Indestructible

By Lisbeth Coiman

 

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Photo appeared in The Economist on Nov. 10th, 2016.

 

On Tuesday night, at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, we heard the crack of our hearts breaking among the hushed voices while a muted TV displayed statistics in red and blue. Some shook their heads in disbelief. What was planned as a night of celebration, turned into the funeral vigil of democracy in America.

At home, I cried with my friend on the phone because there is nothing we can do to change his immigration status and shelter him from the xenophobia that now rules the land. I toyed with a CD I bought at SF JAZZ center the previous Sunday.  Indestructible by Diego Cigala. I broke the seal, and ripped the cellophane wrap. But I was too tired and sad to listen to it.

On Wednesday, I woke up to the day after in America, yet went to work to try, once more, to convince the powers that be that non-credit education is the only option for adult undocumented immigrants to go to college.

The news got even worse. They took the house, the senate, and soon will try to appoint the most conservative judge they can find for the vacant seat at the Supreme Court. Gas masks, bomb shelters, soylent green, gilead, newspeak. The symbols and language of doomsday literature invaded my mind. Back at home that night, I took the CD out of its case and played it.

The music filled my kitchen with the conga beat of the Caribbean, and the elongated vowels of he Gitano singer, musical syncretism. I danced with myself allowing the blood to pump into my brain, the endorphins I needed to flush the sadness off my body. Cigala sang

“Con sangre nueva, INDESTRUCTIBLE
Ayy unidos venceremos y yo se que llegaremos.”

Indestructible. United we’ll win, and will reach with new blood, indestructible.

On Thursday, I wrote, ‘This is not the end of an era, this is the beginning of social consciousness in America. This is when we become advocates, activists, and badass revolutionaries. We must organize and we must use the Civil Rights Movement as the model to follow. We are now in the resistance.”

We must exercise the new guerilla warfare: collectively finance Planned Parenthood, crow-fund the legal efforts to bring the bigots to court, marry the undocumented immigrant, offer a hiding place if necessary, stand up against abuse, denounce hate crime. But I am not a leader, so I scanned Facebook for any invitation to join a movement, here or in LA or wherever I might live. I want to fight.

Then Leonard Cohen died. “I want to dance to the end of love,” played in my head repeatedly.  I want to dance this sorrow away, this heartbreak, this disappointment with a turn, a sly movement of my feet, and with the sway of my hips.

Friday night I head to the Oakland Museum of California. AfroLatinos and African Americans, salseros from the East Bay, we all find our way to the 10th Street Amphitheater where the Gbedu Town Radio band played slow afro-urban music.

dancing

 

When the band played “Lagrimas Negras,” I felt a knot in my throat. Right foot out, turned. Shook my shoulders and my eyes met those of a tall black man who soon approached me and invited me to dance. He lifted his hand, my signal to pass under his arm and turn, sliding my hand softly on the back of his neck, smiling back at him when we faced each other again. “I want to cook for you,” he said sometime later, and I smiled at his pick up line, my head tilted backwards, the broad grin coming deep from my place of hurt.

For a couple of hours, I let him and other men I didn’t know lead my salsa steps on the rough concrete floor of the amphitheater. When I took a beer break, I told the woman behind me on the line, “This is the therapy we all need after this horrible week.”

This is how I am going to cope: I am going to join protests in my community, become vocal, help the undocumented immigrant with small rebellious acts, and dance this sorrow away.

Con sangre nueva. Indestructible.

 

Spanish Version follows

 

El martes por la noche, en La Peña Cultural Center en Berkeley, escuchamos el crujir de nuestros corazones quebrarse en medio de las susurros mientras una televisión sin volumen desplegaba las estadísticas en rojo y azul. Algunos negaban con la cabeza sin poder creer. Lo que había sido planeado como una noche de celebración, resulto ser la vigilia del funeral de la democracia en Estados Unidos.

En casa, lloré con un amigo al teléfono porque no hay nada que podamos hacer para cambiar su situación de inmigración y protegerlo de la xenofobia que ahora rige a esta tierra. Jugué con un CD que compre en el SF JAZZ Center el domingo anterior. Indestructible, por Diego Cígala. Rompí el sello, y el papel celofan que lo envuelve. Pero ya estaba demasiado cansada y triste para escucharlo.

El miércoles, desperté al Día Después en Estados Unidos, y aún así fui a trabajar para intentar, una vez más, de convencer a aquellos que pueden que la educación “non-credit” es la única opción para que los adultos indocumentados vayan al college.

