Miami doesn’t look like Caracas. That may seem obvious, but I had a hard time understanding it. Or, let’s say, absorbing it fully. With little effort I’ve found corners of Caracas in almost every city I’ve been to. Sao Paolo, New York, Chicago, and Torino, and Buenos Aires, and Washington. And when there’s no trace of Caracas, some other place of Venezuela fills the void. I saw the plains of Guárico in Iceland’s Seljaland and Puerto La Cruz in Cabo. I’ve been told many of these comparisons are a bit of an exaggeration, not to say self-involved bullshit, but I can’t help it.

I see Caracas everywhere.

But Miami is something else: a completely different animal. A city stitched out of cities, which are not so. Or, at least, not yet. Apolonia makes fun of me, she says that I have no chance without Google Maps. She thinks it’s absurd that I get lost in a place where the streets and avenues follow such a simple logic, which to me, it’s only in her head.

Leaving is never easy. Grasping that your kids’ “homeland” —and I struggle to suppress the gag reflex as I say the word— is not the same as yours is always jarring. The full weight of it only struck as I watched the US presidential campaign last year. When the President appeared on TV —the previous one, not this one— and my eldest daughter’s eyes opened wide and she said: “that’s the president.” I saw something in her that I’ve never had: respect for the presidency.

I don’t know if it’ll last.

I confess that she doesn’t know much about Venezuela. I don’t think she would recognize that President. For her, the President is some other guy, the one who beat “the girl” in the elections.

I don’t know how to tell her a story which doesn’t have a happy ending yet.

We left when she was three, and before then we did what we could to shield her from the bad stuff, which was already a lot back then, like Benigni in La vita e bella. We figured if she was going to live there her whole life, it made no sense for her earliest memories to include violence, cancer, and hate. Back then it was still possible to craft a small bubble of paradise for her, between home, daily visits to her grandparents’, and occasional trips to the beach.

But you can’t hide everything. In the last election —ours, not theirs— I used to watch every single speech by our sick President. Closely. And she was always there, in the background, playing, distracted. I have this image of her humming and singing, confusing the lyrics of Itsy Bitsy Spider with the hymn of the federation:

The itsy bitsy spider
Went up the water spout;
¡Oligarcas, temblad!
Viva la libertad;

El cielo encapotado
anuncia tempestad,
Down came the rain and
Washed the spider out.

As the sick President became the dead President, and we kept on playing Benigni. School shutdowns due to protests —the previous ones, not these ones— morphed into extended vacations, and explosions —in the afternoon and at night— into fireworks.

Then her sister was born and we returned to Miami. The return, because we’d already left once. An unnatural order, just like in Back to the Future.

She still asks about “Velezuela.” What can I tell her?

My instinct is still to shield her from the anguish, from fear of the country. I don’t want her to be scared to go back. We talk about the things I used to do there when I was her age and we remember together the adventures we had hiking up “the mountain.”

I tell her that it’s the same mountain where the mice dug the cave where Alfredito and Hortensia live. She asks when we’ll get to go back to “the seven seas,” and when will we go visit her grandparents and her nonnos. I tell her we’ll go soon, drawing a picture in my own head that in a couple of months things will be fine for a vacation.

She knows that I go there frequently and that I don’t take her because “now we can’t.” That there are people who need help, and children who don’t have enough food to eat. She helps by putting the things people need in boxes.

But I just can’t bring myself to give her a complete explanation.

She knows that part of my job is describing what’s going on in Venezuela, but I don’t know how to tell her a story which doesn’t have a happy ending yet.

Her sister has only been to Caracas twice. She doesn’t understand “here” and “there” yet. Miami is the only home she has ever known.

She knows that I go there frequently and that I don’t take her because “now we can’t.”

I see how, day by day, my daughters are digging their roots in a country that isn’t mine. How they’re becoming from here. They eat arepas every week, but their accent is fading away, and I find myself in absurd situations explaining them that they can skip the “eses” and that it’s fine if they replace them with “jotas,” and that the words they use are correct but are not the ones that they should use, and never, never ever, disciplining my youngest every time she drops a “cadajo.”

Meanwhile, I keep getting lost in the corners of Alhambra (“Alajambra”) and Ponce de Leon (“Pons de Lion”), and in the numbered streets North and South of Flagler, and looking for the goddamned East. Trying to find the coastline as if it were the Avila.

