Isbel Diaz Torres

I arrived in Chicago on a cold, rainy night and suddenly found myself in the middle of a derelict street – without money, without a public phone at hand and without a concrete address to head to.

HAVANA TIMES – Today, I want to share with you a number of very surprising experiences I had in Chicago this year, for they contradict the idea that Cuban schools and media have constructed regarding the egotism that a country like the United States – the epitome of industrialization, barbarism, competition and dehumanization – allegedly encourages in people.

I didn’t want to share all of my experiences outside Cuba too soon. I wanted to think about them and develop a more balanced opinion. That is why, as readers have noticed, my posts about Brazil are separated by long periods of time, and I hadn’t written anything about my experiences in the United States until now.

I arrived in Chicago on a cold, rainy night and suddenly found myself in the middle of a derelict street – without money, without a public phone at hand and without a concrete address to head to. After nearly an hour of dragging my suitcase down the wet streets and not seeing a single soul, an African American woman, evidently working class, suggested I went into a nearby hotel (belonging to the Marriot chain) and asked for help there.

Chicago bridge.

Used to being treated like a pariah at Cuban hotels, I decided to try my luck, convinced I would be kicked out of the premises like a “dirty Latino immigrant.” To my surprise, not only was I cordially welcomed by the doorman and the lady at the reception, they also allowed me to make all the calls I needed free of charge.

When I headed outside to wait for the people who were going to pick me up, the hotel people didn’t let me. They insisted I sit and wait at the luxurious and warm lobby, where we had a lively conversation for the almost one-hour-long wait.

Days later, while skipping a LASA conference, another Cuban and I arrived at the entrance to the monumental Art Institute of Chicago by chance. I was happy enough to have gotten there and to be able to take photos of the incredibly beautiful façade and surroundings.

My friend and I ventured into the lobby to take a furtive picture of the inside when something unexpected happened. A man we had crossed at the door asked us: “do you want these two tickets I’m not going to use?” We couldn’t believe that was happening.

At the Chicago Art Institute

This way, I was able to see the first great works of art of a long list of pieces I enjoyed there. Some spectacular stained-glass pieces by Chagall, a large collection of Hindu art and models and sculptures by Picasso were particularly striking – and we enjoyed them free of charge!

Without a cent to my name, I was able to visit Chicago for a week thanks to the kindness of friends, colleagues and new acquaintances, among whom I should mention Jesus Guanche, Armando Chaguaceda, Ted Henken, Stansfield Smith and even a pair of would-be Cuban “security agents” who invited me for a snack in order to obtain information about my treacherous plans in the land of egotism.

To all of them, both friends and acquaintances, I say thank you. You helped me rid myself of yet another cliché and I feel a little bit freer for it. You also helped reaffirm my “faith in human improvement”, as Marti said, and to see that not even a heartless superpower like the United States can rid its own citizens of goodwill.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

40 thoughts on “A Cuban in the Land of the Selfish

  • Well, since Batista took the nation’s entire treasury with him …

  • Of course it is an atypical example. Likewise, this sort of thing happens all the time in Cuba. Dissidents have been beaten in full view of the public and even their closet neighbors have watched and done nothing. They probably even said something like “that’s your problem, not mine”.

  • A person has a good experience and a bunch of screwball pundits show up to tell them why they are wrong. I hope all of you had a swell Thanksgiving.

  • A friend of mine got robbed and beaten up in New York years ago. Left injured on the ground he told this to a passerby and asked for help the reply he got was “that’s your problem, not mine”. This is probably not representative of everyone or everywhere in the US, but I’m really can’t believe that this would ever happen in my country.

  • Shooting someone who is unarmed is not self-defence. Why wasn’t he tackled to the ground or whacked on the arm with a truncheon. At the very least why didn’t he shoot him in the leg. Once again you show your complete support for everything that happens in the US.

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