Las noticias se pusieron peor. Ganaron la cámara de representantes, el senado, y pronto asignarán al juez más conservador que puedan encontrar para el puesto vacante en la Corte Suprema. Máscaras de gas, refugios subterráneos, “soylent green,” “gilead,” “newspeak.” Los símbolos y el lenguage de la literatura de fin de mundo invaden mi mente. De vuelta en casa esa noche, saco el CD de su cajita y lo toco.

La música llena mi cocina con el golpe de la conga del Caribe, y las vocales alargadas del cantador gitano, sincretismo musical. Bailé conmigo misma permitiendo que la sangre bombeara a mi cerebro la endorfina necesaria para lavar la tristeza de mi cuerpo. Cigala cantó:

“Con sangre nueva, INDESTRUCTIBLE
Ayy unidos venceremos y yo se que llegaremos.”

Indestructible. Unidos venceremos, y llegaremos con la nueva sangre, indestructibles.

El jueves escribí, “Este no es el fin de una era. Este es el comienzo de la consciencia social en los Estados Unidos. Ahora es cuando no convertimos en defensores, activistas, revolucionarias cuaimas. Debemos organizarnos y usar el movimiento de Los Derechos Civiles como el ejemplo a seguir. Ahora somos la resistencia.”

Debemos ejercer la nueva guerra de guerrillas: financiar colectivamente a Planned Parenthood, financiar los esfuerzos legales para llevar a los intolerantes a las cortes, casarnos con los inmigrantes indocumentados, ofrecerles refugio si es necesario, oponer el abuso, denunciar el crimen de odio. Pero yo no soy una líder, así que busco que alguien me invite a unirme a un movimiento, aquí, en Los Angeles, o dondequiera que viva. Quiero pelear.

Y después se murió Leonard Cohen. “Quiero bailar hasta el final del amor,” sonó en mi cabeza repetidamente. Quise sacarme esta tristeza a punta de baile, este corazón roto, esta decepción con una vuelta, un movimiento suave de mis pies, con el vaivén de mis caderas.

El viernes en la noche me fui al Oakland Museo de California. AfroLatinos, y AfroAmericanos, salseros de la Bahía del Este, todos nos encontramos en el anfiteatro de la calle 10 donde la banda Gbedu  Town Radio tocaba la música lenta, afro-urbana.

Cuando la banda tocó “Lágrimas Negras,” sentí un nudo en la garganta. Saqué el pie derecho y gire. Agité los hombros y mis ojos encontraron los de un hombre negro y alto quien pronto se me acercó y me invitó a bailar. Subió su mano, mi señal para pasar por debajo de brazo y girar, deslizando mi mano suavemente por detrás de su cuello, sonriéndole de vuelta cuando estuvimos frente a frente otra vez. “Quiero cocinar para tí,”  me dijo algún tiempo más tarde, y sonreí por su atrevimiento, con mi cabeza hacia atrás, con mi amplia sonrisa surgida del lugar donde reside el dolor.

Por un par de horas, le permití a él y otros hombres que no conocía que me guiaran el baile sobre el piso de concreto del anfiteatro. Cuando tomé un descanso para beberme una cerveza, le dije a la mujer detrás de mi en la cola, “Esta es la terapia que todos necesitamos después de esta semana horrible.”

Así es como voy a sobrellevar esto: me voy a unir a las protestas en mi comunidad, voy a abrir la boca, voy a ayudar al inmigrante indocumentado con pequeños actos de rebelión, y me voy a sacar esta tristeza a punta de baile.

Con sangre nueva. Indestructible.

 

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From Roman Circus to Greek Tragedy

By Lisbeth Coiman

I was born in an insanely rich country, where ripe mangoes hang from trees ready to eat, and oil money runs in rivers. The young nation lived lavishly for over 50 years. Governments soared in popularity without collecting taxes, by subsidizing gasoline – the cheapest in the world- all while pocketing the country’s abundant resources.

It used to be a festive country, that paradise of yonder. Some even believed that its privileged geographical location made us lazy. We turned every situation into a party and believed in the proverbial mañana, when life will be better and when we could catch up on those chores we never found time to do.

We treated politics as a Roman Circus. The almighty, oil rich government fed us all, while we made fun of politicians, without paying attention to the widening gap in education, the pervasive class discrimination, or the rampant corruption that ultimately gave birth to a tyrant. We didn’t see coming the growing demagogue that threatened to swallow us all, under the cover of a political doctrine that proved too good to be true.

Crowds cheered when the demagogue promised to send corrupt politicians to the firing squad in the nation’s Olympic stadium. They laughed at his off-color jokes, or when the buffoon played Cuatro (a four string instrument similar to the Ukulele) in his televised marathon tirades. American filmmakers such as Oliver Stone and Sean Penn (fuck both of you) helped construct the legendary image of a larger than life Quixotesque communist confiscating from the rich to give to the poor.

