Birds of a Feather, Flock Together
Not a single person in the world has the same experiences. Every single person at any given moment is going through their own individual journey and living their unique stories. Friends and relatives are all intertwined in different people’s tales, and they all influence each other, whether they know it or not. When it comes to my two best friends, I know their entire life stories and everything that makes them who they are, just like they know everything about me. There are two other people in my life that know everything about me as well. However, it’s a one way street of knowledge with them. I don’t know them as well as they know me. I’m talking about my parents.
From the moment I was born, they’ve known me and everything there is to know about me. These people know what makes me tick because they’ve been there for me my entire life. They have memories that involve me that I can’t even recall because of how young I was. I can’t say the same for them. I sometimes forget they led full lives before I was even a concept. My mom was alive for 32 years and my dad was alive for 31 years before I came into the picture. That’s 32 and 31 years worth of memories and experiences to have shaped them into who they were before me. I know the basics of who they were, but not the specifics of their younger days.
In order to properly know my story, I feel the need to delve into theirs and see how much of me is really them. I know my mother gave me her brown eyes and dark hair. I know my dad gave me his protruding nose and curly hair. But what aspects of my personality are due to my parents influence? What aspects of their personality are theirs by nature and therefore passed down to me genetically? What aspects of their character is due to their upbringing and therefore had to be taught to me? These are questions I want to figure out by comparing how I’ve grown up to how they grew up. The sources I found are all in order to get a deeper understanding of what life was like growing up for my parents and how that might have translated to how they raised me. The sources range from the economic conditions of the Venezuela they grew up in to the kinds of customs found in Venezuela. I hope my journey of understanding my parents and myself will create a spark in others to begin thinking back on how what they’ve been through has molded them into who they are.
Culture and Customs of Venezuela
Dinneen, Mark. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.
The book Culture and Customs of Venezuela, written by Mark Dinneen, goes in depth about various aspects of Venezuelan culture. It ranges from literature and liberal arts to religion and social customs. There was one section in particular that peaked my interest, food.
Food is an integral part of every culture. Everybody has to eat, so why not make what you’re eating delicious? Recipes are one of the easiest things to take with one when moving because often memory is all that is needed in order to prepare a dish. My household has always been one rich in Venezuelan meals. “You two really are my kids”, my mother proudly announced to my brother and I once while we were devouring my mom’s home made arepas. In “Culture and Customs of Venezuela”, Dinneen writes, “The most common food, consumed by all sectors of the population, is the arepa, a doughy roll made of corn flour and then fried or baked. It is frequently eaten for breakfast or as a snack, stuffed with cheese, meat, or chicken”. This simple piece of food is something I’ve had the pleasure of eating my entire life and is a common link between all Venezuelans. Arepas are the pride and joy of Venezuelans because their origins can be found in the country and as such are consumed frequently. Generations before me have greedily dined with arepas, and my mom made sure my brother and I grew up with the Venezuelan staple as well. Though my family has now lived in Georgia for years, certain aspects of our lives, like food, will always classify us as Venezuelans.
Venezuela, the Challenge of Competitiveness
Enright, Michael J., Antonio Frances, and Edith Scott Saavedra. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
“You need to study hard to get into a good college, alright?” These were words spoken from my dad to the 8-year-old version of myself. I didn’t have a clear idea of what college was, but I knew I had to go to one. From an early age, my parents have always emphasized just how important a college education is and how I’m going to have to work hard to earn a degree. From first to third grade, I attended a charter school in Florida because the public school in my district that I would have gone to wasn’t a very good one. When we moved to Georgia just before I started fourth grade, a major factor for choosing a place to live was the schools in the area. From the moment I was born, my parents started a savings fund to be able to afford my college education 18 years later. They’ve always looked ahead and stressed how important my education is. For the longest time I assumed they were just wanting my brother and I to live the American dream for them and go to college. Was there another reason education was so important to them? Growing up, what factors influenced their heavy beliefs in a proper schooling?
