Natalie Catasús is a Miami-born poet, translator, and essayist. At CCA she was a dual-degree Writing/Visual and Critical Studies student, and her creative practice and scholarly work remain in constant dialogue. Storytelling—whether in the form of oral history, experimental documentary, or the media representations that narrate daily life—is often at the center of her writings on power and displacement. Her current research looks at the visual and material legacy of the balsero (Cuban rafter) phenomenon. She writes with particular attention to geography, memorials, media representations, and the ephemera of the many balseros who have died attempting to cross the Straits of Florida.
Natalie currently works for the Voice of Witness Book Series and Education Program, a non-profit whose mission is to illuminate human rights crises through oral history. In the past she has served as the managing editor for Eleven Eleven Journal of Literature and Art, and she has extensive experience as a writing tutor. Her own writing has been published in Art Practical and Jai-Alai Magazine, and she has work forthcoming in Denver Quarterly. She holds a BA in Literature/Spanish Language and Culture from New College of Florida.
You can find Natalie’s projects, résumé, and contact information at nataliecatasus.com.
ECHOES OFF THE STRAITS: IMAGEs AND EPHEMERA OF THE LOST CUBAN BALSEROS
In the decades since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, tens of thousands of Cuban balseros have taken to the Straits of Florida by raft (balsa) or small boat, embarking on a precarious journey away from the island nation. As many as one hundred thousand balseros are estimated to have died at sea, though the exact number remains unknown. The Straits of Florida are a unique national border that subsumes the bodies of those who perish crossing it, while pushing their belongings to U.S. shores. Empty rafts, husks that bear the traces of the balseros who do not arrive with them, wash up constantly on Florida beaches.
Echoes Off the Straits addresses the legacy and representation of the balsero phenomenon in the United States within the realms of the spatial, the material, and the visible. It begins with a treatment of the Straits of Florida as a geographic and political site, attending to the ways both the body of water itself and the proliferation of photojournalistic images of balseros in the mass media obscure the visibility of the dead. Turning toward the material traces of the balseros, the legacy of the rafts themselves offers a view into the contemporary cultural situation of these objects and their complicated status as both relics and refuse. By examining how the balsero phenomenon persists in the visual and material realm, this essay endeavors toward a resistance of closure and argues for the need to mark erasure where it has occurred by treating absence as a site of potential.