Venezuelans are not laughing anymore because the Roman Circus became a Greek Tragedy. The reality of an ignorant demagogue in power finally kicked in 2002, when his oil policy clashed with the industry workers. The result tens of thousands oil employees, educated in the best universities around the world, were laid off and listed as unemployable by the government turned regime.

During the first 10 years of the demagogic government of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela enjoyed record-breaking oil revenues. From 2008 to 2014, oil prices fluctuated from over $130 to $100 per barrel. However, without financial planning for the future, and with unprecedented corruption levels even for notoriously corrupt Venezuelan politicians, the country jumped into the economic abyss when the oil prices crashed two years ago.

It was bad and it got much worse. Crime escalated to the point of making Venezuela as dangerous as a war torn country. Food shortage has people lining up to buy a ration of broken rice with bugs. Fertile land confiscated under Chavez’ communist agenda sits vacant after the nation’s coffers were dilapidated leaving no resources available to produce food.

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Reuters Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Cancer, zika, dengue, and even the flu have become synonyms of immediate death sentences due to the lack of medication and medical supplies. Even the dignity of personal hygiene has deserted Venezuelans. There are no diapers (for infants, or the infirm), or toilette paper, or sanitary napkins, not even condoms. To top it all, dissent is severely repressed. Young men caught protesting on the streets are thrown in overcrowded jails and raped as punishment.

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s demagogue, was a communist, or so he wanted the world to believe, but a demagogue nonetheless and a powerful one. His seventeen-year old revolution has proved that beyond his incendiary discourse there was no sustainable development plan for the young and rich nation. His delusional grandiosity was such that on his deathbed he named a successor, as if he were a king, not an elected official. His successor turned out to be the greatest failure of Venezuela’s educational system, an incompetent ignorant that has brought Venezuela to its knees. In his infinite arrogance, this communist regime doesn’t allow humanitarian effort to ease the pain of food shortage.

It took 17 years to destroy Venezuela’s economy and social structure. It will take a lifetime and a concerted effort to overturn those in power, and raise the country back from its ashes.

      Watch out for demagogues, fellow Americans, from left or right. A demagogue seeks power by appealing to the ignorant and uneducated with incendiary discourse, not by engaging in rational dialogue, or by setting out a sustainable plan for his nation. 

It’s easy to laugh during this American election campaign. The billionaire buffoon, this caricature of a man who brags about groping women, aspires to public housing in November, and who hasn’t paid taxes in 18 years, provides plenty of opportunities for comedy: his weird hairdo, his ridiculous display of ignorance, his outrageous statements, his incoherent tirades in two-word sentences, even his wife’s plagiarism are too easy to laugh at. However, a demagogue is no laughing matter.

Chavez destroyed Venezuela because Venezuelans allow him to do just so. Don’t allow this bigot to destroy the United States of America.

From a concerned Venezuelan immigrant: get off the couch. Get political. VOTE.

Version en Español       

Un Demagogo no es Motivo de Risa- Vote.

De Circo Romano a Tragedia Griega

By Lisbeth Coiman

Nací en un país inmensamente rico, donde los mangos maduros cuelgan de los árboles listos para comer, y las riquezas petroleras corren en los ríos. La nación joven vivió en el derroche por más de 50 años. Los gobiernos crecían en popularidad sin recaudar impuestos, subsidiando la gasolina – la más barata del mundo – mientras se embolsillaban los abundantes recursos del país.

Solía ser un país festivo, ese paraíso de otrora. Hacíamos de cada situación una fiesta y creíamos en el mañana proverbial, cuando la vida sería mejor y cuando podíamos ponernos al día con aquello para lo que nunca encontrábamos tiempo.

Tratábamos la política como un Circo Romano. El gobierno todopoderoso y rico en dinero petrolero nos alimentaba a todos, mientras nosotros nos burlábamos de los políticos, sin prestar atención a la creciente brecha educativa, la discriminación social destructiva, y la corrupción rampante que ultimadamente dio a luz a un tirano. No lo vimos venir, al demagogo que amenazo con tragarnos a todos, bajo la cubierta de una doctrina política que ha probado ser demasiado buena para ser verdad.

Las multitudes rugieron cuando el demagogo prometió enviar a los corruptos frente al pelotón de fusilamiento en el estadio olímpico. Se rieron de sus chistes pasados de tono, o cuando el bufón tocó el Cuatro (un instrumento de cuatro cuerdas parecido al Ukulele) en sus maratónicas diatribas televisadas. Los cineastas estadounidenses Oliver Stone and Sean Penn (coños de madre los dos) ayudaron a construir la imagen legendaria superior a la realidad de un comunista quijotesco confiscando al rico para dar al pobre.

