In 1998, when President Bill Clinton was allowing Cuban artists to travel relatively easily in and out of the United States, I invited a well-known Cuban visual artist to visit my graduate class at Columbia College in Chicago. I wanted her to show the students her work and talk a little about what it was like to create art — such a personal endeavor — in a society that focused on the collective rather than the individual.
The visit to Columbia, an urban school with a strong arts focus, went well until the question-and-answer session. An African-American student, eyes misty with hope, asked, “Is it true that there’s no racism in Cuba?” My friend, a red-haired and white-skinned Cuban, nodded enthusiastically. “No, there’s no racism,” she affirmed, and there was a collective sigh in the class over the very notion that such a utopia could really exist.
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