Patria Dearest

My family is returning to Venezuela for the first time in 8 years. I’m writing a series of blogs about my kids’ first encounter with la patria

“Why is there no direct flight to Venezuela if it’s so close?” A very simple question by A (9) received a long sigh for an answer: Where to begin… E (12) pulled her eyes away from her book to perform a quick eye roll showing that she knew the obvious answer (she didn’t). I couldn’t find the words to articulate a coherent explanation, ”you know this ch@v¡$#*;( thing we never really talk about?” And luckily they called our group to start boarding the plane.

En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo…

When we left Venezuela in 2014 I had plans to return at least twice a year. It was the year of La Salida and a new escalation of government violence. The prelude to an economic crisis that pushed millions into exile. While the image of the country we left behind was terrible, I hoped for frequent family trips so we wouldn’t become culturally estranged. I wanted my kids to share the camaraderie of being Venezuelan with me and, hopefully, the accent as well. But part of the Venezuelan experience is getting used to having your plans changed by an external force—perhaps the reason why we’re so good at improvising and adapting. 

While I was able to go back at least once a year (save for a two-year hiatus thanks to Covid), my family hasn’t returned in 8 years. How did this happen? Well… First, we had tickets, and American Airlines stopped flying to Venezuela. Then, we had tickets, and the power went out in the whole country. The following year, we had tickets, and a worldwide pandemic hit. Couple of years went by and my wife’s passport expired, which everybody knows is an event  that opens a rift in the space/time continuum for Venezuelans that makes it impossible to determine when and where will you receive a new one (at one point each one of the four members of my family had a different passport situation). Happily, we sorted the whips and scorns of the Venezuelan identification crisis and renewed everything that required renewing.

Eight years means that my eldest (12) has very distant memories of Venezuela and my youngest (9) has none at all. They speak Spanish, although they didn’t inherit their parents’ papaupa-chewing caraqueño accent. While you won’t find an excess of Venezuelanness in our household, I’m an exasperatingly proud Venezuelan (“nooo, arrecho fue cuando en Venezuela…”)—even after being humbled by 20 years of humiliation. Proud of our rum. Proud of our beaches (Venezuela y sus playas). Proud of my llanero heritage. Which is more than enough to hold on to some traditions and to carry a good amount of chronic guayabo in my back pocket. Apolonia (my wife’s pseudonym for the sake of these blogs), with her italo venezuelan heritage, seems to have a slightly different view of migration than I do. She’s much more pragmatic in that sense, she may share some of the pride but not so much of the longing.

With all this, my kids do hold a special fondness for the country, but they are 100% born and bred American girls. They’ve heard stories of places and people, and have committed them to memory. They are curious and excited to go to the place where their cousins and grandparents live and look forward to a good old hike in El Avila. They’ve wanted to visit since forever. We owed them this trip. 

“The moment I’ve been waiting for,” said A with a spark in her eye as the plane landed.

After every trip to Venezuela I used to write a sort of testimonial piece. You know, a kind of war dispatch, news from the frontlines. I’m particularly proud of one I wrote in 2019. But eventually I started feeling that this kind of post has fallen into a new cringy diaspora literary genre in which we tell the world how the natives still live their lives (OMG they still have weekends!), while making an effort to tell the broader story of “what is actually happening in Venezuela.” After a while they all read the same and have the same alienated tone.

I decided not to do the same thing this time. Instead, I want to write about my kids’ first encounter with my country. A fresh and unprejudiced take on Venezuela. Theirs. Don’t expect to find hardline activism disguised as something else, or some sort of gonzo experiment like the Chicken Diaries. I’ll just try to write an honest and sincere account of their experience. If venezanniness ensues, it will be reported, of course. But it’s not what you should look for in these blogs, apart from context highlights, the purpose here is not about bringing awareness to anything other than a personal story that may or may not be entertaining. This is their Caracas chronicle.

As for what to expect… Hopefully I should drop one post per week, we’ll be here until the end of the summer.