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Photographs | Entre los Cubanos

April 27, 2018

Photography

By Lilly Torosyan

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Photographs | Entre los Cubanos

When I called my parents to tell them I had won the grant, they were thrilled for me. I would get a taste of whatever crumbling ruins were left of the Soviet Union they had to leave behind...

Artist's name Ripsime Biyazyan
Occupation

Graduate Student at Columbia University

City/Country New York, N.Y.
About the artist
  • Ripsime Biyazyan hails from Los Angeles, Calif. and is currently an MA candidate in Global Thought at Columbia University with an emphasis on Economic Development
  • She is 23 years old and was born in Armenia
  • Her parents won the green-card lottery and moved to the U.S. when she was two years old in 1996

Ripsime Biyazyan

For my undergraduate senior comprehensive thesis, I traveled to Havana, Cuba for three weeks to study the effect that dissident bloggers have on the international community with the purpose of placing more pressure on Cuba to liberalize. I was accompanied by my maternal grandfather, with whom I spent a lot of time, considering there was no internet and no one else we knew on the island. He passed away about a month later due to a heart attack. I am incredibly lucky to have spent the time with him, as he showed me that the pristine lives that the happy Cubans led were pure bliss. I am glad I was able to give him one last adventure, and for that, I dedicate my work—my photos and my thesis—to him.

I won my grant to Cuba the day former President Barack Obama announced that he would lift the tourism blockade in April 2015, almost neatly aligning with the Armenian Genocide Centennial. I went to Cuba on the premise of an American student taking a photojournalism class, but the parallels I saw with my family’s experience as Armenians in the final days of the crumbling Soviet Union were noteworthy: from the cold political environment to the warm hospitality of strangers, Cuba was a beautifully life-changing experience, both as an Armenian and as an American.

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