Their toes sink into the thick sand and the crisp night air rushes past their faces as they frantically carry their escape raft across the beach to the Cuban shoreline—only 90 miles separate them from freedom. Ninety miles is the distance between
Arms tired and grips slipping, the group lets go of the raft and it falls towards the dark water which is the convergence of the
Among the group is a stranger. His name is Leonardo Martinez, he is 21; this is to be his first escape attempt from
With his brother’s help,
Leonardo and his team, under cloak and dagger, slide off a deserted sandbank west of
Within a month of arrival,
When Leonardo wakes up, the sun is shining on his face and no land could be seen—no
When Leonardo is fully awake, he notices the sole woman onboard is hurt. The previous night when a rogue wave gave the boat a violent jolt, she had slipped, fell, and cut her leg open on the jagged metal protruding from the puncture wound on the bottom of the raft. Her leg is wrapped with part of a t-shirt—the bleeding has almost stopped.
Sea sickness has set in for most of them. Throwing up over the side of the raft is all they can do. Throwing up evolves into dry heaving and then into sorrowful moaning. They have no retreat from the boat, only the retreat from
The boat’s engine, made from a transformed lawnmower motor, is weak and against the current the team makes slow ground. Being slow increases the time in the water and the risk of being caught. To lessen the chance of running into the Coastguard, they head diagonally into the Gulf towards
On the boat, space is too tight to walk around. It is day two. Taking turns sleeping and shoveling water out of the raft, the group of eight must sit still. The turkey, which is a traditional religious figure in
Leonardo is going crazy on the inside. He tears at his clothes and rips off parts of them to cope with the heat. His head pounds from dehydration. He thinks to himself as his legs yearn to move, “I don’t care where I land.
Ten months later and 16 days later he is in a car driving to
The victim was his DJ friend Adrian who partnered with
During that same drive to
“Weed is the best in
Back to the boat. As the morning sun rises, the group sees a faint shape in the distance. Land ahoy. The date is
Life moves a lot faster in the
After they land, some
From the Keys, Leonardo is shuttled to
They finish the four day journey by busing through
Nieves worked as a cultural guide for him and even introduced him to me. She became our link and a kind of interpreter for us for a short while.
Leony moved out from Jhawasel’s and now lives on 29th and Martin Luther King in central
Entering the two story house—in which Leony lives with his African American roommate Jaime, who owns a small skateboard company—the living room, which is cluttered with skateboard decks and wheels, is on the right and an empty kitchen is on the left. In the middle of the two, a stair case leading to the bedrooms winds up to the second floor. Leony’s room is nearly bare. Besides a bed, a small TV that rests on a white plastic lawn chair, and some clothes hanging in the closet, the only other occupant is Leony’s quiet non-materialistic sense of reason. He says he is saving for the thing he really wants—a better life.
Leaving the house, he said he doesn’t spend much time in the street here—not nearly as much as he did in
Leony’s girlfriend, Sherekhan Weinstein, named after the devious tiger from The Jungle Book, is an African American Jew with blue eyes. “She is perfect for me,” said Leony, he himself bright eyed. He said he will love her all his life for all the help and support she has given him in getting him on his feet. Leony said sometimes when he is overly frustrated at his family in
Weinstein, 35, was born to an African American mother and a Caucasian Jewish father. When Leony is around her family, he cannot fall back on his Spanish and must speak English for all communication. He said this helps him greatly.
“My plan is to learn English to go to University,” Leony said proudly, “I want to keep the dream going.” Leony has spurts of near perfect English, but at other times he struggles, unsure of the exact pronunciation or word. At a family dinner party, Sherekhan’s family’s love for Leony can be seen in vivid detail. The second Mrs. Weinstein sees Leony she gives him a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. She turns to me and does the same.
Beyond Sherekhan, Leony said his life’s undertaking is his music. Leony said hip-hop is independent, that is why he loves it. “I am a survivor in a strange land,” Leony said, with the temperament of lion, “This is not my country, my language, my people. But, I am making it.” Leony said his music is underground Cuban hip-hop with some salsa beats which protests the world, street life in
Recently, Leony said, a Cuban hip-hop documentary threatened the very existence of hip-hop in
He said he has to keep moving to find opportunity—he has everything he needs, but he wants more. “I want a house, a computer, turntables, more, more, more,” he said as he snapped his fingers with each word. With a wishful look in his eyes, like a kid reading his Christmas list to his parents,
Leony listens to Cuban salsa and
Picking Leony up from a downtown bus stop one day, we decide to grab some fast food. He said he wants pizza but we can find nothing in the Financial District. Heading across the
He went on to say in