I’ve lived out of my country for over a decade, but on a daily basis phrases like these will come out of my mouth when speaking to my husband: “babe, in my country people party until 6am,” or “I used to listen to Shakira when I was in my country,” or “we eat our Arepas like this in my country,” and the list goes on. My husband constantly reminds me, in a joking manner that “babe, this is America.”
When I speak of MY country I’m referring to Venezuela. No matter where I am now or where I have lived in the past, Venezuela is and will always be MY country; it’s where I was born, and it’s where my heart is from.
My husband always jokes that he forgets where I’m from until he hops in my car and Franco De Vita is on full blast…well, he doesn’t know who Franco De Vita is, he just says “Mexican music,” because it’s the Mexican music station that plays all my favorite Latin music artists. I laugh.
Every night before bedtime as I get my daughter ready for bed and massage her little legs I sing to her “Clavelito Colorado,” by Simón Díaz; the same song my mother used to sing to me when I was a little girl growing up in MY country. I also sing to her “con mi burrito sabanero voy camino de Belen, con mi burrito sabanero voy camino de Belen…” and “Los pollitos dicen pio, pio, pio,” sneaks in there on a daily basis. I talk to my little half Korean baby girl in Spanish every day, and my whole body is transported to MY country.
On Sundays after church I make Arepas at home. I make them like my mom used to make them when I lived in MY country.
I often visit the Venezuelan restaurant in Santa Ana, and upon entering everything is “epa chama!” and besitos and abrazos, and I stare at the pictures on the wall and I know those beaches and hills. I know those little colorful houses and streets. Those are the pictures of MY country. I’m overtaken, in that restaurant, by the smell of MY country.
And so, when I log in to FB and read feed after feed of what is happening in MY country, I can’t help but feel compelled to say something too…and then I get scared. I get scared because I’m HERE and they are THERE. And, my emotions get jumbled.
For the past few days some very intense political unrest has taken over MY country. A peaceful student protest against the military/socialist regime turned deadly and since, people are determined to receive justice and not just for the innocent deaths, but for everything that needs to change in MY country. I see feeds on FB with minute-to-minute updates. I see pictures posting “live” from the site shots. I see articles and comments. People are asking…no begging…for support, for change, for peace. Venezuela has never been the same since Chavez took power, and now with Maduro it’s in rapid decline. Those students were protesting not just for themselves, but for the future of a country that is still MY country. They got shot.
I sit here in the PEACE of my quiet room. My princess daughter sleeping. My husband out to dinner with friends. My life so quiet. My parents immigrants to another country. My best friends gone too. Those who remain, my cousins, my aunts, my extended network of high-school friends and childhood friends all marching, there, in the warmth of those streets, tweeting, texting, FBing, calling out on all accounts for someone to listen. I know I’m comfortable. I know I’m far. I know I’m blessed. I know I can’t truly understand. But I’m listening. And I’m sad. I’m so sad in my core that since Wednesday I’ve felt a heavy load. I’ve come to tears in private several times thinking of the students who died, because of what they represent, because it takes death.
I left Caracas when I was 17 years-old and always thought I’d return for good but never did; just to visit. For many years I cried myself to sleep because of MY country: I cried because I missed my family. I cried because of a broken heart. I cried because I missed la playa. I cried because I missed my friends. I cried because I felt like a stranger everywhere – misplaced. I cried because my childhood memories had been erased by violence and with every Juan Luis Guerra song that played on the radio, I cried.
It feels like it took a lifetime to heal from all of what felt to me like a great loss.
But loosing Venezuela is NOT an option. To think of what a rich and beautiful place it is brings my whole chest to rise with a great sigh. And those who are there, on the streets, mobilized, armed with strength, are my heroes. And I’m sitting here, fingers and toes crossed, that they don’t give up. I want my daughter to know the smell of that tropical rain. I want her to hear the sea of crickets at night. I want her to feel the music in her bones, las maracas, el tambor, that she can know that side of the ocean and she can understand where I’m from.