Los venezolanos ya no ríen porque el Circo Romano se tornó en Tragedia Griega. La realidad de un demagogo ignorante en el poder finalmente golpeó en el 2002, cuando su estrategia petrolera chocó con los trabajadores de la industria. Como resultado miles empleados de petróleos, educados en las mejores universidades del mundo, fueron despedidos y colocados en una lista negra por el gobierno convertido en dictadura.

Durante los primeros diez años del gobierno demagógico de Hugo Chavez, Venezuela disfrutó records en ingreso petroleros. Desde 2008 al 2014, los precios del petróleo fluctuaron entre 130$ a 100$ el barril. Sin embargo, sin seria planificación financiera, y con niveles de corrupción sin precedente aun para los notoriamente corruptos políticos venezolanos, el país saltó a un abismo económico cuando los precios del crudo cayeron hace dos años atrás.

Las cosas estaban mal y se pusieron peor. El crimen aumentó hasta lograr que Venezuela sea tan peligrosa como un país en guerra. La escasez de insumos alimenticios tiene a la gente haciendo cola para comprar una ración de arroz partido con insectos. La tierra fértil confiscada bajo la agenda comunista de Chavez yace abandonada después que los cofres de la nación fueron dilapidados sin dejar recursos disponibles para producir comida.

Cancer, zika, dengue, e incluso la influenza se han convertido en sinónimos de sentencia de muerte debido a la escasez de medicamentos e insumos médicos. Incluso la dignidad de higiene personal ha abandonado a los venezolanos. No hay pañales desechables (para bebes, o para los incontinentes), ni papel toilette, ni toallas sanitarias, ni siquiera condones. Encima de todo esto, la desavenencias con el gobierno son fuertemente reprimidas. Los jóvenes capturados mientras protestan en las calles son lanzados en cárceles abarrotadas y violados como castigo.

Hugo Chavez, el demagogo venezolano, fue un comunista, o al menos eso quiso que el mundo creyera, pero demagogo por encima de todo y poderoso. Su revolución de 17 años ha probado que más allá de su discurso incendiario no tenía un plan de desarrollo sostenible para la joven y rica nación. Su grandiosidad y desvaríos fueron tales que en su lecho de muerte nombró un sucesor, como si el fuera un rey y no un oficial electo. Su sucesor resulto ser el mayor fracaso del sistema educativo venezolano, un ignorante incompetente que ha puesto a Venezuela de rodillas. En su infinita arrogancia, el régimen comunista no permite ayuda humanitaria para aliviar el sufrimiento por la escasez alimenticia.

Llevo 17 años destruir la economía y la estructura social de Venezuela. Llevará toda una vida y un esfuerzo de todos para destituir a aquellos en el poder, y levantar al país de sus cenizas.

Cuidado con los demagogos, compatriotas estadounidenses, de derecha y de izquierda. Un demagogo apela al ignorante sin educación con un discurso inflamable, no con un diálogo racional, o con un plan sostenible para su nación.

Es fácil reírse durante esta campaña electoral en Estados Unidos. El bufón millonario, esta caricatura de hombre que hace alarde de manosear mujeres, aspira a tener vivienda pública en noviembre, y que no ha pagado impuestos en 18 años, provee muchas oportunidades para reírnos. Su peinado extraño, el ridículo despliegue de ignorancia, copiarse un discurso, sus diatribas en oraciones de dos palabras, es muy fácil reírse de todo esto. Sin embargo, un demagogo no es motivo de risa.

Chavez destruyó a Venezuela porque los venezolanos se lo permitimos. Por favor, no permitamos que este racista destruya a los Estados Unidos de América.

De parte de una inmigrante venezolana preocupada: levántese del sofá. Métase en la política. Vote.


 

Refugees, immigrants, and the illusion of a better life.

A Syrian refugee holding his son and daughter breaks out in tears of joy after arriving on the shore of the island of Kos in Greece.

Refugee crisis: Father photographed crying with children in Kos has reached Germany | source:The Independent

By Lisbeth Coiman

Through the screen of my computer, I look into the eyes of a grown man crying while holding two young children, one still wearing a life safe jacket after surviving the perilous trip across the Aegean. For five years, refugees from war-torn Syria have found their way out of the horrors fallen upon the once thriving country by both a totalitarian regime and a terrorist organization. They run away from what’s too much to bear any longer.

Syrian refugees start in Aleppo, the last stop in the millennial silk route. Across an ISIS- controlled high way, they make it to Turkey, where at the Bodrum Peninsula, they board an inflatable boat to cross the 2.5 miles stretch to the island of Kos in Greece. They take nothing with them. It is estimated that 3.8 million Syrians have fled their country in the last five years escaping both civil war and terrorism. Most live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, or in European countries as far north as Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Some even make it across the Atlantic to the United States, where they are not welcome.

