I wonder what it feels like to see a flag and feel instantly connected to it.
See, when I was 11, I moved to the capital of Latin America- Miami. From then on, my upbringing, though it ocurred in a very Venezuelan household, was situated in one of the most diverse cities in the world.
This, obviously, affected my outlook on things.
The fact that I come from a nation with deep political and social turmoil that affects even those who have left generations ago exacerbated my desire to set myself apart from the new arrivals. I rejected my own nationality, my own brethren.
I see a Venezuelan flag and, yeah, it’s my flag. But it’s tainted with the fact that I left.
I see the American flag, and to me, as cheesy as it sounds, it stands for the effort and sacrifices my parents have made for us. But I feel no pride, no relation.
Maybe because I was in a transitional point in my life from child to teenager when the dramatic change happened, that there’s a few things that might be a little out of place, a little twisted.
To me, the most natural thing is to move from place to place. I sometimes wonder what it feels like to be born, grow up and have a life in just one place. It would be the definition of stability, but to me, that idea is so far-fetched that in my head, surely, no such thing exists today!
And then you meet them: the people that were actually born in Miami, went to elementary, middle, high school, community college or university and got a job in the same city. They’ve seen it gradually change. They’re true locals.
I can sometimes be the quintessential Miami girl- the biggest annoyance to Miami inhabitants seeking to get out: I love Pitbull, I have a very terrible weakness for reggaeton and salsa, I love “nicheria”, I drive like a maniac (only because it’s a survival skill), I speak Spanglish, I went to FIU….
But once an immigrant, always an immigrant.
I was, at first, resisting all that was Miramar (which technically, is in Broward County, not even Dade County. My brothers are always sure to point out the fact). Why? Because what my body and spirit crave- liveliness, crowds, all things latin- were missing. Miramar is sleepy suburbia. And back in the year 2000, it was still developing. Superfuckinghorrible.
It was only until I started driving around, that I started going to school in Miami and got an internship and eventually a job there, that I was truly happy.
I love going to places like El Palacio de los jugos on 57th and Flagler. I like dancing with strangers (DJ included) at Tapas y Tintos, I love being surrounded by the endless accents, testing the variety of cuisines- from caribbean fares to argentinian bife and empanadas. I love having options and having them all at my fingertips!
And then, I found myself wanting to leave Miami. Why? Because I made the horrible mistake of thinking I was too big for the place. I had ambition, which others clearly didn’t. I didn’t want my life to follow the dreaded path of getting a job and marrying either a Belen boy (as sexy as they may be) or some guy with a fresh tape.
Surely I was never going to go back to Miami. Ever. Ew.
But, as life would have it, I now find myself yearning it more than ever- the sunlight, the traffic, the people…I miss getting into my car with no A/C and its loud/loudest radio volume setting and driving on the highway, getting on the overpasses of I-95 and seeing the ocean in the distance. Miami was my home. My heart was there. And yet, I lied to myself and convinced my brain that I had to leave.
Little did I know that leaving would make me hesitate at a very basic question:
Where am I from? Or, in other words WHO THE FUCK AM I?
Back in Miami, I had been saying “well, I’m Venezuelan but I’m from here”, which is totally acceptable because, hey! We are all immigrants!
Now I find myself in Paris, where people don’t really care to know. It felt weird to say “I’m from the States”, because even though I hold American citizenship since June of last year, something feels really odd in my stomach when I say it. The second answer I found myself giving was “Miami”, but I felt like Miami negated my childhood and all the things that still form part of my Venezuelan identity. Third try. “Venezuela”, I reply.
This answer has triggered the same reaction over and over again. A broad smile from men, and threatening looks from women (hooray!)
And yet, I have rebuked all things Venezuelan the past few years. I only have a few Venezuelan friends (and funny enough, they are from my same litter: pulled from the country right before adolescence), I didn’t particularly care for our food as I was more into getting my cuban coffee…I was not Venezuelan in the community’s eye. They refused me the way I refused them.
It actually took me forever to put into words what was going on in my head. I knew something was floating about in my brain but it was actually my former roommate (whom I know from Miami) who looked me dead in the eye and said: “You are dying to belong. You are dying to connect and you know this. Stop fighting it”.
I may have shed a tear or two.
He was right.
It took some slaps in the face in a foreign country to realize that all along I was suppressing a desire to still belong.
It was only during a time of an extremely complex political scenario that I went back to feeling patriotic (in a way). I went to protests to show my discontent with the powers that be, I tried to keep myself as informed as possible and tried to support a cause from overseas. And still I get called names, get called out on the fact that I no longer live there, I get scolded for “not knowing anything”. Sometimes it’s a big turn-off to want to be part of a society that will give me a slap in the wrist for trying to reintegrate myself.
But this is precisely why, despite all the bullshit I have had to put up with here, I do not regret coming to Paris: The ordeals I have lived here, the situations life has handed me while I am on my own here have changed me, for they have rattled my very core. I have had to rely solely on myself when my source for support checked out. I was forced to dig- really dig– inside and analyze who I really am and where I come from. It has pried my eyes open, broadened my scope of things. Shit, it has given my gray area a trillion nuances of the color!
I am a citizen of the world, who had the luck to be born in a beautiful country, with resilient people and utter shit leaders.
And that’s actually pretty cool!
(…except the shitty leader part, of course!)