Maybe the problem is that I don’t concentrate enough. Maybe I haven’t completely understood that I’m not a tourist anymore. I don’t know.

What I’m sure of, however, is that they will not get lost here.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I thought I was the only one that saw Caracas everywhere! Just last week I was in Paris, and the buildings all close together over the rolling hills looked exactly like La California and El Cafetal viewed from my 12th floor apartment.

    • Totally! I was in a quartier (Bercy) and I couldn’t avoid comparing it with the dynamic architecture of Chacao-Chacaito, and I feel actually very proud of the architecture in Caracas that took many elements from Cruz Diez, Soto , Otero, etc. Things that you don’t see in many cities in the world. The point is that Venezuela has still so many things to be proud of. We have to keep working and the experience of us abroad will help too, believe it or not.

  2. The sad part is that this story has no happy ending for her either. She will eventually grow up and she will go to YouTube to watch the documentaries about the place she was born in. It is like Santa Claus story to a whole new level, one I believe, is ultimately necessary to keep the childhood alive.
    I support you because I would do the same. I’m not a father yet, but when the time comes, I will follow the exact same example. And as for seeing our homeland everywhere… there are places here in Lima that I despise but that I visit only for the resemblance that they keep with some places of my Maracaibo.
    Cheers, and have a happy Father’s day.

  3. se puede uno identificar y enlazar con este sentido escrito de varias maneras. mi historia se parece a esa historia y la que aún no ha sucedido. nietos extraterrestres a lo nuestro. como quiera que one relates to it, el sentimiento es tristísimo. seguimos en las calles para ver si torcemos el final.

  4. I just came from the Starnberger lake close to Munich and I was thinking about the Valencia Lake. Of course, the Isar river reminds me of the Cabriales, even if people actually swim in the Isar without becoming mutants and the Alps of the Cordillera de la Costa, even though ours is green against blue and not snowy.
    Things get worse when I go to Spain.

    Do not let your children lose our language. It is one of the main keys.

  5. I do hope that many of the people that have fled this tyrannical regime do return to Venezuela.
    I do not say this with any thought of racism, malice or America first.
    I say this because the people that normally have the means to flee dictators are the very people that a country needs when it comes time to repair the damage that the tyrants have done to your homeland.
    The “brain drain” that often occurs when the professional class exits a country leaves the lasting damage that takes generations to recover from.
    These are the people that are needed to mentor the next generation of doctors, nurses, business people, engineers, civil servants, legal scholars and entrepreneurs.
    I do hope that in the near future you are celebrating Father’s Day with your children, in your country and surrounded by your extended family.
    Viva Venezuela!!

  6. Sometimes, when a storm in brewing here in Hollywood FL. and the clouds pile up on the eastern horizon, I think for a moment that I can see the Avila in front of me as I drive and it gives me a pang……..so yes, I can agree that those who love Venezuela and miss being there can see slivers of the country in many an odd moment.

  7. I cried so hard reading this…I have seen Caracas everywhere…even saw Caracas in the sky, every time everywhere the sky is blue, it doesn’t matter if I am in Indonesia or in New York, i take I picture…God is sending me a message about home! My son is reading Girasol and Kikiriki, dreaming on Christmas vacations to go to visit los abuelos and eating as many empanadas as possible. We try to keep it simple: Santa exists and Caracas is the best place in the world. Hope it will work out for us and by the time he needs to know the true we will have already witnessed our happy ending. By the way: i get lost In New York every other day.

  8. Coño Raúl, y los amigos? Have you been able to make as many good friends as the ones you had in Caracas? At least in my case, I have not been able to replicate the friends I had in Maracaibo here in Miami. I still can’t figure out whether I am just living a different part of my life, or simply people is very different.

  9. Mind you, I’m a gotcha from Merida, never lived in Caracas, and I saw two towers in my city in Canada that looked a mini version of Centro Simon bolivar. Not to mention every time a bunch of clouds form in the horizon I always expect they will clear away and reveal la sierra y el pico bolivar. Missing mountains all the time here in southern Ontario

  10. My wife (bizarrely) always see a resemblance of the carretera to Choroni (the one that crosses the Henry Pittier National Park) with the inner roads of Surrey’s countryside. Customarily, I say: ‘tas loca chica!

  11. You will love Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
    “Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice”

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