In the book, Venezuela: The Challenge of Competitiveness, the authors delve into the inner workings of the Venezuelan economy and how it compares in every sector with other countries. One part of the book dives into reforms that are needed and one mentioned was education. It reads, “A restructured education system could become a major contributor to Venezuela’s economic well being. However, the Venezuelan school system as it now exists is incapable of educating an internationally competitive workforce (395).” While this book was written in 1996 and may not be entirely applicable to today’s Venezuela, my parents both were students in the 70's and part of the 80's, meaning this is relevant to their situation. On the same page, it also reads, “The principle challenge facing the Venezuelan primary and secondary school system is to improve its use of resources in order to deliver a higher-quality education.” My mother never finished secondary school, the equivalent to high school here, and my father had to go to a private school to ensure his education was adequate, but he never finished college.
This book showed me that the educational system in Venezuela isn’t the best and this influenced a good number of years of my parents lives. They had to work harder than ever when they got here, so they immediately recognized how far a college education is able to take someone in life. This book made me realize they weren’t just telling me to go to college because they wanted me to make more money as an adult, but because they witnessed first hand when coming here the stark contrast in the educational systems between America and Venezuela. They saw the opportunities available here that weren’t even an option there and needed to make sure my brother and I knew of and took advantage of them. I am where I am now because of where my parents have been and what they learned and passed down to me.
Venezuela, A Failing State
Finnegan, William. The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 4 Nov. 2016, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/14/venezuela-a-failing-state
One night, my mother described to me what it’s like when she returns back to Venezuelan lately by saying, “Every time I go back to Venezuela, I’m happiest when I first arrive and see my family safely waiting for me, and then I begin the countdown until I can come back home to you guys.” The country, and especially the capital of Caracas where her relatives live, is no longer safe.
The New Yorker article, “Venezuela, A Failing State”, describes the eye opening journey of a journalist entering the country in search of what is wrong with Venezuela and how it ended up that way. William Finnegan gives first hand accounts of the violence he witnessed whilst there and the testimonies of several Venezuelans who aren’t too scared to speak their minds to a reporter. Because the government censors everything that makes them look bad, many people were scared to give their names. Finnegan paints the picture of a dying country filled with brutal circumstances and massive food and supply shortages. He writes, “Venezuela has, by various measures, the world’s highest violent-crime rate. Less than two per cent of reported crimes are prosecuted.” This is just a fraction of the terrible situation happening within the country. If my mother could, she’d never go back there, but in recent years she’s had to return several times to help her sister who has cancer. With every trip she takes there, she returns here with dismal descriptions of what the country has descended into. I knew the country was in poor shape because of the things my mother would tell me from her trips, but the New Yorker article paints an even bigger picture of what the situation is like down there.
Venezuela Before Chavez: Anatomy of an Economic Collapse
Hausmann, Ricardo, and Francisco Rodriguez. 2014.
“We’re moving”. Those aren’t words that are typically heard when making a quick grocery run, but my mother is fun and full of surprises like that. I remember my eyes immediately begin to water up in that parking lot before the grocery store when she sprung that on me a decade ago. I didn’t understand why I had to leave all my friends and most of my family behind. My parents justified the move by telling me the standard of living in south Florida was getting too high and everything was just too expensive. This wasn’t the first time they sensed the winds of change in the air and decided uprooting themselves was best. They’ve always told me they moved to America because they wanted better lives for themselves, but what aspect of their lives did they mean specifically? Socially better? Economically better? Both? The economy of Venezuela right now is absolutely terrible and it has been on the downfall for years. The former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, was a man many people say led the country down a slippery slope when he came into power. I wanted to see what the country was like during my parent’s childhood and adolescence before Chavez became president to have a better understanding of what they mean when they say they wanted a better life.
The book, Venezuela Before Chavez, Anatomy of an Economic Collapse, goes into a highly detailed look of Venezuela’s economy over the years and the events leading to its eventual crash. One section reads, “In the quarter century from 1978 to 2003, Venezuela had the worst economic performance in Latin America… In contrast, during the previous thirty years, the country has a remarkable economic and social performance…(285)” The economy started its decline when my parents were young teenagers and finally at the age where you become more aware of what’s going on in the world around you. They experienced the economic slump as it first started and watched as the country slowly got worse. The country had been doing quite well up until then, and it slowly affected every aspect of living there.