Inevitably while reading the news, I remember my own immigration trip from Venezuela to Canada, not as dangerous as a refugee journey, but I also left behind all I knew and held dear for the illusion of a better life somewhere else. Like the man in the picture, I once cried holding my two young children, after leaving behind my homeland.

The Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada smelled of hope and uncertainty. We found a cart to put the suitcases, six in total, the maximum allowed. We had sold all our belongings, paid our small debts, and brought with us light clothes, baby things, and our savings, enough to soften the landing.

“Welcome to Canada,” an official looking man shook our hands with a reassuring smile, marking the significance of the moment for us, a move towards the illusion of a better life. He then directed us to the welcome lounge where a wall of pamphlets in every imaginable language displayed instructions on how to be a Canadian. We were welcomed, at least officially.

In the United States, Syrian refugees are not so lucky. In one of his first statements as a presidential candidate, the infamous Donald Trump said he would corral refugees from Syria and send them back to where they come from. My heart sunk when I heard those words on television. Additionally, HR 4038 passed in Nov. 2015 prevents refugees from Iraq and Syria from entering the US until new safety measures were in place.

Other countries in Europe have found strong opposition from right wings groups not ready to receive the innocent civilians traumatized by war and stigmatized by the image of terrorists in the name of Islam.  Since the end of 2015, Europe has experienced a frenzy of overnight barriers built across its borders, putting an end to the free movement ideals that have reigned since the inception of the European Union.

Although we share narratives of displacement and survival, the Syrian refugees today face challenges that most immigrants will find impossible to overcome. In the heist of the escape, luggage is too heavy to carry on an inflatable lifeboat. The man crying in the picture had only a watch and two children with him. He was displaced, in the truest sense of the word, and his tears show the level of stress he was enduring at the time of the picture.

Mental illness caused by the stress of displacement has become a major concern among agencies offering support in the Syrian refugee crisis. According to Caritas Internationalis,“one in five Syrian refugees in Jordan need psychological therapy.” Children refugees are particularly at risk of developing a mental disorder, and constantly show symptoms of trauma and nightmares.

Before the end of our first year in Canada, my husband and I suffered the saddest episode of our lives. I had a mental breakdown. Images of my childhood in a rural community in Venezuela in the 60s kept popping up in the multicultural neighborhood I now lived in a suburb of Toronto. The country I left behind with it’s colorful and festive people, and its luscious, tropical landscape appeared to me unexpectedly around every corner even in the cruel northern winter, while my husband climbed the outdoor stairs of oil tanks in a nearby oil lube plant.

Then we were alone, and solitude is infinite without family and the support network left behind in the country of origin. I hallucinated, howling inside a walking closet, terrified by the painful memories of a childhood gone wrong, while my husband took a leave of absence and nursed me into recovery. “Please, don’t go so far beyond the line that I can’t reach you anymore,” he said. “Don’t leave me alone here, in this country.” I have since recovered.

Immigrants and refugees alike, we bring our past, our baggage, and our heritage, the unseen marks that determine the fabric that’ll help us survive the journey or not. Hope is the fuel that moves us all into a better life.

My journey as an immigrant in North America, it’s also a journey of recovery from child abuse and mental illness. My light luggage didn’t reflect what was inside my head, or the strength of my spirit. I recovered with the helped of a dear friend, and my husband. We move yet again to the United States where we built a beautiful life. I also helped my children grow into successful young men while I tagged along behind them, pushing, cheering, and encouraging them to reach high.

After all, the intent of this journey relies on the illusion of a better life, for them, or for me, it doesn’t matter. What matters is to escape what we can’t bear any longer.

My Work on Hip Mama Magazine

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In April this year, a challenging job took me away from writing. I seemed never to find the time to sit down for three, four hours in front of the computer, pouring my thoughts and creativity into words.

Determined to recover my writing routine, I enrolled in Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen Essay intensive in early September. For the next two weeks, I arrived home from work, had dinner and set to write following Ariel’s prompts. This exercise resulted in drafts, for 4- 1000 words essays, and a long, 4200 words piece.

Today, Hip Mama Magazine published my essay “Starting Over from Seeds,” in which I muse about starting over one seed at the time.

http://hipmamazine.com/lisbeth-coiman-starting-over-from-seed/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork.

Thank you for your support.

 

Self-Monitoring as Coping Skill

After a writing hiatus of a few months, I find myself writing every night, just a little bit at a time. I took another class with Ariel Gore in the Literary Kitchen. This short personal essay was born in that class. Jodie Fleming, from Australia, took interest in it, and she posted it on her page. http://www.thepsychologyofit.com.au. To access my latest essay, please click on the link below.

