Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this 1994 photo made by William Castellanos, a young girl looks solemnly out of a wooden raft. Thousands of Cubans were building makeshift rafts and throwing them into the sea after then-President Fidel Castro said anyone who wanted to leave could flee. Castellanos grabbed his old F-3 Nikon camera and began taking photos. Castellanos now lives in Miami and is working on an exhibit of his images. (AP Photo/William Castellanos)
Twenty years of wondering what happened to this girl
First Published Aug 18 2014 09:10 am • Last Updated Aug 18 2014 11:58 am

Miami • In the photo, a girl crouches on a wooden raft, surrounded by solemn men. Her large brown eyes stare intently at the camera. A few wisps of her dark hair float in the breeze.

In a moment, she will be pushed out to sea.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

William Castellanos snapped the black and white photo in August 1994 when he was an art student in Havana, capturing the moment when 35,000 Cubans took to the sea in makeshift rafts.

Twenty years after President Fidel Castro encouraged a mass exodus from the island, the images still trouble him.

Did the rafters make it, or did their flimsy vessels break apart in the turbulent, 90-mile Florida Straits?

Do they have busy lives and jobs and families now? Or are his photographs the last testament of their existence?

"For me, this is a very difficult photographic record," Castellanos said. "Maybe I have the only, or maybe the last, picture of that person."

Especially, he wondered about the girl.


Cuba’s communist economy was in crisis in August 1994. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and the only way to get supplies was on the black market. He had just two rolls of black and white film left. But when he saw his neighbors carrying a raft to the sea, he rushed home to grab his Nikon F-3.

story continues below
story continues below

"I told myself, ‘I have to make pictures of this,’" he recalled. "I have to make a document."

He captured a group of young men wading into the water on inner tubes covered in tarps. Childhood friends and neighbors building boats with thin slabs of wood and nails. Men and women carrying their boats out to sea on the tops of old Chevrolets, or balanced on outstretched arms above their heads.

And then the girl — staring back unflinchingly from a large raft of wooden planks.

He thought of his daughter, the long hours they would spend staring at each other when she was a baby, how she looked curiously into his eyes and at his camera.

They exchanged no words. He felt like he was intruding.

He took the photo and left.


For two months, Castellanos could only see the negatives. Printing paper was too expensive. A friend at a cartography institute later scrounged up some material. He dropped the paper into the developing tray, and the images appeared.

The girl with brown eyes gazed fearlessly at him again.

Castellanos eventually left Cuba and became a photographer in Argentina and the U.S. He lives now in Miami. For years, he was reluctant to show the images.

Then he realized that the only way to learn their fate would be to put them on display.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.