Cuba is known for many things, cigars, rum and really old American cars that the country’s people will not let die.
As relations between the U.S. and the island nation begin to normalize, some wondered how Cubans will take to new U.S. cars if and when they ever show up on the country’s shores.
Now we know: well. Nissan’s luxury unit, Infiniti, took the all-new Q60 to Havana: the first U.S.-spec car registered there in 58 years. It was part of a trip taken by Alfonso Albaisa, Infiniti’s executive design director, to trace his roots back to his parents’ birthplace.
Now based in Japan, where he oversees all four Infiniti design studios across the world, Albaisa grew up in Miami. He notes that the passion for where his family came from is very strong in Miami. It’s impossible to ignore.
“They’re flying the flag all the time,” he notes in a video about the experience.
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I’m personally a product of the United States. This gets to maybe a deeper question of why people like myself and Miami refer to themselves as Cuban.”
He said the nationalistic ties in the community make you feel “more patriotic to a history.”
Albaisa got a chance to immerse himself in this patriotic history by bringing the Q60 to Havanah and he discovered a connection he couldn’t get otherwise.
“I found it difficult to connect photographs to reality,” he said. “We decided let’s figure out how to bring a car from the United States into Cuba, the first one since ‘59, I believe, let’s take the Q60.”
This was his first opportunity to visit Cuba and see the curves of the mid-century modern architecture of his great-uncle Max Borges-Recio, including the Tropicana, Club Nautico, as well as Borges Recio’s own home.
It wasn’t a simple trip.
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“It was a monumental task,” he said, adding that it was all made worthwhile to him when they unloaded the car from the transport ship.
“The passion in that car, the power, the shape, the sculpture is something very dear to me,” he said. “You drive up to the Tropicana or to some of my family’s buildings I thought ‘My God. This is a once-in-a-lifetime’ obviously.”
While touring his uncle’s home, he felt a strong pull on his emotions from the design of the home. He was drawn the use of curves and simple shapes to create warmth and comfort, suggesting form and function, much like the design of vehicles today, including the Q60, he said.
“Especially when we had the Q60 on the street,” he said. “People would marvel at the car. Not just because it’s not a normal car for the streets of Cub. There was a deep curiosity. It just struck me how much they loved the automobile.”
Albaisa believes that “an automobile is about the dreams of a culture.” The tour of Havana confirmed for him that “design is a cultural mirror.” He arrived in Cuba with a vague knowledge that his heritage stemmed from this island just 90 miles from the U.S., but basically a world away from his upbringing in Miami. He left feeling differently.
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“I left Cuba with this sense of some synergy with my uncle,” he said adding he sees the country through a “more romantic lens. Somewhat certain this is part of my DNA.”