The Day My Blog Went Viral
The road to becoming a public person
I woke up on that Sunday morning of June 7 to realize that thousands of people had read my blog post in less than 24 hours. The night before, I had received several messages from other Paraguayans, most of them students going to college abroad, telling me that finally someone was speaking for them, that someone was showing that issues are not just black or white, that the system is more complex, that my words brought them some tears.
I woke up that Sunday morning and I stared at the mirror. I watched a tear rolling down my face. Speaking against injustices is not easy. Speaking against injustices does not solve the problem, it just exposes them. Speaking against injustices exposes your own privilege, the privilege of having a voice. As you write, as you hold the microphone, as you shout in the middle of the crowd, you carry the weight of your own voice.
By writing a blog that criticizes the Paraguayan state — the corrupt government — and that cites the story of another Paraguayan student who left home to study abroad without the resources to afford his education, I was telling my own story. Despite the objectivity and neutrality of my writing, I was exposing the injustices that I had seen, some of the challenges that I had faced.
But as the stats of my blog’s readers continued to grow exponentially, I experienced at the same time the small joy of being heard but the bittersweet taste of knowing that others were not. After a day more than 3 thousand people entered my blog, a couple of days later, the number reached seven thousand views and it was shared more than 2 thousand times on Facebook. Of those seven thousand accessing my site, more than 3 thousand people were reading the complete post that had more than 2 thousand words. Even though the numbers were not huge — even though I see other bloggers having thousands of readers — I knew this was the manifestation of something significant.
Somehow the system was now willing to listen to me, somehow because I was no longer a victim of the oppressive state and education system of my country, my voice no longer sounded as a complain. Complains do not transcend. Complains do not have a loud sound in the crowd. I knew that my words would not have the same effect had I not included in my title “Narrations from a Paraguayan studying abroad”, had I not mentioned in the first paragraphs that I was studying in the United States, had I not used a quiescent tone, had I not sounded rational, partial, without anger. Criticism of the system with anger is never heard, somehow emotions make the challenging and questioning invalid. The system does not listen until you prove your “worth”, a worth that resides in status, intelligence, appearance, and power. My almost sixteen years of education allowed me to have a voice, I had trained it — I knew how to pick the right words, shape the sentences, and sound smart.
Writing for me is cathartic, sometimes is even a spiritual experience, words flow in my head, they challenge me. As I wrote my last blog post I prayed, as I typed I asked God to help me speak truth, as I put sentences together I deliberately forgave. I forgave the people that had not listened to me before. I forgave the deficient system that excludes the Paraguayan people, who pervades them from achieving a public identity. So as I was finishing typing, I continued to ask myself if I should post it or not, I knew the power that words could have, I could sense that it was something that had the potential to spread, to travel, and finally reach. But exposing is never easy. And as I looked for a new place to continue to write in the building I live, I ended up coming across another international student from my school, someone whose story is a story of challenges, of sorrow, but also joy in the midst of all that — a story of redemption. As she described her battles, she stated with caution, with a repressed tone “I am always positive about life, I am always optimistic throughout my days, but sometimes I wish life was easier”.
(We all learn that the system does not want us to expose the injustices, we know that for some people it would be uncomfortable if we expressed out loud that some have it easier than others. So we watch our words, we restrained, we think it is wrong to question, we think nobody will listen, we have so many things to prove in order to gain their attention…)
I told her, “It is not wrong to wish that, it is not wrong to wish for things to be easier, for circumstances to be different”. I told her story was an inspiration to me, an amazing story with the potential to change lives — it was a story that should be heard. She told me she wishes to write an autobiography someday, I encouraged her to do it. I was reminded that stories need to be shared, that they have power. I continued to write. The next day I called a Paraguayan friend that is doing an internship in Boston — a friend that came to study in the US the same year that I did. I told her I was criticizing the unfair Paraguayan state, that I was narrating our story in an impersonal way, but that I still had doubts about sharing it. She told me to remember. With a peaceful but confident tone she reminded me of how unfair things are, she reminded me of the arrogance of those in power, and the indifference of those who can make a difference in people’s lives but don’t. I realized she also had a voice, I could feel the power in her words. We had both changed in these past 3 years, our education and experiences had the same effect in us. She told me to publish it. The next morning I posted the blog.
So as I stared at my face in the mirror on that Sunday morning, I remember the words of my sister at our dinner table in one of those days in which I wished life was easier, in which I was frustrated and scared, in which I was almost quitting my dream of going to college abroad “Nobody will give you presents in life, you have to fight for them”. As those words echoed in my mind, I remembered my Paraguayan friend in Boston, I remembered my optimistic friend at Dordt that sometimes wishes her life to be easier, I remembered my family, I remembered my privilege, I realized how easy my life always was and continues to be. But I also remembered the cost of earning my voice and making it heard, the cost of my education, of being away from home, of the initial insecurity, of having to prove to the system that I have worth, that I am able to articulate thoughts, that I have to express my ideas under their rules in order to be listened. I remembered the face of the Paraguayan people, I remembered the people in the slums, and I remembered the kids in the streets. I wished their life was easier. I wished someone would listen to them.