They didn’t leave the country solely for economic purposes, but that had to be a heavy factor. I think this experience stuck with them because when they noticed Florida was getting more expensive to live in, they channeled their younger selves to move 10 hours by car north in July of 2007. It was easier this time though because they had each other. Deciding to move your family north within the same country had to have been a much easier decision than completely relocating countries and cultures. Their past decisions paved the way for their future decisions to be made easier.
Conflict and Political Change in Venezuela
Levine, Daniel H. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
The book “Conflict and Political Change in Venezuela” goes into detail about the political state of the country and how it has evolved over the years. It was written in 1973 when my parents were very young, but the history is still the same regardless of when it was written. The hardback just doesn’t go as far forward in history so as to paint a picture of my parent’s era, so I would have appreciated it better if it did include later years for the purposes of my research. Levine writes, “From 1908 to 1935, Venezuela suffered through the bloody dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gomez.” While this doesn’t directly affect my parents due to the fact that they were born afterwards, they were still raised by people who did feel the impact of this dictator. Juan Vicente Gomez was considered by many as a tyrant who hoarded much of the country’s newfound wealth for himself and did very little in terms of improving the education of the people in hopes of keeping them docile in their ignorance. However, he was also responsible for the creation of much of the countries infrastructure and for ending civil wars and insurrection with the militant power he had at his command. This made me even more curious about whether there really is a difference in the kind of people who raised my parents and what sorts of things they did, and the kinds of parents they turned out to be as a result. Reading through this source has made me realize how unbalanced certain political groups made the country when they were placed in power and the lasting impact on the country as a whole. Venezuela has had a number of dictators in its past, all leaving their mark. Perhaps this could have been another push factor for my parents leaving the country and coming to America. They simply wanted stability.
Nichols, Elizabeth Gackstetter., and Kimberly J Morse. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2010.
I realized my parents cursed in Spanish more than normal when one day I tried using a big word my parents always used when they were angry. I dropped the word and I still remember my mom’s eyes slowly widening. “You can’t say that word! Its very bad!” Oops. I didn’t know that of course. See the thing about being bilingual and never having an advanced education in the second language is that you end up learning a lot of that language from your parents in a very informal setting. Basically all the Spanish I know, I learned from my parents at home and their interactions with family and friends that would come visit us. I would never know exactly what certain words meant, but I knew the basics and when they were normally used. Sometimes this meant that I’d accidentally use a bad word because I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed.
For the longest time I thought my parents just cursed a lot, but the book, “Venezuela”, actually illuminated that it’s a pretty normal thing in Venezuela to regularly integrate foul words in everyday language. The book gives a thorough look at everything related to the country. It talks about the geography, history, people, and more. In the chapter describing Venezuelan culture, specifically language, the authors write, “Venezuelan slang tends to be littered with groserias, or foul language…Venezuelans generally integrate more foul language than what is commonly accepted in the United States.” (242)
The chapter also goes on to talk about the specific accent that Venezuelans have and how it can vary across regions within the country, making the language a big part of the Venezuelan identity. I never realized how large of an impact the accent with which my parents speak has on who they are as people, but it makes sense. It makes them Venezuelan, regardless of how American they may seem now. I can’t count how often we’ve been walking outside enjoying a nice family outing when we pass by a group of people and all of a sudden we hear the familiar Venezuelan accent drifting towards us. My parents then immediately stop and talk to completely random strangers simply because they heard the familiar lilt in their voices. Common ground is immediately established and they take off from there. Reading the section in this book about language in my parents mother country has definitely allowed me to see them a little clearer and understand how some of their mannerisms are actually a common cultural link to where they were born. Their mother tongue is always something they will carry with them.
Zemeckis, Robert, director. Paramount Pictures, 1994.
“ Lieutenant Dan, ice cream”. “Run Forrest, run!”. “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. To someone who has never seen the movie Forrest Gump, these quotes mean nothing and make no sense. To me, these quotes are a part of my childhood and mean a lot. This movie was constantly being played at home because Forrest Gump is my dad’s favorite movie. No matters how many times he’s seen it, if it’s on TV, he’ll stop and watch it.
