Origins and Destinations
Please scroll to the right for the entire Origins and Destinations exhibition and accompanying video.
Origins and Destinations
When I was 10 years old, I had the unusual experience of walking down Market Street in San Francisco with my art teacher and my best friend. As we looked out at the big city, with its vast array of businessmen and homeless people, my art teacher leaned over us and said: “I want you to look at each person we pass and find the beauty in their uniqueness. In each wrinkle stemming from that man’s eyes, or the freckled skin of that boy’s face, or the curve of the old lady’s back. I want you to look carefully, and find their beauty.” It was a difficult assignment and it took some time, but eventually we learned to find that beauty. That day shifted the way I see the world.
Years later, as I sat waiting for my flight at the Miami international airport, I fell in love with the individuals surrounding me. As I became curious about the people who were sharing the complex crossroads of North, East, South and West, this project was conceived. I photographed and interviewed over 200 people for this body of work. Going behind security, hanging out with Cuban families at the Customs exit and approaching complete strangers, were all part of the process. The generosity of the participants was exquisite, no two interactions were alike. The resulting exhibition aims to shift the context in which nameless and unfamiliar faces are often seen, making the invisible - visible.
Thinking of each person as an individual thread, with an origin and destination, this exhibition explores the beauty of the ever-changing tapestry of humanity present at any given moment.
Washington, D.C. to Quito, Ecuador
Maria Olga is from a small town in Ecuador and is now a live-in domestic worker for a retired couple in Washington, D.C. She travels back to see her family for one month every year, and always wears traditional clothing for her homecoming. Her children are 12 and 15 years old, and she has been doing this for nine years. This trip she is surprising her husband with a brand-new piano and bringing MP3 players for her kids. When apart, the family visits on Skype daily. As a child Maria Olga wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. Her favorite color is orange.
Fort Hood, Texas to Miami, Florida
Adrian has just arrived in Miami to spend Thanksgiving with his large, extended Cuban family. He is excited about reuniting with his brother, parents, and grandmother after many years away in the military. Growing up, Adrian always knew he wanted to be a solider. His favorite color is green.
Spearman, Texas to Key West, Florida
Richard is 16; he is in high school and helps his father with farming and ranching. In the spring they brand the calves, in the summer they plow, plant, and cut wheat. He lives in Texas and is traveling to Key West for a seven-day Boy Scouts trip. They’ll go snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. Richard’s belt buckle is a trophy; his pig won Grand Champion at the Hansford County Stock Show. His favorite meal is steak and potatoes. When he grows up, he wants to be a veterinarian.
Nashville, Tennessee to Orlando, Florida
Matt is a senior in high school and skateboarding is his passion; he has been doing it for over six years. While his younger sister Emily competes in a world-class archery tournament in Orlando, Matt will be visiting the skate parks, showing off his skills. He is hoping to catch the eye of a talent scout so he can attract a sponsor. He likes the color green, and his favorite food is lobster.
Toronto, Canada to Quito, Ecuador
Nico is 23 years old. She left her naturopathy studies to join the Occupy movement for a year. She is traveling to join her sisters and her two-year-old nephew at her mother’s new home in Ecuador. She considers her home “anywhere my family or my heart is.” Her favorite food is anything that is vegan or raw. As a child, Nico liked to build forts and run around outside with friends. She wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up.
Manila, Philippines to Bogota, Colombia
Adriana’s daily life opens with prayer. She has been a nun at a Catholic ministry in the Philippines for the past six years, and in religious service for nearly 25. She heard her calling at age 19; it was “mysterious”and at first overwhelming. She grew up on a farm in Colombia and returns every three years; she is going home this time because her Father is ill. As a child, she loved running after chickens and riding horses. She wanted to be a nun or a truck driver when she grew up. She likes light colors, describing them as “a bit sad.”
Miami, Florida to Baltimore, Maryland
Back in Baltimore Tia is a police officer. Yesterday was her 27th birthday. To celebrate, she flew down to Miami to “just hang out” and go to the clubs. Sunday night she went to the hip-hop club LIV. Little Wayne was there as was Fabulous, who was also celebrating his birthday. Monday night she went to the King of Diamonds club. She missed her flight today; it will cost her $300 and a trip to the Fort Lauderdale airport to get home. As a child Tia wanted to be an engineer. Her favorite color is pink.
