The Numbest Feeling, Alive

The words penetrated forcibly through me to push apart the sides of my temples and creeping on to settle in my brow like a slow, steaming flow of lava. A rush of ice runs down the entirety of every bone in my spine and every vein in my body cooling it to a freezing point, a standstill. That is, only until the hypothermic feeling washes over and sends a shiver through every nerve causing a truly uncontrollable shaking.Photo on 10-9-11 at 8.38 PM

And the heart. Well the heart was the worst part. It pounded like a beating drum. And it resounded throughout me surely proving its visibility to anyone on the outside. I’ve never felt more sure that I was alive. I’ve never felt more sure of my pure being. And I’ve never felt so lifeless. As if anyone could ever imagine both feelings coinciding all at the very same time. A break-up. The numbest feeling, alive.

May I Have a Word?

IMG_1124Sitting on the other side as an interviewee sounded a little unnerving to me as a writer when I was approached by blogger Jenisse Bouret, for her Young and Latino blog. But sitting back and waiting to see the finished product was eye-opening.

I’ve always known that words hold a remarkable power. But never have I realized it as when I read the words that came from my own mouth. This experience has helped me to become aware of how I need to strive to be conscious of the words and material I put out into the world and into society.

Read the interview by clicking here.

 

12F

Today is the thirteenth day of February. Two nights ago I laid in my bed restless and wide awake, tossing and turning. I kept my eye on the Facebook page all night. College students in Venezuela were going to celebrate the Day of the Youth by marching and protesting peacefully out on the streets. They grew sick of social media and its powerless force in winning. Instead they used it to announce a time and place to convene and make a call for action. Peaceful action. 

“Get off social media and hit the street, we need you”

And so it had been decided, the twelfth day of February they would march. Peacefully. Venezuelans here in Chicago began to brainstorm what they could do to help. The brainstorming began at 8 P.M. the night before. They went back and forth between themselves.

“We haven’t gotten any permits to protest!”

“Where do we meet?”

“What time are we meeting, I have work!”

It was hard to get anyone to agree on anything. It’s also hard to be able to drop everything and speed off to a protest we weren’t even sure we would be able to have without city permits. It’s hard to make that decision when your life doesn’t depend on it like so many of the college students in Venezuela. 

Finally, I made up my own mind. I would be there in front of the Venezuelan Consulate with a camera ready to shoot whoever was there at that time. I had a feeling local media wouldn’t find it “newsy” enough to pick up on it. The overthrowing of a government was not newsy enough if there were less than a hundred people there. So as a Venezuelan and a journalism student, it was my absolute duty to document this somehow. 


Standing in solidarity with Venezuelans protesting on February 12

Throughout these past two days, I have experienced the strongest feeling of impotence. Impotence because I cannot be there to march with my compatriots and fellow college students. Impotence because there isn’t much I can do thousands of miles away except divulge a message little outside of Venezuela seem to care about. Impotence because all I could do was point a camera and shoot at these few people that came to stand the freezing cold and march around with yellows, blues and reds because they felt the same impotence as me. 

But let me tell you something about Venezuelans. One thing they do have is PATRIA. Whether it is something Maduro thinks he gave to us or something that we cannot use to make arepas with, we still have it. Patria is a sentiment so impossible to describe. Yesterday patria was when I hit record and they saw the flashing red light. Patria was when they positioned our flag and in unison sang the Venezuela’s national anthem with hurt that you could hear in their voices. 

Gloria al bravo pueblo que el yugo lanzo, la ley respetando la virtud y honor…”

Every hair on my body raised and my body was overcome with a tingling that inundated my eyes with tears. This was patria.

And as the day went on and we all prayed, there comes a point when you realize prayer wasn’t enough to save someone’s life. 

On the twelfth of February of the year 2014, three Venezuelans died. Two students, one officer. 