The movie Forrest Gump follows the life of a man with below average intelligence who goes through many ordeals and adventures. He experiences many amazing events where he becomes a famous football player, a war hero, a successful shrimp boat captain, a runner who makes national news, and more. His life is a series of twists and turns where he sees and does incredible things and the audience can’t help but love him. My family is no exception. My dad has always told me it’s his favorite movie, and I’ve never gotten tired of watching it. I rewatched it in hopes that I would pick up on something I missed before and that I would be able to figure out why it’s my dad’s favorite movie out of all the ones he’s seen.
It is said that people are drawn to characters they can sympathize with or ones that they resemble in some way. After watching the movie, I tried thinking about which aspects of Forrest are similar to my dad to make him so drawn to him. I noticed that Forrest merely went with the flow and drifted along life for years before deciding to settle down and was even faced with a big responsibility, raising a child. I think this resonated with my father because he was very much a young man with no responsibilities or worries and then he had to reach a point where he had to mature and become a proper adult.
The movie Forrest Gump came out in 1994, the year after my older brother was born. Having a child is one of the biggest responsibilities a person can have, so my dad most likely recognized the journey Forrest took before becoming a father and felt a connection. Forrest also has to live through the deaths of many people important to him, but he doesn’t let them change him or make him resentful. My dad has had many deaths occur in his life, but like Forrest, he doesn’t let those deaths define him and he remains strong. There really weren’t many similarities between my dad and Forrest, so I think the major force behind my dad’s love of the movie is the humor used in the film and the love-ability of the main character. To me, Forrest Gump will forever be associated with my dad.
Denice Frohman — Accents
Frohman, Denice. YouTube, YouTube, 30 Dec. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtOXiNx4jgQ.
“Where are you from?”, my 8th grade digital design teacher cut me off mid-question with a question of her own.
“Miami”, I hesitantly respond because the question had come from seemingly nowhere.
“No, where are your parents from?”, she asks impatiently, like I was supposed to already know what she meant like the mind reader I obviously am.
“Venezuela”, I reply still confused.
“I figured they were from the north or somewhere around there, but that makes sense. You’ve got a bit of an accent”. She seems proud of her deduction and shifts the conversation to my original question.
Do I have an accent? This question has been on repeat since that initial interaction with that computer teacher. I never entertained the idea that I could have an accent because I always assumed I sounded like a typical American, but that conversation brought it to my attention. Do I have an accent? For years, I had been ashamed of my parents’ heavy accents. It made them different. Years and years of living in the US and assimilating in the culture couldn’t touch my parent’s tongues. When they start speaking to strangers for the first time, their accents are like waving flags, signifying foreigners. Do I have an accent? I was born in America and learned English here, so surely I couldn’t have one. Imagine the horror I felt when I was repeatedly told by friends that I do. They’ve reassured me that it’s very subtle to the point where it’s barely noticeable until I get mad. Apparently becoming angered is enough to let my tongue slip into an accent reminiscent of my parents.
In Denice Frohman’s spoken poem, “Accents”, Frohman proudly describes her mother’s accent not as something to be ashamed of, but to celebrate. She has won several awards and competitions for her poetry over the past couple years and her skills become apparent when one listens to the poem. She uses powerful language to describe all the different facets of what her mom sounds like and why. When she says things like, “English sits in her mouth remixed” and “English be too neat for her kind of wonderful”, I am heavily reminded of my own mother and her remixed English. As Frohman was proudly describing her mother and how “Her accent is a stubborn compass always pointing her towards home”, I couldn’t help but feel pride for my own mother. She knows her English isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t stop her from trying her best anyways and talking to everyone. Her accent isn’t a hindrance that keeps her from communicating with others, rather it’s a sign that she can be chatty in more than one language. She wears it with pride because she can’t afford to be ashamed of it. It’s integral to who she is as a person and I never really put it in perspective like that until I had heard Frohman’s piece. So yeah, maybe I do have an accent. It’s not as pronounced as the one that sits on my parent’s tongues, and only makes appearances every once in a while, but it’s there. It’s a connection I share with my parents and maybe that’s not so bad after all.
