My mom always told me Venezuela was like one big party from Christmas through New Year’s.
These days, I can only imagine what the streets look like. I’d like to think there will still be music and dancing to keep spirits high, though I doubt the food will be plentiful.
Would you still dance if you thought you might starve next year?
I never got to see a Christmas or New Year’s celebration in Venezuela and I’m not sure it’ll be the same when I finally do. The first and only time I visited was the summer of 2011, where I finally met my grandmother at an airport in Ciudad Bolivar. It was a bit like those scenes in the movies where people are so happy to see each other that they hug and don’t let go. The only difference was I barely understood a word she said.
I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed in a country I knew nothing about with more unknown relatives than I could count and almost as many presents. My grandmother was the most excited. We’d only ever had phone conversations where I was told what to say, but we’d always been connected by the fact that we shared a name.
“Cassandra Celina,” she’d exclaim to everyone, then point to herself and repeat Celina with a laugh and a smile. We communicated by gestures and few words, but Celina was the one that held the most weight.
The moments I remember most vividly are the ones I spent with family. I met cousins on a beach where we did nothing but talk and eat freshly caught fish from a boy who brought it over on a paper plate. I marveled at the city streets while aunts, uncles, and cousins took me shopping and my family threw me a party that filled my aunt’s house. They brought me empanadas and I discovered my love for tequeños, a sort of cheese-filled pastry almost like a mozzarella stick.
When we flew over, my father had packed a suitcase full of toiletries and clothes that were either too expensive or too scarce to buy there. We left them behind after a long drive out to the country where the house we stayed in only consisted of a few rooms to sleep in. We picked ripe mangoes from a tree and I slept in a shaded hammock when the sun made everything too hot.
I could see the differences then, but even though there were less material things, I never missed them. It made the paradise of a beach and a house full of people even more special, even if the country held hidden places where paradise meant new clothes and diapers.
I left with the intention to return, but I haven’t made it back yet.
Some time after the protests began in 2016, my dad called to tell me that my cousin had died. I barely got to know her. From what I was told, an aneurysm had put her in a hospital with unreliable power. A lack of electricity for just a little too long had cost her her life. She was 35.
I haven’t spoken to my grandmother in a long time. I read about riots and people being killed. Now, they’re starving. There are no supplies. Desperate people are fleeing the country for a better chance at surviving.
Meanwhile, the only word I hear from my dad is that my grandmother, stubborn as ever, is still going about her business in her little house with her big garden and a few chickens. I imagine she still refuses help up steps and tells people about her granddaughter in America who has her name.
I don’t know how long it can stay like that. I see pictures of a country in distress and I can only recall the side streets we wandered through, bustling with people going about their day. It’s hard to reconcile those images in my mind, but even though I never really knew Venezuela, I understand what it should not be.
I’m only part Venezuelan by blood, but my family members are still there. I don’t know what they suffer or how much they’re affected by all the chaos. I only know that I can’t go back now.
What can any of us do as individuals when a country’s people are in distress? Hurricanes and wildfires remind us that the world is full of unpredictable circumstances that can destroy life as we know it in mere seconds. Travel resorts hide these distressed pieces of a country, but we have to remind ourselves that they exist.
We all want this year to be better. We make fitness goals, decisions to eat healthy, and we plan to see the world. The question is: which world?
Do we put on our rose colored glasses and pretend everything is going just swimmingly? Do we argue and blame and wait for someone else to fix the things we don’t like?
If we did have a way to change things, would we even try?
It’s not always easy or possible. There’s only so much one person can do, but we need take chances to make good things happen. That’s the best answer I can come up with.
Every time I read another article or see a troubling headline, the piece of me that loved Venezuela hurts. I want nothing more than to go back and see that everything will be just fine, but I can’t.
All I know is that when I finally return to see my family again, the places I remember will have changed. I suppose that’s the case for any place you leave and come back to, but I can only hope that it will be better.
New Year’s resolutions have turned into promises people expect you not to keep. This year, I’m making a resolution to go back, not because I might not get around to it, but because there’s no guarantee when I’ll be able to.
If you only make one resolution this New Year, promise to remember the ones you love.
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