Self-Monitoring Mental Symptoms

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Instructions to talk to a Venezuelan

 

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Parque Nacional Canaima, Venezuela

 

By Lisbeth Coiman

When people meet me, they immediately want to know where my accent is from. This question usually precedes one or all of the next topics: a.) Beauty queens, b.) Oil industry, or c.) The imperialism-communism dichotomy. I cringe at each.

The following are four easy instructions to talk to an immigrant from Venezuela, or from anywhere else, for that matter.

  • Don’t use stereotypes.

“Venezuela? “That’s where all the beauty queens are from.” The permanent scar on the left side of my face should be a clear indicator that not everybody shares misogynistic ideals of beauty. This article in the Daily Mail exposes the dark side of the beauty industry in my beloved country. Not all Venezuelan women endorse beauty pageants like the Miss Universe.

  • Don’t make embarrassing assumptions.

Recently, my own impertinence taught me not to ask a woman if she is pregnant unless I see her pushing an 8-pound baby between her legs. “You must have an oil well in your backyard, don’t you?” No. Actually, Venezuela’s oil industry is nationalized. To learn about this important factor in the global economy read about OPEC and it’s origins and here.

  • Don’t proselytize or impose your ideology or religion.

“You know the World Bank is starving your country, right? It’s the imperialistic machinery at work.” There is nothing more imperialistic than having a righteous opinion about a foreign country you have never visited. Corruption like that of the megalomaniac, demagogue Chavez doesn’t have an equivalent in the civilized world, unless Donald Trump wins the elections. Then you’ll find out what it is like. Additionally, the ineptitude of the finger-appointed Chavez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, has no rival.

If that’s the communism you admire, I invite you to move to that communist paradise and queue several times a week next to my 80-year old father for a ration of rice. During the 70s, Venezuela made the mistake of putting all the eggs in the oil industry basket. Now that the oil prices have touched rock bottom, and that Chavez’s demagogue revolution emptied the nation’s coffers, the country is starving. The World Bank and the so called Empire don’t have anything to do with it. The country is sitting on oil, but it can’t eat oil.

  • To avoid embarrassing displays of ignorance, learn about Venezuela through the individual in front of you.

Ask questions such as: “What do you remember most about your country? What is the landscape like? What is the typical food? What kind of music did you enjoy when growing up? What traditions are typical of your country? What games did you play when you were a child? What is the political system? What is the religion?

Then, listen to me speak proudly about the country of my youth, the landscape I see under my eyelids when I close my eyes at night. Listen and get to know that I miss the smell of passion fruit the most, and learn that we wear yellow panties on New Year’s Eve for good luck, and that we throw water at each other during Carnival, the equivalent of your Mardi Gras. Maybe then, you find a friend with a beautiful accent.

Oakland, June 25, 2016

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Parque Nacional Los Roques,  Venezuela.

Spanish version follows.

Cuando la gente me conoce, inmediatamente quieren saber de donde es mi acento. Esta pregunta normalmente precede a uno o todos de los siguientes temas: a.) Reinas de belleza, b.) la industria petrolera, c.) la dicotomía imperialismo-comunismo. Todos me crispan los pelos.

Las siguientes son cuatro instrucciones fáciles para hablar con un inmigrante de Venezuela, o de cualquier parte.

  • No use estereotipos.

“¿Venezuela? De allí es donde vienen todas las reinas de belleza, verdad?” La cicatriz en el lado izquierdo de mi cara debería ser un indicador claro que no todos compartimos ideales de belleza misóginos. Este artículo en el Daily Mail expone el lado oscuro de la industria de belleza en mi querido país. No todas las mujeres venezolanas endosan los concursos de belleza como el Miss Universo.

  • No asumas nada. Es vergonzoso.

Recientemente, por culpa de mi propia impertinencia aprendí a no preguntarle a una mujer si esta embarazada, a menos que la vea pujando un bebe de cuatro kilos. “Tú debes tener un pozo de petróleo en tu patio.” No. Realmente, la industria petrolera venezolana está nacionalizada. Si quieres aprender sobre este factor importante en la economía mundial, lee sobre la OPEP y sus orígenes aquí, y aquí.

  • No hagas proselitismo o impongas tu ideología o religión.

“Sabes que el Banco Mundial está matando de hambre a tu país? Ese es el producto de la maquinaria imperialista.” No hay nada más imperialista que una mojigatería sobre un país que no se conoce. La corrupción del demagogo y megalómano Chavez no tiene equivalente en el mundo civilizado, a menos que Donald Trump gane las elecciones. Entonces sabrán. Además, no tiene rival la ineptitud de Nicolás Maduro, el sucesor que Chavez nombró a dedillo.

