Through the territory of memories and shared memory, the Versailles restaurant in Miami (Florida, United States) exhibits a rich archive of photographs of the Cuban diaspora sewn into the history of this establishment of Creole cuisine that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The exhibition “What’s your story at Versailles?” brings together graphic material that is an intimate, family and sentimental evocation of the Cuban exile, a review of images of several generations of customers and employees linked to this half century of the restaurant’s life.
“The history of Versailles and the Cuban community is understood in these photos. Here are all the eras of the restaurant. You see the workers, clients and politicians ” who have frequented it since its inauguration in 1971, he told the agency EFE Alexandra valls, 33, granddaughter of the founder, Felipe Valls, and curator of this exhibition.
Valls says that this project “in progress” arose after his father, Felipe Valls son, encouraged him to create an archive that would be a graphic testimony of this half century of life of the establishment “linked to the Cuban community, its memory and memories.”
There are more than a hundred photographs, among others those that include the recent and massive demonstration around Versailles in support of the peaceful protests in Cuba on November 15, one of Valls’ favorites.
“They are photos that give a voice to Cubans who come here to express their political opinions and feelings, to speak freely, to say what they cannot express in Cuba with communism”, said the young graduate in Communications and Sociology from Emerson University in Boston.
That is the Versailles, not only bastion of tasty Creole cuisine, but rather the “connection of Cubans with Cuba, a platform where they say what they think, something they cannot do” on the island, he stressed.
He pointed to another of his favorite photos, perhaps from the late 1970s, in which smiling waitresses (in his unchanging green uniform) they joke with each other. Another image shows the expertise of an experienced waitress loading four plates of food.
These photos of the employees and service, he assured, reflect one of the most relevant aspects of the success of his business: appreciation to your staff. They “are an essential part of the restaurant. They are very important to us and they are proud ”to work here.
In fact, he said that the restaurant functions as a kind of “assistance network” with Cubans who come to Miami and “do not know where they can find work.” “They know that Versailles exists and they come here. And if there is no work, there are people who came like them and help them “she affirmed proudly.
Who, without a doubt, have made Versailles an obligatory stop They are the famous and the politicians; these seconds especially in election time, when they come to this place to be seen and show their sympathy for the Cuban community in exile, their culture and the cause of freedom on the island.
Numerous photographs exhibited in one of the restaurant’s rooms attest to this: US Presidents Ronald Regan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are part of the gallery of leaders who have visited the place and appreciated the flavors of its home and family cuisine.
Clinton, in one of the photos, is seen with a wide smile surrounded by the entire team of Versailles workers; in another, the senator John McCain He appears concentrated in a conversation at the table without paying attention to the photographer. Or Celia Cruz, the “queen of salsa” in the foreground.
It is the human interest that emerges from this photographic archive, still unfinished and made in collaboration with the History Miami Museum, which makes this exhibition a great celebration of memory, a testimony that transcends as a shared and transmitted experience.
This is so to the point that a good number of customers sent their personal stories, photographs and memories related to the restaurant when the owner family communicated their intention to create a public archive with artwork.
In fact, he commented humorously Alexandra vallsA very old lady approached one day when they were finishing installing the photographs and asked why her photo was not there.
To the surprise of Valls, the woman told him that she had worked as a waitress at the restaurant for about 40 years. “I asked for the photo of her with her companions, but she did not give it to me. He brought it to me scanned, ”he said laughing.
Valls believes that this collection of photographs intimately linked to the history and daily life of the Cuban community in Miami, of its diaspora, they will end up staying permanently in the restaurant.
The exhibition is also the opportunity to enjoy contemplating memories fixed in photographs that are inseparable from the restaurant’s atmosphere: from the bustle of waitresses carrying trays and plates and the bustle of its lively clientele.
Eventually, “People always come back to Versailles”, he sentenced, happy.
(By Emilio J. López – EFE)
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