Cruz, Luis. YouTube, YouTube, 1953, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PegIF0GFPlQ.
Every year, without fail, people grow a year older. It’s not a new concept. Almost every culture celebrates birthdays in some way, at the very least with a birthday song. Typically in Spanish the only difference in the birthday song is just the language. However, in Venezuela, celebrations always go on for too long, and this even extends to their birthday song. Around the 1950's, a composer named Luis Cruz wrote a special version of the classic happy birthday song in Spanish and the song became a big hit. Since then, the Venezuelan birthday song has been very long, but endearing in its uniqueness.
The song is called “Hay Que N0che Tan Preciosa” which translates to “oh, what a precious night.” The lyrics are written to make the person whose birthday is being celebrated feel extra special. The song talks about how everyone is gathered and happy just for you. It also has several lines dedicated to wishing the birthday person a happy birthday. One of my favorite lines in the song translates to “the silver moon shines her light just for you.” I especially love it because of how sweet that sentiment is. This song is known by every Venezuelan and goes to great lengths to make the birthday person feel extra loved on their big day.
The video depicts a group of people all singing and clapping along in sync to the Venezuelan birthday song. The home video is an accurate representation of what it is like when my family and our friends celebrate a birthday. My parents grew up singing that song and I think that’s part of the reason why birthdays have such a big emphasis and are so important in my family. They give everyone an excuse to gather and be merry together, thus bringing us closer.
How Miami became the capital of affluent Latin America
Fajardo, Luis. BBC News, BBC, 16 May 2016, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36281648.
“Do you speak English? Can you help us?” a couple approached my dad at a gas station in Miami years ago and asked him this. Apparently the couple needed help figuring out how to get somewhere, but everyone they had stopped to ask couldn’t speak any English. My dad thought it was the weirdest thing that the tourists had to try so hard to find people who spoke English in America. This is just a side effect of living in Miami it seems. According to Fajardo, “close to 70% of the population is Hispanic”.
In his article, “How Miami became the capital of affluent Latin America”, Farjardo talks about the demographics in Miami and what kinds of people are moving there now. It appears that many of the Latinos who are arriving in Miami have quite a bit of money saved up and are buying large houses or opening up their businesses there. While there’s racial tensions in certain parts of the United States, that sort of issue is seen much less in Miami, where the people are generally more accepting. In the article, Farjardo quotes Juan Pablo Restrepo, “Miami is very attractive for Latin Americans. They get to be in the United States, with all it’s advantages, but keeping familiar cultural roots”. It’s then obvious why my parents would pick Miami to originally move to. Not only was it the closest major American city to Caracas, but it was also a good place to live for Latinos. I’m sure the main reason why there are so many Latinos there is simply because booking a ticket to Miami from certain South American countries is cheaper than flying further up north. They go for the convenience, then stay for the culture and way of life.
Living in Miami for as long as she did is part of the reason why my mom’s English isn’t as good as it should be for someone who’s now lived here more than half her life. She made friends with people who also spoke Spanish, they were abundant in Miami, and as a result, she didn’t have many opportunities to practice English. It wasn’t until we moved to Georgia that my mom really regretted not taking advantage of her earlier years in America to learn English. Regardless, the similar cultures between Miami and Caracas had to have made transitioning to life in America much easier. It wasn’t like Alice stepping into Wonderland where everything is completely strange and foreign. It was more like Alice crossing the street, where everything is different, but also similar in a way.