And when you see the videos of the shooting, it is so unreal. It was so unreal to me to be thousands of miles away and watch a spraying of bullets on video. When eventually I got to the 36th second, and it was inevitable. Like the person behind the camera said, “one has fallen.” And it reminded me of a fallen soldier. 

What impotence I feel but also what inconsolability. That college student went to fight for his future on the twelfth day of February. On the same twelfth day of February, I went to classes. And that night I was able to come back without fearing for my life, and hug my mom.

Dear God

As a young person in today’s world, I don’t believe it’s very unusual to say I have struggled with my faith and questioned what exactly it is I believe in. I grew up in a household, where church was a moral duty and not an option. I asked God to have mercy on me every week I did not have my Sunday School homework done for the teacher. I asked him to grant me the wisdom to learn how to pray every time I dreadfully got picked to lead the group in prayer. I asked God to make me feel something so powerful that it would make me cry just like my mom did when we  bowed our heads down to pray. It was hard to learn what faith actually meant. But the most incredibly trying moment between God and I was when I visited Peru.

In a 2006 census conducted by the National Statistics Institute, 85 percent of the nation identified as Catholic. Today, most Peruvians are still Catholic and you can see elaborate colonial churches on almost every corner of the city of Lima. Rosaries are sold everywhere, in any size (bracelets or necklaces) and in any color bead you can possibly imagine. Stand outside a church long enough and you can catch most people making the sign of the cross as they pass by the church doors.

Even Cusco has one of the most infamously ornate Catholic churches in all of Latin America and oh did the tour guide pride himself in making sure we knew that.

The worst was what came after the tours of the sacred churches. Seeing the actual ruins of the Inca and witnessing what intelligent and peaceful people they had been, made the church tours so irrelevant to me. I had had it with learning about how the conquistadors and the Spanish had ruined an entire people, enslaved them and humiliated them to the point where they just dug their flagpoles wherever they so pleased and promoted themselves to owners. They built over civilizations, in the name of God and all his glory, and all for what? As a professor once taught me, just follow the money trail and you will find any man’s agenda. It made me want to break down in tears and feel physically repulsed.

It was sad to realize, the conquistadors’ God and my God were not the same. Because the God I had been taught to believe in, was one of love and compassion. In fact, at this point in the trip my God was probably most like the Inca God than that of the Spanish.

And yet here I was, in the dead of a Cusco night as some friends and I unwind from our day, when at the top of the hour church bells began chiming. Slowly, at first, one smooth but stern strike bellowed out to Cusco announcing the hour. The striking eventually came so constantly that echoes overcast the current strikes and loud booming.

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A peek at Machu Picchu

A Frigid Welcome to Cusco

For nine days we basked in the glorious rays of the we swore were heaven-sent by the Inca sun God. Lima was our paradisal escape from the Chicagoan Polar Vortex awaiting us back home. After the end of nine days, our feet itched to get going on our way to Cusco. We so wished to be surrounded by nature, peace and everything green. Cusco was our gateway to the real heavens and Machu Picchu was our promised land.

A short plane ride later and a few thousand feet higher and we had landed. Getting off the plane, I realized how different Cusco was in person than in my imagination. What once was a great empire entrenched the city with traces of a dynasty along subsequent colonization.

But my great appreciation for the city was almost completely taken and smashed to pieces only a few hours after our arrival. A man stumbled across the street, brown bag in hand and a matching disgruntled look on his face. He staggered toward my friend Lauren and demanded to know where she was from, as if her bleach blonde hair, white skin and her panicked expression hadn’t already given away the fact that it wasn’t from anywhere near here.

Frightened myself that we were two pretty defenseless females in a new and different environment, I asked the man to leave out of despair.

His drunken words and sober thoughts struck me like a pile of bricks had fallen on top of my heart.

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Sacred Valley in Cusco

“Who are you to tell me to leave? Who are you? Look at these mountains around you… I am from these mountains. You can’t kick me out of my home smartass!” said the drunk as he raised his voice and his bottle and my heart sank to the deepest pit of my stomach.