Miami, Florida to Managua, Nicaragua
Martha has not been home for two years, but this trip is only for two days to take care of "family issues and personal matters." She expects to find “discontent” in Nicaragua, in the buses, in the cabs, and everywhere. Nicaragua is in political and economic crisis, she says. “But, sadly, it is my country.” When she was young, she dreamed of being a doctor. Because of the Nicaraguan revolution, her path took a different direction. Martha has a master’s degree in education, but in the U.S. she does “whatever it takes” for work. Her family background is Chinese and her favorite food is her own homemade chop suey.
New York, New York to Kuwait City, Kuwait
Fatma, her husband Yousef, and their kids are wrapping up a one-month vacation in America. They visited New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Disney World. This is their second trip to the states; last year they also saw Las Vegas. Back home in Kuwait, Fatma is a homemaker and Yousef is a police officer. As a child, Fatma liked to play video games and jump on the trampoline. Her favorite colors are white and pink.
Havana, Cuba to Miami, Florida
Miguel always wanted to go to the U.S. to build a business that helps people; he feels he is now living his dream. When he started selling Amway three months ago he became part of a team that shows support for each other in many ways. Today, they are gathered to welcome one of the teammate’s families from Cuba. The Winnie the Pooh bear is a gift for his colleague’s daughter when she gets off the plane. After leaving the airport, the group will have a Cuban-style house party and make caldosa. Miguel studies theology, methodology, psychology and math, “everything that is about life.” His favorite color is white.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Miami, Florida
Daniel is 19 years old. He started playing baseball when he was eight, after seeing his sister play the game. Two years ago, a scout spotted him in Santo Domingo and recruited him into the minor leagues to play with the St. Louis Cardinals. This is his first trip to Miami, and he has come with a purpose: to train hard so he can help his family by one day becoming a major league player. His favorite color is red.
Kingston, Jamaica to Nagano, Japan
Yuto is 26 years old and has been in Jamaica for a week, recording a music mix and working as a DJ at a reggae festival. He speaks limited English, so he sang us a song about “Mari-jjju-ann-aaa.” His favorite food is Japanese rice, and his favorite colors are red, yellow, and green.
Miami, Florida to Norfolk Virginia
Dustin is a journalist for the U.S. Navy. He joined the military after 9/11, saying that the event shook him up. His deployments since include “a 6-monther to the Horn of Africa, where I was working Public Affairs in Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.” Recently he returned from Afghanistan, where he did live radio and television broadcasting. He is now preparing to do Combat Documentation; the training includes rifle marksmanship, small unit tactics, and S.E.R.E "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape." When he travels, he likes to dress slightly flashy. “If that bothers people, it amuses me.” He was in Miami to see WrestleMania. His favorite food is sushi.
Havana Cuba to San Antonio, Texas
Julio, once a boxer in Cuba, now installs garage doors in San Antonio, Texas. He and his brother have come to Miami to welcome their mother from Cuba. It has been five years since they have seen her. Now she is moving to the U.S. and will live with them in Texas. He says that his mother is “essential for our lives.” It has been difficult for Julio to live apart from family these 16 years while in the U.S. As a boy, Julio enjoyed swimming in rivers and wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. His favorite meal is his mother’s homemade beans.
Miami, Florida to Seattle, Washington
Marla met her boyfriend Jay playing the video game Call of Duty a year and a half ago. They now live together in Miami. Today they missed their flight to Seattle, where Jay’s family lives. Before she met Jay, Marla had never been on an airplane; she found it nerve-racking but cool. They both like the color blue.
Kingston, Jamaica to Atlanta, Georgia
Mark is 36 years old; he was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. A minister, he is traveling today to preach and administer prophetic healings at the New Testament Church of God in Atlanta. In January his work will take him to South Africa. He has walked with God for 18 years, seeing lives miraculously transformed. As a child, Mark enjoyed playing hide-and-seek.
Miami, Florida to Moscow, Russia
Nina and her daughter Elizabeth are at the airport to drop off Nina’s mother, she is going home to Moscow. Nina moved to the U.S. 10 years ago because of her husband’s job as a doctor. His work has taken the family to many locations including Israel and Canada, and their youngest of four children was born when they lived in Libya. Nina’s visits with her mother are very important to her. She says, “When we are together, we feel complete.” As a child, Nina liked to play outside. Elizabeth likes to draw and watch television.
