I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Being Venezuelan nowadays is painful. I often equate it to living with those seven stars you see in the image, a beautiful depiction of our flag, embedded in your heart. If you've been following the news coming from Latin America, you know what I mean. Rampant crime, scarcity of basic food staples and medicines as essential as acetaminophen or as life-saving as chemotherapy. But that is not what this post is about.
I wanted to tell you why, even with all the worry, the anger, the sorrow, I'm still so grateful I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. You see, I grew up in paradise, even when I didn't realize it. When I tell you why, you will understand the love and the pain that a Venezuelan who lives in the U.S. feels every single day.
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The last time I worked in Venezuela, I had already moved to the U.S., but I often went back to cover different news events. My first stop was El Palacio de Miraflores, our version of the White House. After two hours of listening to politicians talk, I was ready to go home and hang out with my dad. I missed him dearly. Nature had other plans, it was raining cats and dogs and there was no taxi to be found. Out of nowhere, a very short man, with a weathered face that put him anywhere between 40 and 80, showed up, selling umbrellas.
Illegal street vendors abound. Always opportunistic, he saw my despair and offered me a gorgeous yellow umbrella. It was less than 50 cents. I offered him $5, but he said: "¿Estás loca, niña?" I hadn't had a chance to exchange my dollars for the local currency. Instead of taking my money or walking away, he gave me the biggest of smile and said to me: "Don't worry my darling, I can't give you one for free, but I will walk you to the nearest subway station". And he sure meant it. He walked next to me, holding that patch of yellow kindness over my head until I was safe and dry inside the station. I offered him the $5 again, but he refused. He was just being a gentleman with a pretty girl. I have never forgotten him. He is my Venezuela.
So here you have my 10 reasons why I love being Venezuelan:
1. There is nobody more generous than a Venezuelan. If they connect with you, their house is your house, donde caben uno cabemos todos (if there is enough for one person, there's enough for everybody).
2. Very beautiful and very smart people are Venezuelan. Sure enough, we have more Miss Universe winners than any other country in the world, but the president of MIT, Rafael Reif, is a Venezuelan man who went to college in Venezuela.
3. We have the best names for food you can ever imagine. A watermelon is a patilla (sandía in Spanish), papaya is lechoza, banana is cambur. There are many, many more. But don't use any of those beautiful words unless you are speaking with a Venezuelan. Nobody else will understand you.
4. Our geography is so rich that you can experience a gorgeous dawn over a Caribbean beach and by dusk be in either a perennial snowed mountain in the Andes, el Pico Bolívar, or at the gateway of the Amazon rainforest.
5. We are both Caribbean and South American because 75% of our population is concentrated in the coastal areas. We relate just as easily to an Argentinian as to a Cuban or Puerto Rican.
6. It's never cold, except in those areas close to the Andes. In Caracas, most days the weather is pretty comfortable. Only recently, thanks to pollution and poor urban planning, people have started to use air conditioners to sleep at night.
7. In my Venezuela, there was social mobility. We had a president who had barely finished elementary school. Another one, that became a Pediatrician before running for office, in spite of having been raised by a single mother in a house with dirt floors and walls made of sticks and mud.
8. In my Venezuela, you knew all your neighboors and, as children, we went from house to house without a care. To this day, I call my neighbors my sisters and consider them as much.
9. My Venezuela was colorblind and it was normal to call anybody of African descent un negro, as a term of endearment. We are a country of mestizos. One of El Puma's (our version of Julio Iglesias) biggest hits was a song called "Pavo Real" in which he sang that the most beautiful kids were the ones with biracial parents.
10. Despite being an immigrant, my dad taught me to love Venezuela. Having been born in Spain, my dad arrived in Venezuela at 17, and taught me to love her as much as I'm trying to teach my children to love the United States. He arrived with nothing and raised three kids, became a homeowner and created a life for himself. He only left when Venezuela failed him. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophagus cancer and there was a shortage of chemo. By the time I got him back to Spain, it was too late for any kind of treatment. But even then, he loved my country, his country.
I hope that someday, in my lifetime, justice is served to the idiots that have turned one of the richest countries in the Americas into a broken down and dangerous shadow of its former self, so I can take my children there.
In the meantime, I have my very own Venezuela in my heart.
Image via Thinstock