Hallacas: These Venezuelan Tamales are a Christmas Favorite
Kitchen, Hispanic. Hispanic Kitchen, 17 Oct. 2016, hispanickitchen.com/2010/12/hallacas-these-venezuelan-tamales-are-a-christmas-favorite/
“It looks like we’re making drugs”, my brother chuckled as he looked around the kitchen full of Latinos spaced out in an assembly line where the end result was at least a hundred green bundles the sizes of thin bricks. It’s not as suspicious as it sounds, I promise. Everyone was actually making hallacas, a traditional Venezuelan Christmas food. The process behind making these takes an entire day, involves several steps, and requires twice as many people. There’s someone to clean the plantain leaves, someone to mold the masa (special dough made from corn flour) into round balls, someone to flatten the masa into a flat circle, someone to put all the ingredients into the center of the circle and fold it just right, and someone to wrap the fresh bundle with twine-like string in the right pattern. Depending on the quality of the plantain leaves, an extra step may have to be included to cover the finished product in aluminum foil so that no water enters it when it is set in a pot to boil. Because the process is so arduous and the hallacas are only eaten once a year around Christmas, we make a lot at once.
Over the past 7-ish years, my family has met up with our family friends and made hallacas with them. Because so many people are involved in the process and everyone wants to leave with enough to last the Christmas season, between 150 and 200 hallacas are made. They are stacked all together once they’re done, so by the end of the night, when as many hallacas as possible have been made, it looks a bit suspicious with all these green bundles are all stacked together.
The Hispanic Kitchen article begins by describing what hallacas are, and their importance to Venezuelans during Christmas time. Before the recipe is shown, a disclaimer is made saying that every family makes their recipe slightly different and lists out where the author compiled all of their sources. Because these recipes are handed down over generations, it’s understandable why there’s slightly different variations of it. I originally wanted to see how others make and prepare it to see how much it varies from the method I’m familiar with, but I’ve only ever helped with forming the balls of masa and tying off the final product, so I actually don’t know exactly what goes inside the hallaca. Regardless, the preparation methods seem the same and the list of ingredients appeared similar. Food is an important part of one’s culture so I hope to one day learn how to properly make an hallaca from my family and pass that recipe on as well.
People Are Starving In Venezuela
Ferreira, Catarina Rocha. The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Feb. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/everyday-misery-in-venezuela_us_58b4c383e4b0658fc20f9958.
“You’re not leaving this table until you finish all your food!” These were the dreaded words that I had to endure for years when finishing my plate was hard. My parents ingrained in me to always finish all your food because it’s a waste otherwise. To this day, I have to finish all my food, even when I’m full because I don’t want anything to go to waste. I had flashbacks to my childhood when I last visited Venezuela and I overheard my mom’s brother telling his son the exact same thing I was told countless times before. When you’re not sure when your next meal will be, it’s important to eat everything before you while you can. I’ve had the fortune to have never been in the situation where I’m not sure when my next meal will be, but that wasn’t the case for my mom. Her and her younger siblings grew up in a very rural part of Venezuela so they really couldn’t let any food go to waste.
In Ferreira’s article, People Are Starving In Venezuela, she talk about the massive food shortages crippling the country because people will wait in line for hours to even enter a store, and there’s no assurance that what you need is in there and many people leave empty handed and hungrier. The lack of food is causing everyone to suffer from hunger and small children aren’t getting the proper nutrients they need. “There are no basic goods there either” according to Ferreira. Essentials such as soap and medicine are rarely found. The country is suffering and the government is only making matters worse because even media is heavily censored so word can’t spread of the dire state that country is in.
The situation of the country wasn’t like this when my parents still lived in Venezuela. They got out while they could and it just spiraled down from there. My dad still has family over there, but not as much family as my mom does. Whenever they think of their family members still there and what they’re having to go through, it’s stressful and it makes them appreciate living here more and more. Many people say they are proud to be an American, but do they appreciate it? I don’t think most people understand just how serious the situation is in other countries and therefore can’t fully appreciate the stability and safety that comes with living in this country.
My parents became citizens about six or seven years ago and they proudly say they’re Americans. They’ve lived lives outside the country and know what their fate could have been like had they stayed, so they are incredibly grateful that they’re able to live here. Because of this, they make sure my brother and I know how privileged we are to be here. They want us to lead better lives than theirs, so they have given us as many opportunities to get ahead as they can. Even if little me wasn’t so happy about having to eat all of my food, I am most definitely grateful towards my parents and all they’ve done for me, intentionally and unintentionally.