Miami, Florida to Northern California
Rita is a retired teacher from New York City. For 20 years she spent her summers in Spain at her apartment next to the Mediterranean. Today she is excited to be flying to California to see her family and says about her trip: “Well, being a great-grandma and 91 years old, I don't have too many years left, so I want to catch up on as many children and grandchildren as I can.” Rita had to leave quickly for her flight, so we never got a chance to ask her about her favorite color or what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Key West, Florida to Montreal, Canada
Cecilia was born and raised in Mora, Sweden. She met her boyfriend, Mauritzio, three years ago at one of only two bars in her hometown. Since then they have lived together in Sweden, Tunisia and Canada. They just spent a long weekend in Key West, snorkeling and shopping for bikinis. Back in Montreal, Cecilia works at a vintage clothing store and blogs about fashion. Her advice for Florida: “Bring nice summer dresses that are not too tacky, because the fashion here is awful. Nice summer hats, a Panama hat, like the one I'm wearing now, nice sunglasses. Drink a lot of Margaritas, and enjoy!” Her favorite color, today, is coral blue and she loves a rare steak.
The Dominican Republic To Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Michael is 28. He works in Afghanistan for the large corporation Honeywell, as a Senior Logistics manager helping the military with their supply needs. Previously he worked in Iraq. He gets to come home every six months for two to three weeks and spends as much time with his family as he can. Today he and his nephew are returning from the Dominican Republic where they stayed at a villa with a private cook and went clubbing every night. Michael’s favorite color is blue. If he could go anywhere in the world he would visit Brazil to “see the attractions.”
Ann Arbor, Michigan to Homestead, Florida
For 30 years, Raul flew large military transport planes around the world for the U.S. Air Force. He and his wife Guadalupe are now retired in Homestead, Florida. Today they are picking up their daughter, who is a doctor and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is arriving with her two children. Raul is anxious to meet his new baby grandson. His favorite color is dark blue. As a child, he wanted to be an astronaut. “I got close,” he says.
Miami, Florida to Cairo, Egypt
Luz, a housewife with three children, is an advocate for Hispanic Muslim women. Her Egyptian husband, Khaled, designs leather handbags. Today they are dropping off his mother, who is returning to Egypt. Luz was born in Colombia and has been on radio and television advocating for Muslim family values. “The perception that the hijab, head scarf, or pañoleta in Spanish, degrades women is false,” she says. “On the contrary, it allows women respect and frees them from being seen as only sex objects.” Luz was drawn to Islam because “everything has logic; everything has a ‘why.’” As a child, she liked to read. Her favorite color is green.
Tampa, Florida to Glasgow, Scotland
Cliff is a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) truck driver in Scotland. He and his wife arrived in Tampa 17 days ago. His stepfather died, so they drove a van up to North Carolina to help his mother sort out a second home and move her things to Sarasota, Florida. He will treasure the guitar he is bringing home with him. It belonged to his stepfather, who always wanted Cliff to have it. When asked what he wanted to grow up to be when he was a kid, Cliff says, “I think I wanted to be a truck driver, actually.”
Rochester Hills, Michigan to Guatemala City, Guatemala
This is a life-changing trip for William. He has just received his seeing-eye dog from Leader Dogs in Michigan. Going forward, he will rely on his new service dog instead of a cane. “Without a doubt,” he says, “this will contribute to my growth and development as a person in any social space.” He is sad because, in Guatemala, not many people have this opportunity; only eight people are fortunate enough to have service dogs. As a child, William liked playing indoor soccer, which he still plays. Based on his family’s descriptions of color, if he could see, he thinks his favorite color would be blue.
Cancún, Mexico to Montego Bay, Jamaica
Annika, a German flight attendant for Air Berlin, started off the morning in Cancun, Mexico and will continue to Montego Bay, Jamaica. She’s been a flight attendant for six years. “Everything that gets usual gets you tired at some point,” she says. She enjoys travelling around the world, meeting different people and seeing other cultures. Annika once worked at Florida’s Disney World. “It was fun,” she says, laughing, “the happiest place on Earth!” As a child, she liked to play hide-and-seek and princesses.
