends and the people we met this summer shared that no matter what, Cuba is a land of color, of beauty. When the sun sets, or the flowers in the trees bloom, Cuba’s issues are not solved, but beauty abounds in fragrance and vibrance. Cubans are proud of the color their country brings into the world visually, spiritually, and through smell. This prompted Elle and me to ask ourselves and those around us, “What was your favorite color today?” Often, the colors people noticed blended in with other senses— the yellow petals on the ground smelled sweet and light and the heavy gray rain had the unmistakable scent of a summer thunderstorm. We wrote a poem to go with each color, and I photographed the color, or the feeling behind the color, each day. These portraits and poems have become an exploration in sharing, healing, and finding the color every day.

This is an excerpt of the larger project, El Color De, featuring my photos and poetry.

All photographs © Alina Fresquez Patrick

A photograph showing a gray sky through metal window bars and the branches of palm trees outside the window.

The storm came to the edge of our covered patio and we watched it through the iron bars. It felt like seeing from the inside of a bird cage. The sky and the rain are the only gray things in this country and they steal all the other colors from view with so much force.

A photograph with green leaves and red flowers descending from the top, and green grass and soil at the bottom, and a road in the background.

The lush green outside of the car window was the first color I really saw. Ten days later a woman told me her favorite color was green because it’s the color of hope. A hope of growing. It’s the backdrop of everything here, all the little tries at living.

A photograph of a man with a purple flower in his mouth.

When there are no lips or kind words from someone you love or food to put in your mouth you can put the taste of purple between your teeth.

A photo taken from a low angle, looking through an iron fence and the branches of a tree at a large building with white columns.

When your love isn’t there you can findthis particular hue in other places—in the wings of the butterflies in your stomach, the smell of the pillows you slept on together, noses touching, the scent of the flowers that make you look up on your morning walk and acknowledge their vibrance, the color of the Havana moonlight and the strong cigarettes.

A photograph of the white wall of a building covered with the shadows of palm leaves.

In reality white doesn’t exist. It’s a color that’s always holding other colors. In the early morning, when I walk while the others are sleeping, the light has turned all the shadows of the palm leaves on white walls blue and pink. At night, when the light is dying the iron rocking chairs are purple and eventually gray but never just white.

A photograph of the ground and the side of a building mostly in shadow, but with sunlight coming from the left. On the ground there are many yellow flower petals.

Inching towards the light and waiting patiently for it to come just a little closer, yellow petals are strewn like little droplets of perfumed sunlight on the ground—even when they’re still in the shadows.

Alina Fresquez Patrick is a photographer and documentarian based in Brooklyn, New York. She received a BFA in Photography & Imaging and Political Science from New York University. Her work explores the impact of natural disasters, war, and displacement recently taking her to Ukraine and Cuba. @alina.patrick