Isbel Diaz Torres
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.
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.
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.