“Gitana de Ciudad”

Three cities in 16 days in a country about 3,600 miles away from home, and I was starting to feel a bit like a gypsy. For sixteen days I lived out of my suitcase and my ambition. Although, I can admit some nights the only thing pulling me through was knowing it was one less day that I had to wait to get home. This trip was a college student’s dream but let’s face reality here, three different beds and three different bathrooms can get pretty exhausting after a few days. So here are some tips on how to be a savvy traveler for sixteen days.

1. Water, water, water

Buy water and lots of it. Even if you don’t drink the recommended eight glasses every day you will be surprised at how quickly your body can dehydrate while travelling, especially at high altitudes.

2. Don’t live out of your suitcase

Setting out your clothes for each day can make a place feel more “homey” and it keeps you organized. Don’t dig through your suitcase. It always makes a mess.

3. Bring pictures of loved ones

Don’t sit there wallowing at how badly you miss your puppy to the point you make yourself homesick. (I’m guilty of this one) Rejoice in knowing that distance makes the heart grow fonder and that those doggy kisses (or human kisses if we’re not talking puppies) will be the best ones yet when you get back.

4. Have good company

If you’re travelling with a group of people like I did, make sure you pick a roommate you connect with. Rooming with Lauren made my trip all the more fun. Motivating each other to stay up and finish homework or wake up to be in time for class or a tour was incredibly important. Living with someone for 16 days is a longer time than it sounds. You don’t want to just get stuck with someone.

5. Boxed wine

It’s a must. Just like water. Get it and cheer with your friends and travel buddies, reminding yourselves how beautiful this world can be and how lucky you are to see it.

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a glass of wine to get us through our 72-hr trip back home

Latinas Packing Enough of a Punch?

“Nos subestiman como mujeres periodistas, y yo le veo a eso mas ventaja.” – Milagros Salazar Herrera, reportera de la IDL

“They underestimate us as women journalists, and I take that as an advantage.” – Milagros Salazar Herrera, IDL reporter

Milagros Salazar, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is an investigative reporter who uncovered a government conspiracy in the country’s deeply valued fishing industry. An example to follow, Milagros is a petite and good-looking woman who seemingly shows no fear in the business.

As our professor assured us, as aspiring women reporters, we will experience sexual harassment, or something of the sort. Even a few days before we had Milagros as guest speaker in our class, some of the female students had experienced something similar to harassment while conducting interviews.

As a female, I am always alert and aware that these situations can arise. But when we asked Milagros if she had ever experienced any discrimination because of her gender and she said no, I could not have been more surprised.

A class that I took last semester, has taught me the skill to think incredibly critically of everything. As a girl, I spent months of my life living in a Latin American country and as a woman in general had become accustomed to catcalls. It wasn’t until I took the class that I realized desensitization was not going to solve the problem. I started to think, could it be that professional women here had become desensitized to sexist treatment?

Is it a problem in the States as much as in Latin American countries? Have we made any progress?

Peru’s Own Jerry Springer

So here I am in Peru reporting. Sounds like an amazing opportunity for an aspiring Latina journalist, doesn’t it? So here I go, out to report on a social issue impacting Peru, its people as well as people outside the country and their perception of this place. Yeah, that’s the kinda reporter I want to be. Just like Milagros Salazar Herrera, one of the few investigative reporters in the city. This woman uncovered an entire conspiracy in the fishing industry involving eight big-shot companies and the government. Yes, the government. Yeah, that’s exactly the reporter I want to be.

So I embark on my reporting endeavors, ready to ask people how Laura en America has affected the way people see Peruvians and what kind of impact it has had on society. Ok, maybe it is not too comparable to uncovering contriving government officials, but I was going somewhere with this.