Si ese es el comunismo admirado, se les invita a mudarse a ese paraíso comunista y hacer cola varias veces a la semana junto a mi padre de 80 años para recibir una ración de arroz. Durante los años 70, Venezuela cometió el error de apostarle todo a la cesta petrolera. Ahora cuando los precios del petróleo han caído hasta tocar fondo, y ahora cuando la revolución del demagogo Chavez ha vaciado los cofres de la nación, el país está pasando hambre. El Banco Mundial y el llamado imperio no tienen nada que ver en esto. El país nada en petróleo, pero no se puede comer el petróleo.

  • Para evitar despliegues vergonzosos de ignorancia, aprenda sobre Venezuela a través del individuo delante suyo.

Haga preguntas como: “¿Qué es lo que más recuerda de su país?” ¿Cómo es el paisaje? ¿Cuál es la comida típica? ¿Qué clase de música disfrutabas cuando eras niña? ¿Cuáles son las tradiciones típicas de tu país? ¿Qué juegos jugabas cuando eras niña? ¿Cuál es el sistema político? ¿Cuál es la religión?”

Entonces, escúchame hablar con orgullo del país de mi juventud, el paisaje que veo bajo mis párpados cuando cierro mis ojos por las noches. Escucha y aprende que lo que más extraño es el olor de la parchita, y que las venezolanas nos ponemos pantaletas amarillas en Año Nuevo para buscar buena suerte, y que nos echamos agua unos a otros durante los carnavales, el equivalente de tu Mardi Gras. Entonces quizás hasta encuentres una amiga con un acento hermoso.

En Oakland, el 25 de Junio del 2016.

 


Headshot

Lisbeth Coiman is a bilingual writer standing (unbalanced) on a blurred line between fiction and memoir. She has wandered the immigration path from Venezuela to Canada, to the US, and now lives in Oakland. Her upcoming memoir, The Shattered Mirror, celebrates friendship among women and draws attention on child abuse and mental illness. She also writes short fiction and poetry, and is the curator of Zocalo Spits: Arts in the Dro, a reading series meeting on Second Saturdays in San Leandro, CA.

 

 

Mental Illness and Risk Management

 

At the beginning of the Risk Management course, Mr. Wilkens looks like a typical retired engineer, black slacks lose at the waist, with a white shirt only partially tucked in, an earpiece on the left side, a pen hanging from the front shirt pocket. In front of the screen, he stands over six-foot tall, balding and tired. He asks, “Who here can say, ‘I’m a risk taker?”

I raised my hand, turned around to check the rest of the class, and back to the front to find Mr. Wilkens with his right hand up. We were the only two.

“Do any of you gamble or play extreme sports?” he presses.

Still, only old Mr. Wilkens and me have the hands up.

“I ride a Harley on the highway,” he offered.

“You don’t look like a biker,” I said.

“Lisbeth, what kind of risks do you take?”

“I left my country of origin with two suitcases and some savings, my husband and two children,” I said proudly.

“Now, that’s a risk,” he pointed out.

“And I did it again,” I continued.

“Explain.”

“We left from Venezuela to Canada, lived there for a number of years, and then moved to the USA. It has been tough, but we’ve done well.”

Risk for me is not jumping off of a cliff, or having irresponsible sex. Risk is about life changing decisions that challenge my sense of security, like jumping out of a failing marriage without a back up plan.

A few weeks ago, I decided to leave a lower paying, but relatively stable job, in order to pursue a more challenging position in Project Management that doesn’t offer an immediate sense of security.

It’s another risk. And I know that if everything else fails, I still got the resilient me to bring myself back up on solid ground again.

Sometimes we take the greatest risk, when we don’t jump on time.

When I lived the life of a sheltered and dissatisfied corporate wife, I feared losing my children in a custody dispute if I dared divorce my husband. The argument of a mental disability could sway the judge in a family court. I personally know women who lost their children to cheating husbands due to her mental illness. I wasn’t going to be part of the statistics, so I held onto a crumbling relationship. I put my sanity at risk.

Despite the upheavals of living with bipolar disorder, I had the clarity of mind to play my cards well, taking advantage of every small opportunity presented to me. Through the University Learning Center in Ponca City,OK, for example, I took a Masters in Adult Ed. at Northwestern Oklahoma State University using Interactive Television technology. My resume shows progress, in small, consistent steps in the same area of expertise that has defined my professional career, serving people with limited English skills.

I also put effort in becoming financially savvy. Under the guidance of a long-time friend, I learned to save money, opened an IRA account, contributed double payments to pay off our mortgage, and still saved enough for an emergency account. While the drama of my failed marriage unfolded, instead of getting even with my husband, I took a Project Management Certificate at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

When the children were gone, I found my badass hat and started my solo flight at 51. After so many years without worrying about money, now everything looks uncertain: jobs, relationships, housing. I have discovered new fears, but also the strongest woman I know: myself.

