Today I share a piece of my heart.
To many, Venezuela is just another poverty stricken country. To me, however, it is the place in which, for the first time in my life, I had extended family. It is the birthplace of my mother and is where I met my beloved uncle/godfather, the most gentle, kind, loving, loyal human being I have ever known, the one who would later walk me down the aisle and cradle our newborn children.
Venezuela hosted our family on virginal beaches with gaitas, salsa, and merengue, where fisherman asked what we wanted for lunch, bringing it to us minutes later from the sea.
It also hosted us in the Andes where my fondest memories of New Year's celebrations live. I can still see the sparks we made on the pavement those nights alongside children unbeknownst to us who, too poor to own skates like we did, partook nonetheless on improvised carretas made with ball bearings and wood, our joint laughter painting the streets with year-end mementos, devoid of social barriers.
I witnessed vast differences in the way people lived: some with heartfelt smiles showcasing brown, rotting teeth, and others who spent their weekends shopping in Miami. Nonetheless, friendly demeanors hinted at how Venezuelans, from all walks of life, seemed grateful to live in such a majestic country. The years I lived there, in conjunction with those spent in the United States and England, helped shaped my worldview, and I am grateful for the grit, determination and compassion with which those experiences have armed me for adulthood.
But Venezuela today is a far cry from the land I once knew, the wealthiest in all of Latin America. Venezuelans have collectively lost twenty-five percent of their body weight due to food shortages, while ninety percent live in poverty (Reuters). Civil unrest, hyperinflation and crime have sadly become synonymous with Venezuela since the turn of this century. To date, three million people have fled, including members of my own family, most leaving behind a country deeply loved.
Today I celebrate the nation’s natural beauty, stand by its warm people, and wish for healing and peace in the years to come.