Laura Bozzo had been accused of paying people to make their lives “Jerry Springer” worthy enough to bring up on a stage and rack up the ratings. Over years, it has been the most watched Peruvian TV show in Latin America and Spanish-speaking U.S. It had to have affected these people somehow. And as a journalist I was appalled to even think that people could perceive all Peruvians as husbands who slept with their wives’ sisters and fathered all five kids and raise their own daughter to be sold on a street corner to get money for booze. I cringe at the thought of that.

 So just watch me give a voice to the real Peruvian people of Lima, and real families, and real marriages. I walked into the first business I saw with a TV set on indicating they had to know who Laura Bozzo was. And just as quickly as I walked in, I walked out, turned away. That’s ok, I’m a report damn it and I have to get used to rejection. On to the next one. Out of the next one. Still nothing. I walked in and out of two more businesses and my head sunk a little lower onto my shoulders as I kept getting rejected.

Why did no one want to talk about this? I didn’t understand.

I shook it off and went through an entire block of businesses before I found someone that I had to very carefully persuade to talk. Our interview lasted more than the five minutes I had promised it would take and we ended up talking about so much more than this stupid show. I ended up getting a good look at a real Peruvian’s life, mindset, traditions, customs, ideals. Then I remembered, “Oh, this is why I want to be a journalist.”

A Minor Within a Minority

To my surprise, I became a minority in Latin America and quite honestly I was taken aback. At a street market in Pisaq, Cusco, I approached a woman, and without thinking twice I asked, “Senora, cuanto cuesta?” I pointed to her skirt mesmerized by it and hoping she had more for sale.

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Vendor at street market in Pisaq

“¿Haykataq kay?” I heard echo after me.

I turned instantly to see who it could have been and whether they were talking to me, but not before I could look up to the Quechua woman’s puzzled expression. Another woman came up immediately volunteered her services and wits.

“She’ll sell you the one she is wearing,” the last woman said before the vendor even responded to her.

I could imagine that it was out of fear of losing a sale but I could not imagine buying the skirt off of a woman, literally. The woman must have explained the situation to the vendor by the time I politely declined, because as I did, a few other nearby vendors and the two women began to laugh, it was almost like a cackle.

Bashfully, I turned away confused and kind of intimidated. Never did I think that in Latin America, I would feel like the outsider.

As the day progressed, it was a feeling that I had turned over and over in my head until I could decide to embrace it. Embrace the bilingualism just as so much of Cusco had embraced it to the point of biculturality. What a beautiful cultural example set to follow, that of never forgetting roots and never letting them die.

At the same time, I could not help but think about what a huge obstacle a language barrier could be. I was fortunate enough that my parents taught me to speak, read and write Spanish and English equally as fluently. And in America, those were all the tools I have needed until now. But this language barrier was a reminder of global diversity and the need to understand and embrace it.

Advertising Lies

Advertising has gone through rapid facets of its own young life through which it has changed drastically. As ads have invaded our worlds little by little, even seeping through a washroom stall door to where you can stare directly at it while sitting to do your business, people have taken notice.

Seemingly, American advertisers have started to gain conscious as an alert America recognizes the good and the bad in these ads. But what about other countries? Places lie developing countries where the voice of a minority might seem more hushed than others?

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This advertisement is of the better ones with a darker skin tone but still with very European facial features.

On my trip to Peru, it was hard not to notice these giant advertisements promoting everything from a brand of mayonnaise to trips to Machu Picchu. In all of these I could not see anything different from men, women and whole families, light in complexion, lighter hair, lighter eyes. The amount of advertisements are comparable to that of the U.S. As soon as I exited airports in both Lima and Cusco, billboards with bright lights and giant pictures invaded the skies, welcoming me before my taxi driver could.

Yes Peru is still a developing country with developing ideals and the changing of mindsets. But according to the CIA World Factbook, 45% of Peru are Amerindian, 37% are mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), 3% is made up of Black, Japanese and Chinese, while a seeming minority of 15% of the population are white.

All in all, advertisements in Peru are not reflective of the richly diverse people it is home to.