Miami, Florida to New York City, New York
Jeremy is a professional DJ. He left Oklahoma at age 18 for Hollywood, California. Now he tours with rapper Mickey Avalon. They played a show last night at LIV Miami and will perform next in New York City. While on tour he prefers to travel by bus, saying: “If it's a long trip, you just get in and go to sleep. You wake up, you're there.” His favorite food is sugar, anything with sugar. As a child, he liked to play video games, such as Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers. He still plays Xbox now and then.
Miami International Airport
The recorder malfunctioned when we spoke with Migdalia and her interview was lost.
Port Au Prince, Haiti to Whitley, Indiana
Today is a pivotal day for Mark and Sarah, who just arrived in the U.S. from Haiti with their newly adopted daughters, Ellie and Kate. The sisters lost their mother in the earthquake and had since been living in a tent city in Port au Prince with their father, who is dying of HIV. Mark and Sarah have two older boys, and felt the Lord guiding them to expand their family by adopting. Although it took a year and a half to complete the process, they consider it a blessing. As a child Sarah loved to play Barbies, hopscotch and Sorry. Mark’s favorite colors are maize and blue, the colors of the University of Michigan.
Miami, Florida to Flores, Guatemala
Juan has worked many different jobs during his three years in Miami. Today he is returning home to work with his family in northern Guatemala. He came to America by himself and says about Miami, “The dollars are beautiful, but nothing is here; I am not leaving anything.” He grew up around agriculture and always thought he would do that type of work one day. His favorite color is white.
Miami, Florida to Nassau, Bahamas
Monique was born in the Princess Margaret Hospital in the Bahamas. She is self-employed and works out of her home doing hair and nails and making soap. She came to Miami for a shopping trip over Easter but is now trying to go back early after she and her travel companion lost their bags, money and IDs. Her favorite color is pink and she loves noodles.
Miami, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Victoria and her sister Dora were born in Colombia and raised in Puerto Rico. They have been close since childhood, although different in many ways. They learned to respect each other’s differences without judgment. "Having my sister gives me that reassuring feeling that I have someone who is always there for me. She can drive me crazy sometimes, but our bond is unbreakable," says Victoria. She is dropping off Dora and her beloved pup Ocho, they are flying back to Puerto Rico after three weeks with Victoria in Miami. "We're more than sisters. We're best friends," she says. As children, the sisters jumped rope and played a lot of hide-and-seek.
Turks and Caicos Islands to Hartford Connecticut
Anrico is 23 years old and is an automotive body technician in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is traveling to Hartford Connecticut to visit his fiancé and make their wedding plans. She does social work with adolescent females and they haven’t seen each other in three months. If he could travel anywhere in the world, he would like to go Puerto Rico to visit the place where his fiancé was born and raised. Anrico’s favorite meal is a burger and fries.
Miami, Florida to Merida, Mexico
Elsy taught Spanish in primary school for 25 years in Miami. Both born in Cuba, she and her husband are now retried in Merida, Mexico. Saying about her experience: “the traditions are about the same as in Cuba, the religion, all of that. In the U.S. it is a bit different. This is easier. I live in Merida as I have already lived in Cuba.” They fly to Miami every few years to visit their three children and several grandchildren. As a child, Elsy wanted to be a Nun when she grew up. “But I like wearing makeup so much, so that didn’t work out.” Her favorite color is blue.
Miami, Florida to New Orleans, Louisana
Marilyn is a paramedic in Miami. She says it is emotional but offers instant gratification: “Nobody needs to send you a memo to say you did a good job.” She was born in Cuba, but when she was a child her father got work as a tailor in upstate New York and moved the family there. When she was 14, they moved to Miami. This weekend, she is traveling to New Orleans with a friend to see the elevated cemeteries, blues bands and old plantations. As a child, Marilyn played with Barbie dolls and wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. Her favorite color is orange.
