In the early morning hours of April 22, 2000 Alan Diaz was front and center when federal agents moved in to gain custody of Elian Gonzalez. The six year old had been at the middle of a legal battle for over six months, since he had been discovered floating on an inner tube after his boat sank. Alan Diaz was the only photographer there when the action occurred and his picture won him a Pulitzer Prize.
Alan Diaz was born and raised in New York. He relocated to Cuba in 1964 to join his parents who had previously returned to their native country. Diaz went to school in Cuba and earned a teaching degree. Upon graduation he began teaching but took up a hobby which would soon change his life and his career path.
Back in the States
In 1978 Diaz returned to the states and settled in Miami, Florida. There he continued teaching English, but began working as a freelance photographer in his spare time. In 1994 Diaz was hired by the Associated Press as a freelance photographer. In 2000 after receiving the Pulitzer Prize for his Elian Gonzalez photo, AP hired him as a staff photographer.
His Pulitzer prize award was for “Best spot news photograph of the year” Along with the honor of winning this prestigious award comes a cash award of $7,500.
Diaz’ photo was not a spur of the moment shot. He had spent months getting to know the Cuban boy’s family and familiarizing himself with the house and surroundings. Diaz had been hired by the Associated Press in November of 1999 to take daily pictures of Elian. Elian was in the spotlight since his discovery after attempting to flee Cuba across the Florida Straits. The boat carrying Elian and his mother, and 13 other Cubans, sank and his mother died. In the beginning the family was leery of the photographer. Diaz gained the trust of Elian’s great uncle, Lazaro, speaking with him across their backyard fence about politics, sports and women. The determined photographer spent 16 hours a day covering Elian’s situation for the Associated Press. He took photos of the boy going to school and playing in the yard and of the demonstrations that occasionally went on outside their home.
By April tensions were running high around the Elian home. The Clinton Administration was demanding that Elian be turned over to authorities who would reunite the boy with his dad in Cuba. His Miami relatives disagreed and refused to turn him over. Diaz decided he wouldn’t leave the home until there was resolution to this issue. On the morning of April 22nd he jumped the fence into the side yard of the family home, paused to set his shutter speed and lighting and ran through a door that a family member had opened. Yelling in Spanish, “Where’s the boy,” he ran through the house in search of the 6 year old. Elian had been held in a closet by one of the family members when the federal agent pointed his assault weapon at the family, Diaz pointed his camera and the result was his Pulitzer Prize photograph.
The AP Awards
The Associated Press has a long standing record of Pulitzer Prize wins. Diaz’ award was the 47th Pulitzer for the Associated Press. They have received 28 for photographs and 19 for writing.
After the Award
Diaz admits his life changed drastically after winning the Pulitzer. His freelance job with AP turned into a full time staff position, and he has been sought after for interviews by fellow journalists. Diaz admits that it was a great honor winning the award, but most photographers who do so have in the wake of witnessing some of the most devastating events. Whether it is a war shot or a natural disaster, the event stays with you forever. Diaz admits that even as the father of four he had never heard a cry of such desperation as the cry that came from Elian when the federal agents arrived, a cry he will never forget.
Alan Diaz Recalls Elian
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