My grandmother always shared stories of her life in the country, its beauty and complexity, living life in harmony with nature, but also walking barefoot on unpaved roads for hours to arrive at the nearest school. In her honor, I began documenting wooden houses in 2013. It was an intimate project, guided by the nostalgia of a place that seemed to no longer exist, I felt my grandmother’s presence in these typical wooden houses that I found around the island. The intense colors, identifiable with Caribbean aesthetic, and the mountainous landscapes were my primary emphasis.
Casitas is a long-term photography project that documents the living conditions of Puerto Ricans living in wooden homes in the mountains of the island. The project aims to provide the international community a look into the current living conditions of fellow Americans by collecting oral history and learning about the residents, their families, and challenges they must overcome in the face of climate change, unstable power service, limited economic support and government inefficiency. Four years after Hurricane Maria, a global pandemic and more than 500 earthquakes later, there are still many families living under a blue FEMA tarp.
Casitas is supported in part by the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Southwest Airlines, the Surdna Foundation and Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre through a grant from the NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant Program. And by private donor via Fiscal Sponsorship through Fractured Atlas.
Isabelita & Yito, Canóvanas, PR
Isabelita Febo has lived in Canóvanas all her life. Her mission, as a community after-school teacher, was fighting illiteracy by teaching kids in her neighborhood how to read and write. It turns out, to my pleasant surprise, she knows my mother, she taught at my mother’s school back in 1979, she remembers my mother as a great educator. Isabelita retired last year, but her small but cozy classroom is still set up in her house.
Yito has a great sense of humor and loves his garden. With Isabelita they have 3 children and has dedicated all his life to his family. As a child he used to bathe in the river, but if it was raining he would bathe in the trash bins that collected rain water from the house roof. He remembers helping his neighbors in exchange for food.
Martín & Familia Gonzalez – Canóvanas, PR
I met the Gonzalez Family in 2017 while delivering donations after Hurricane María. Martín’s house lost the entire roof, they were initially denied a FEMA loan to cover the expenses to put a new roof, but after they asked for a revision they were granted $500.00. The work took almost two years to complete, as the family was forced to look for other financial options to finish the roof’s construction. The house is essentially made of wood, but the walls have a thin concrete outer layer. This is the reason all the walls held up during the hurricane.
The owner, and brother of Martín, asked to remain anonymous. He moved to Canovanas from Fajardo with his family when he was in his thirties, about 40 years ago, he said he always dreamed of retiring in the mountains.
Martín resides in the Casita Blanca, since his disability he has been living at his brother’s house. He is still the resident of Casita Blanca.
Don Hipólito – Orocovis, PR
It was two months after Hurricane María and a Puerto Rican friend living in Denver, CO visited the island with donations. We were delivering the donations he brought from the USA to the community of Saltos Cabra in Orocovis and we heard about this gentleman through one of the neighbors.
Don Hipólito lives in Barrio Saltos Cabra in Orocovis in the mountain range located in the center of the island. His house was built by his family and still has unique qualities like the exterior sink. To arrive at his house you must walk on foot through a dirt path up the hill, there is no access to vehicles. He insisted his radio was working, when replacing the batteries, we noticed everything was corroded, he wasn’t sure how “that happened” and started laughing.
As you enter his house the first room you step into is the kitchen. Dirty dishes in Hipólito’s kitchen, stove was on for coffee. This is basically an outdoor kitchen, having the exterior sink to the left with open windows is an invitation for rodents, Hipólito is in grave need of household help and nutrition care.
Hipólito walks twice a day to visit his wife who lives one hour away. For four hours a day Hipólito’s life consists in visiting his wife and being there for her, she is sick and since there is no vehicle access to their home a neighbor has taken her in for care.
“Casitas” has been exhibited in:
- Kendall Art Center: December 2019
- Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center: February 2021
- National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture: June 2021
Upcoming: New York, California & Puerto Rico
If you’d like to donate and support the continuation of this project please visit: https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/casitas