Chicago, Illinois to the Cayman Islands
LaTrese, an administrative assistant, is on her way to a five-day cruise to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. “I cruise all the time,” she says, “but this cruise is for a friend who is celebrating her birthday.” A group of nine, all from Chicago, figured that they needed a vacation and also wanted to support their friend for her big 50th-birthday celebration. “I’m excited because I’ve been to Jamaica, but this will be my first time in the Cayman Islands.” As a child, LaTrese wanted be a racecar driver when she grew up. Her favorite color is purple.
Millersburg, Ohio to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
Diane is 16; she works at a meat and cheese shop in Millersburg, Ohio, a flourishing Amish and Mennonite community. She has lived her whole life there. Today she and her parents Phillip and Sue Ann are traveling to Paraguay to visit her older brother, who has been working at a birthing clinic at the Church Mission for the past year and a half. Diane misses him and is excited to learn about the culture he has become part of. As a child she played Chutes and Ladders, and imagined being a flight attendant when she grew up. Her favorite food is cocktail shrimp.
Caracas, Venezuela to Miami, Florida and back
Cesar has been a flight attendant for two years. Today he is rushing between planes. Once at the airport, the crew goes through immigration, and then gets right back on the plane. He was born and raised in a small town in Venezuela and was studying modern languages, having a hard time keeping up with college expenses, when he heard about the flight attendant diploma. He is glad he pursued it. He is passionate about anything related to cultures, languages, gastronomy, diversity and people. As a child, Cesar wanted to be a doctor, then a politician. He loves all shades of blue.
Aruba to Brasilia, Brazil
Cosete got her Ph.D in the U.S. and worked for the Ministry of Education in Brazil for 30 years. She is from the southern-most state of Brazil, called Rio Grande do Sul. Saying about her homeland: “It's a very precious area, because it's mixed gauchos from Brazil, with gauchos from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. It's a region full of tradition, poets, and beautiful music.” She and a group of 40 friends spent a few days shopping in Miami on their way home from a vacation in Aruba. Her mother gave her the French name Cosete after reading Victor Hugo’s book Les Miserables. Her favorite color is pink.
Ponce, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida
Jose is 19 years old and is a biomedical student from Puerto Rico. He is studying to be a chiropractor one day. Although he was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, half of his family lives in Miami. He is excited about both parts of the family coming together for a reunion on Thanksgiving for the first time in five years. He arrived two days early to see the Black Eyed Peas in concert with his cousin. As a child Jose wanted to be a dentist, then a fireman, then a dentist again. His favorite food is pizza.
Miami, Florida to Merida, Mexico
Days after receiving his law degree, Armando left Cuba because of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution; he never had a chance to practice law. In the U.S., he joined the Air Force and was sent in with the Bay of Pigs invasion as a member of the assault brigade. Armando was one of the very few to make it out alive. He and his wife Elsy chose to retire in Merida, Mexico, because it reminded them of their Cuban hometown of Santa Clara. His favorite colors are red and blue.
Las Vegas, Nevada to Miami, Florida
Olga is an aerial acrobat and flying trapeze artist. She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her career takes her around the world; she has lived in such places as Paris and London. Today she flew into Miami for a four-day business trip with her husband, who had been traveling in Germany. As a child, Olga liked to play chess and wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up.
Miami, Florida to Richmond, Virginia
Rajneesh grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas. He now works in software and continues to run the antique gun business his grandfather started in India decades ago. He is traveling with his wife and children from their home in Virginia to Miami, for a family wedding. While in Miami he plans to see the sites and take his kids to the Museum of Science so they can play with the hands-on exhibits. As a child Rajneesh dreamed of being many things: a pilot, an astronaut, a plumber, then a car mechanic. His favorite color is green.
Baltimore, Maryland to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Makaila and Adina are on their way to becoming junior bridesmaids at their aunt’s wedding. Their family comes from St. Thomas and their other aunt Jackie, who is traveling with them, says, “It’s like going home.” Makaila’s favorite colors are teal, turquoise, sea blue, and black. Adina prefers light blue and yellow. They both enjoy playing computer games: Makaila, Angry Birds, and Adina, the Wii.
Origins and Destinations is dedicated to Barbara Marino, my beloved elementary school art teacher who taught me to find beauty in all people. Thank you Barbara, I have never stopped looking.
A very special thank you to all the travelers at the Miami International Airport who had the enthusiasm to jump in and participate.
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All photographs © 2015 Laena Wilder