Today, I live a healthy life, with a serious job, and no debt. I have the love of my children, and the respect of those who know me well. I live with the certainty that nothing is safe forever. Every day I take the risk of living, and that is the healthiest thing I can do for myself.

Spanish version follows

Al comienzo del curso de Gerencia de Riesgos, el Sr. Wilkens luce como el ingeniero retirado típico, pantalones negros flojos en la cintura, con una camisa blanca medio salida, un auricular en la oreja izquierda, un lapicero en el bolsillo de la camisa. Parado delante de la pantalla del proyector, con sus dos metros de estatura, calvo y cansado, él pregunta, “¿Quién puede decir que toma riesgos.”

Levanto mi mano, volteo a chequear el resto de la clase, y de vuelta al frente donde me encuentro al Sr. Wilkens con su mano derecha levantada. Éramos los únicos.

“¿Alguno de ustedes hace apuestas, o practica deportes extremos? Insiste.

Todavía, sólo el viejo Sr. Wilkens y yo tenemos las manos levantadas.

“Yo manejo una Harley en la autopista,” él dice.

“Usted no parece un motorizado,” le digo

“Lisbeth, qué clase de riesgos tomas tú?

“Yo dejé mi país de origen con dos maletas y algunos ahorros, mi esposo y dos niños,” digo con orgullo.

“Eso es un riesgo,” señala.

“Y lo hice una vez más,” continúo.

“Explica.”

“Nosotros nos fuimos de Venezuela a Canadá, vivimos allá unos cuantos años, y luego nos mudamos a los Estados Unidos. Ha sido difícil, pero nos ha ido bien.

Riesgo para mi no significa saltar de un acantilado, o tener sexo irresponsable. El riesgo se trata de decisiones que pueden cambiar la vida y que retan mi sensación de seguridad, como dejar un matrimonio que se derrumba sin tener un plan de respaldo.

Hace unas pocas semanas, decidí dejar un trabajo que pagaba poco pero que era relativamente estable para aceptar un reto profesional en Gerencia de Proyectos que no ofrece una sensación de seguridad.

Es otro riesgo. Y sé que si todo falla, todavía tengo la mujer resistente que soy para levantarme en tierra firme nuevamente.

A veces tomamos el mayor riesgo cuando no saltamos a tiempo.

Cuando yo vivía la protegida vida insatisfecha de una esposa corporativa, temí perder a mis hijos en una disputa de custodia si me atrevía a un divorcio. El argumento de la enfermedad mental podía influir a un juez en una corte de familia. Personalmente conozco mujeres que vieron a sus esposos infieles quedarse con los hijos porque ellas sufrían de enfermedades mentales. Yo no iba a ser parte de las estadísticas, por eso me quedé en una relación que se derrumbaba. Puse mi sanidad mental en riesgo.

A pesar de los vaivenes de vivir con el desorden bipolar, tuve la claridad mental de jugar mis cartas bien jugadas, y saqué ventaja de cada pequeña oportunidad que se me presentó. A través de University Learning Center en Ponca City, OK, por ejemplo, tomé una maestría en Educación de Adultos en la Northwestern Oklahoma University usando la tecnología de Televisión Interactiva. Mi currículo muestra progreso, en pequeños pasos consistentes, en la misma área de experiencia que ha definido mi carrera profesional, servicio a personas que no hablan bien inglés.

También puse empeño en entender finanzas. Bajo la guía de un viejo amigo, aprendí ahorrar dinero, abrí una cuenta IRA, doblé los pagos a la hipoteca de nuestra casa, y aún me quedó suficiente dinero para crear un colchoncito financiero. Mientras el fracaso de mi matrimonio se tornaba en drama, en vez de tratar de desquitármelas con mi esposo, saqué otro Certificado en Gerencia de Proyectos en la California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Cuando mis hijos se fueron, encontré mi sombrero de cuaima y comencé mi trayectoria sola a los 51. Después de tantos años sin preocuparme por dinero, ahora todo parece incierto: trabajo, relaciones, y vivienda. He descubierto nuevos miedos, pero también a la mujer más fuerte que conozco: yo misma.

Hoy día, vivo una vida sana, con un trabajo serio, y sin deudas. Tengo el amor de mis hijos, y el respeto de aquellos que me conocen bien. Vivo con la certeza que nada está seguro para siempre, que lo mejor que puedo hacer es estar preparada. Cada día tomo el riesgo de vivir, y eso es lo más sano que puedo hacer por mi misma.