The Amazing Tale of How Cuba Saw Its First New U.S. Car in 58 Years
As a child growing up in Florida, Alfonso Albaisa heard endless tales about his relatives in Cuba: A great-aunt had been married to José Martí, considered a national hero; a grandfather had been a governor at the time of the revolution; and a great-uncle was an important architect. In August 1962, two years before his birth, his parents fled the island on a secret night flight, paid for with his father’s Rolex and Edsel sedan. “My only experience of Cuba was through my family’s stories and photos,” says Albaisa, Infiniti corporate vice president and design chief.
So with restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba loosening, this summer Albaisa visited his family’s homeland for the first time. And with Infiniti’s blessing, he brought with him his latest effort, the new Infiniti Q60 coupe, making it the first time a new car from the U.S. had entered Cuba in 58 years.
In a four-day whirlwind tour, Albaisa met a cousin; visited a onetime Havana estate of his grandfather, the former governor of the province of Camagüey; and saw for himself the clean-lined, mid-century modern architecture of his great-uncle Max Borges-Recio.
Borges-Recio masterminded Club Náutico and the legendary ’50s hotspot the Tropicana Club, among other iconic Havana structures—all of which influenced Albaisa as a designer from the time he was a young boy studying family snapshots of the sites. The flowing rooflines, fender flares, and wheel arches of Albaisa’s own automotive work echo the curved forms of Borges-Recio’s buildings.
But the last night of the trip, when Albaisa unveiled the Infiniti at a private art gallery, was a highlight for him. About 150 Cuban designers, architects, and artists showed up to meet Albaisa, and a few students told him that they, too, wanted to design cars. “From the passion in their eyes, I could see that DNA-wise, we are the same,” he says, adding, “If my family could escape the island and I could end up designing luxury cars in Japan, then they can do great things too.”
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A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “A Visit to the Cuban Homeland.”