The table was set for an early Thanksgiving dinner. As the guests arrived last Wednesday to the Longboat Key home of Amy and Michael Drake, the aroma of a feast greeted them.
Mojitos were offered to guests, but they declined them in an attempt to embrace “everything American.” The night’s guests of honor were all visiting from Cuba: renowned artist Oscar Rodriguez Lasseria, President of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists in Guantanamo Jorge Núñez, graphic designer Pepe Nieto and art historian Rosendo Romero.
Although the holiday of Thanksgiving and its traditional foods are foreign in Cuba, the gesture of hospitality and warmth was a familiar one for the four guests of honor. Also in attendance were artists Jean Blackburn and Longboat Key resident Lucy Miller, and Soledad Pagliuca, editor of Ediciones Nuevos Mundos, who organized a two-week cultural exchange.
The cause for celebration was the culmination of the art and cultural exchange to Cuba that helped bring “Cuban Imagination: The Art of Oriente & Beyond” art exhibition and reception to New College of Florida. The exhibit, featuring 15 Cuban artists, ran from Oct. 6 through Oct. 31 and was open and free to the public. A majority of the artists were from the region of Oriente that includes Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba and the country’s oldest settlement of Baracoa. Lasseria, a contemporary painter and ceramicist from the region of Camaguey, was featured in the exhibit.
“The most important thing for me is to thank my friends who have been in Baracoa and the hospitality they have had with us,” Romero said. “Hopefully we could work together more … because we are all children of this planet. We can’t let fractions of politics separate us.”
For 15 years, the Friendship Association in St. Augustine has built a connection with the Baracoa settlement. The concept behind the trip is for people from different cultures to spend time with people who have similar backgrounds and interests. This particular cultural exchange trip was composed of eight local artists, including Blackburn and Miller.
The trip provided local artists the chance to meet with Cuban artists and critics to exchange ideas. In return, four Cubans visited the United States to experience American culture.
“I’ve been all over the world multiple times, but [Cuba] really captured my heart,” Miller said. “What captured it was the people and their resilience and their ability to love and laugh in spite of the hardships.”
Blackburn, Pagliuca and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paige St. John organized the program and cultural exchange. Pagliuca describes the experience as an exchange of ideas to bring the two groups closer together.