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Marta, right, and Liset cross into Brazil from Guyana, one day after leaving Cuba. (Lisette Poole)

Marta, center, and Liset, not pictured, are taken with other migrants to a processing station after being picked up by migration officials in Peru. (Lisette Poole)

Photographer Lisette Poole’s first book, “La Paloma y la ley” (Red Hook, 2019), is an extraordinary tale of two Cuban women’s dream of leaving their homeland and making it to the United States. The bilingual book, whose title translates to “The Dove and the Law,” also contains several long-form essays. The two women, Marta and Liset, embarked on this journey in May 2016 with no plan. The only thing they had as they set out was the name of a smuggler scribbled on a piece of paper.

Liset and Marta had hoped to arrive in the United States before the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

As Poole notes in the introduction to her book:

[The policy was] the informal name given to a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which essentially stated that anyone who emigrated from Cuba and entered the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. ... In 1995, the Clinton administration created “wet foot, dry foot” in response to a mass departure the year before that became known as the Cuban Rafter Crisis. ... The policy stated that the U.S. would send home any Cuban caught on the waters between the two countries — wet feet — while those who made it to shore — dry feet — could remain in the United States.

In 2017, the year after Marta and Liset’s journey began, President Obama ended the policy.

Poole followed the women on a significant portion of their journey. Dressed as a migrant, she went along with them for 51 days, traversing 13 countries and 10 borders. The odyssey, as the photos so viscerally show, was harrowing and exhausting. It included six grueling days in the infamous “Darien Gap,” a roadless stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama.

Poole told me she moved to Cuba in 2014, planning to stay only six months while working on projects, but ended up staying much longer than that after Cuba and the United States began to renew relations. She covered this news for publications around the world but felt there was something missing from all the coverage — mainly the fact that “Cubans were leaving the island in record numbers.”

In 2015, Poole met Marta through one of her friends. When Marta told Poole that she wanted to leave Cuba, Poole asked if she could tag along, and Marta agreed. After eight months of getting to know each other, Marta called Poole one day in 2016 and said she was getting ready to make the journey and asked: “Are you coming or not?”

Poole left with them on May 16, 2016.

“They would travel through Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, then through the Darien Gap for six days. Eventually I would follow Liset until she crossed the border into Texas, 51 days after she left Cuba. Marta would get to the U.S. shortly after,” Poole said. “The final chapter of the book shows the last three years of their lives in the United States. The last photo in the book was taken in January of this year.”

Time magazine’s Karl Vick captures just how extraordinary Poole’s endeavor was in the foreword to the book:

What she fashioned from her reportage makes most news stories about migration feel as dry and removed as a UN report. The book is part travel journal, part photo essay, and wholly unique. It feels both lived-in and entirely fresh. The field notes double as poetry; the drama is real life. ... The book adds ticket stubs, assorted currency, chicken receipts, Western Union slips, and, at the start of every chapter, a map that tracks the route the way an airplane hop-scotches the globe in “Casablanca.”

Vick exhorts the reader to take their time and examine the book closely, because “I believe you’ll find it authentic.”

I couldn’t agree more.

You can find out more about Poole on her website.


Marta and Liset, right, check their phones after arriving in Lima before dawn. (Lisette Poole)

In the Darien Gap, the women stop after one of many river crossings. (Lisette Poole)

Liset, left, and Marta with a street vendor in Medellin, Colombia, after going out and partying with local coyotes. (Lisette Poole)

Migrants from Cuba and Nepal, camped out in Nicaragua waiting for coyotes to move them to a safe location. (Lisette Poole)

Liset arrives in Chicago one day after crossing the border into the United States to be reunited with her boyfriend, who paid for her journey. (Lisette Poole)

Marta back in Cuba after receiving her green card in the United States. She traveled home to throw her grandson a birthday party. (Lisette Poole)

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