According to historian Tomas Straka, universities once represented the triumph of Venezuelan modernity, and their current deplorable situation represents quite the opposite: the “demodernization” of the country. Venezuela, for him, hasn’t become postmodern country but, rather, an “ex-modern” one. We’ve departed from modernity, but not by overcoming it. Instead, we’ve stepped back from it.
Modernity implies political and social tolerance, industrialization, capitalism, urbanization, the rise of the middle class and of mass media, growing equality of opportunity, social mobility and mass education — all partly or completely in retreat in revolutionary Venezuela.
You can see this in our imagined personifications.
Think back to 1982. The satirical band Medio Evo released a now legendary song about the exploits of Laura Pérez, la sin par de Caurimare, a fictional character based on Venezuela Saudita’s consumerist middle and upper class youth (“los sifrinos”).
Laura was a naïve rich girl (“yo me rio de Janeiro con dinero en la cartera”) who lived in Caurimare, an affluent neighborhood in eastern Caracas, and who would travel around the world; party in Caracas’ best nightclubs, raise her pinky while drinking her soda and go to the beach to surf and sunbathe with her friends in a Camaro car (all this sung in sifrino accent is simply superb).
The song was a huge hit, and soon Venezuela’s youth looked to Laura as an example to follow. La sifrina de Caurimare became the corporate face of Tio Rico ice cream, inspired a sifrinas contest in Sabado Sensacional and even became the basis a sketch in the iconic El Show de Joselo – all of these using the sifrino mannerisms and heavy mandibuleo to attract Venezuela’s middle class.
In her own, hapless way, Laura was an icon of Venezuela’s modernization.
Amazingly, Laura Perez would become a political tool and an electoral icon, too. As a way to attract young voters in the 1983 presidential elections, COPEI developed a TV ad in which a sifrina, born during Caldera’s first presidential term, would explain to the viewers why she liked him, to finally ask in a rhetorical way for whom would she vote. “Muérete que por Caldera,” she answered herself. Pure, totally Laura, sifrino slang.
Acción Democratica would also use Laura Perez as an electoral tool: that same year, “Muerete que SI” graffitis (making reference to Lusinchi’s electoral motto: LuSInchi) appeared in the walls of Caracas.
Even though both parties tried to appeal to the sifrino youth – and to the millions of lower class kids who aspired to sifrino lifestyles – the truth was that most young people were not interested in voting. As the indolent Venezuelan youth didn’t sing up in the Electoral Register, El Universal published an article titled “Muerete que chao, Registro Electoral” linking Laura Perez with the disinterested youth.
Then, after all the sifrino buzz, Black Friday came. Most of Laura Perez’s caste was slowly swept aside and the rest is history.
A look at Venezuela in 2016 shows a country completely transformed from the one in 1982. In a way, we live amid the ruins of that other country. Laura Perez nowadays doesn’t speak to Venezuela’s demolished middle class, much less to el pueblo.
Actually, Laura Perez’s can now only be linked to the upper stratum of society (el estrato AB, a miniscule 2.2% of Venezuela). Her cultural descendants are strewn from Miami and Madrid to Panama and Toronto, but not as happy-go-lucky credit card wielding tourists but as hard-up migrants making up a depauperized diaspora.
La Sifrina de Caurimare has not aged well. From today’s vantage point she incarnates a mistake, a huge folly, rather than a live identity.
So, who took her place?
Yubraska Chacón…La Yubraska, of course: a female social media character voiced by —at least— two anonymous men, who went viral after dozens of voice notes (supposedly Yubraska’s voice messages after her call wasn’t picked by the person she called) began to be shared through WhatsApp last year. Now she has hundreds of thousands of followers in Instagram and Twitter, and interviews with El Universal and Tal Cual.
The character of La Yubraska is presented as the personification of Venezuela’s hard up working class – el pueblo. She’s a joyful and plain spoken woman who lives in a slum and speaks with a much exaggerated barrio accent. Yubraska’s stories revolve around her opinions on current affairs and her problems as the average Venezuelan: from fights in las colas and not finding Christmas gifts for her children, to Leopoldo Lopez, Miss Universe, and the December elections. She works all sorts of informal jobs –selling cakes in the supermarket lines and arequipe in the electoral lines or hairdressing– and she, needless to say, she’s regularly accused of being a bachaquera.
Yubraska’s stories are populated by many other characters such as her four children (Yonder, Yuliarni, Karinyei, and a baby she stills breastfeeds), her husband who is a worker at Polar, Catiuska, Yusmary, la comadre, la gorda del Cyber, a guardia nacional she likes, Lilian Tintori, and many more. The voice acting clearly imply mockery but with an undertone of addressing the common Venezuelan’s problems (also inviting people to work hard).
She empathizes with the listener who is affected by the same problems as she is, and with the enormous majority of Venezuela through her jobs, her tragicomic family situations, the knowing nods to Venezuelan lowbrow culture (ex: most characters have Y-names) and her frustrations (like when Jacqueline Farias said she felt supermarkets lines were great fun).
Yubraska is also an electoral icon, even more than Laura Perez in La Cuarta, because most, if not all, of the voice notes have a political undertone. Yubraska talks about how much she hates the government for the food shortages and her daily problems (and she used to be a chavista) and how she would vote, and voted, against the government in the December elections (she said it was a voto castigo). And in between her harsh critiques against the government and her celebration of the opposition victory, Yubraska also speaks about how she will bake a cake for Leopoldo once he’s free and how she wants to style Lilian’s hair.
Many people in Venezuela even believe that Yubraska is some sort of unplanned and spontaneous political propaganda, inspiring many to vote for the the opposition this December, thus considering her a marketer of their victory.
— Freddy Guevara (@FreddyGuevaraC) January 6, 2016
Today’s Venezuela is the country of La Yubraska, or the still consumerist but poor, informal worker who lives in a barrio and is tied to the long lines at supermarket and who can’t afford almost anything. Laura Perez is now an archaic and anachronistic passe image who is only applied to a microscopic sector of Venezuelan society, while Yubraska takes her place as the new face of Venezuelan-ness.
The arc from Laura to Yubraska is the story of our demodernization.