“My long education would favor me. I could act as a public person- able to defend my interests, to unionize, to petition, to speak up — to challenge and demand. I will never know what real work is […] Their silence stays with me now […] Their silence is more telling. They lack a public identity. They remain profoundly alien. Persons apart.” Richard Rodriguez- Hunger of Memory
Monday arrived. The blog continued to be shared on Facebook. Ironically, while I was trying to silence the voice of my privilege I receive a letter from American Express offering me a bigger credit limit with the huge label “Privileges”. I tore the letter apart and continued to work. I got a text from my dad, we had not been in touch for a couple of months — “suddenly” I existed again. After hearing that my blog went viral, a friend from Brazil suggested me to make money with it, his voice was loud and I felt tempted to listen. I was included in a selective social network group of Paraguayan students abroad — even though it was the beginning of a more inclusive group, I felt I did not belong. I was angry with the system, anger does not work well with the structure, anger is not rational, anger is childish.
You are not worth just because. Just you, your single identity, that’s not enough. You have to be smart, you have to act in a certain way, you have to watch your words, you have to have a certain appearance, you have to be “cool”, and don’t forget that you need a title — at least a prefix before your name. Your value is determined by your potential for consumption, for serving the system, for perpetuating it, and eventually you are consumed in this pursuit of worth, we all are. The lyrics of one of my good friend’s song sounded loud in my head, a song that describes the system in eloquent graphic words. A mix of voices, her voice against the other voices, my voice against the distant voices of the state and media at home:
“Raised with voices, the endless chatter. Raised trusting them, and the words they say. They spit the same lies, every day. Till they’re in our minds, on replay […] We are never good enough, no I am never good enough, and she is never good enough, too, for us, for him, for her. All we want is to eat the beauty […] Consume the beauty […] We are never good enough for anybody”.(Click to listen) By Jerusha Pimentel- Eating Beauty
But Monday also brought me hope. I heard other voices. I met with one of my college English Professors, I told her what had happened over the weekend. She said “I always knew you had something to say. From the first time you gave a speech I knew people would listen to what you have to say”. I instantly remembered my first speech a couple of years ago when I was in one of her intensive writing and rhetoric class. I remembered standing in front of the small group in the class shaking. After the first sentences I could not continue, I stopped and confessed it out loud: “I can’t do this Professor”. She gently responded, “We are here to listen, keep going, don’t worry”. I remembered her confidence in my potential even though there was no reason for it. Knowing that I had nothing to prove was liberating: the certainty of knowing you are being heard.
There are exceptions to the system. There are people that listen. There are people that believe in other people. There are people that recognize unconditional worth.
On Monday, I was reminded of Acts 10:34 “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism”. I was reminded of my God, of his unconditional company along my path. I remember Jesus, not the Jesus that is portrayed by the system, that blesses us in our terms making us wealthy or powerful, but the Jesus that helps us find meaning in a divided world — in the midst of pain. Not the Jesus that says that everything is fine, that things are already perfect, but the Jesus that recognizes the sickness, and injustices. Not the Jesus that has a plan for me or for you, but the one that has a plan for the entire universe. The Jesus that listens to the voice of everyone –the rich and poor — but that stood for the oppressed — the sick, the excluded women…
I continue to walk, I look for his steps, for his voice in the midst of chaos. I keep writing.
As I left my professor’s office I remembered all those who believed in me from the first time they met me, those who had always listen to me, those who valued me unconditionally. I remembered my mom, how she always believed in me, how she never doubted that I would achieve my dreams. I remembered my grandma saying to me and my siblings “you are my diamonds, God did not give me money, but he gave me the best treasures he had”. I remembered my siblings, I remembered how we always watched for each other, how we valued the other. I remembered my college advisor from EducationUSA Paraguay, the English teacher from home that spoke up for me so that the aforementioned entity would give me a chance, my English professors at college that read and listened to my words within and outside the college setting, my Engineering professors that patiently always heard my questions, I remembered my international friends — their constant encouragement.
I could recall how my voice was formed, shaped, and challenged, how I had achieved what Richard Rodriguez describes as “an attitude of mind, my imagination of myself”( Hunger of Memory — p. 137). I know that there is a reader, a listener, someone on the other side of the screen paying attention to my voice. I am confident of myself, of the strength of my words. The cost was high, the cost was distance, distance from home, distance from those I love. I have achieved the certainty that a public person has, I have the choice of speaking or not. I know that my words will travel, they will remain and hopefully reach. But while I speak, I hope for a different reality, a structure that recognizes unconditional worth, in which the sound of voices are not a sign of the privilege of some but of equality. I dream with the harmony of distinct voices. We are good enough, we all are. Let’s listen to each other.
“Alexa, and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the ominous lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well-fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages but merely hungry for choice and certainty.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Americanah (p. 341)