El Pueblo Unido: The Venezuelan Crisis

Photo by Blas Santander.

On May 7th, Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, expressed to the public that her husband was alive and well, after being unable to visit him in military prison for over a month.

Lopez, isolated in jail and rumored to be in poor health, was informed by his wife about widespread anti-government demonstrations occurring in the country and urged for the continuation of the protests.

In 2014, Lopez was imprisoned after calling for civic action that would displace President Nicolas Maduro, who many believe has ruled Venezuela through oppressive tactics and an authoritarian rule similar to that of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Today, thousands of Venezuelan protesters continue to express discontent with Maduro’s administration through silent marches, rallies for women and other forms of activism.

People of diverse backgrounds have taken to the streets to prolong the series of protests that began three years ago, initially triggered by harsh police response to student protests following an attempted rape on a university campus.

Primarily, Venezuelans are protesting the national government’s incompetence in responding to the deterioration of the country’s economy and its subsequent effect on the population.

While Venezuela has suffered through a recession and extreme inflation, its people have been forced to experience the shortages of basic products, like food and medicine. The National Survey of Living Condition even found that in 2016, about 74% of the Venezuelan population lost more than 18 pounds, likely due to lack of food and extreme hunger conditions.

The country’s most recent demonstrations are a response to a decision by the Supreme Court to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its power, which would concentrate greater power in the Court and thus government loyalists working under Maduro.

Like with demonstrations in the past, recent protests have been met with violent retaliation from police units. The New York Times reports that throughout this year’s demonstrations, about 38 people have died at the hands of government defense forces.

While dozens of individuals have already been killed this year as a result of exacerbated conflict between Maduro’s administration and opposition forces, many predict that the Venezuelan crisis will continue to worsen without real electoral change and new leadership.

Through a worsening crisis, the continued drive of both activists and civilians that are committed to displace Maduro is the unfaltering force that may soon bring about the downfall of authoritarianism in Venezuela.

Indeed, as Lopez has voiced, “El pueblo no se cansa, la dictadura si.”

United opposition to the Venezuelan government may be the only promising means of establishing a government that truly serves the interests and wellbeing of all Venezuelans.

QUETZALCOATL: Aztlan Profundo and Our Spiritual Connection To Abya Yala (XINACHTLI SERIES)

The Mother Earth runs deep through your soul.

Aztlán Underground, “Lost Souls” (1995)

In our Indigenous understanding of belonging, and our attempt to build our Xican@/x Nation, Aztlan—which we understand as the united states’ southwest—is a symbol for our deep spiritual ties on Abya Yala, Cemanahuac, or Turtle Island—we are connected here and to the people.

As Gente de Maíz, we emerged here on the lands which have been washed over by the great veil of the western world, of domination. They—the settler, the colonizer—would have us believe that our people, who continue to persevere with ancestral resiliency under their oppressive frameworks, are not Natives to these lands. Being displaced from our homelands after conquest, colonialism, and neoliberalism, now in the united states, Aztlan tells us different: we do have a connection to these lands.

The settler in power would have us believe we are “mestizo”; that, because of “mestizaje,” we are no longer Indigenous; this is our demise and subjection to destructive colonial thinking and structures.

Con fuerza, I actively work towards dismantling this problematic notion, which seeks to suppress and repress the very roots to these lands which our ancestors traversed: that, because of de-Indigenization, we have no claim to what our ancestors have struggled to survive and pass on. We have a right to reclaim our Indigeneity.

Our history in this hemisphere is foundational in positioning the narratives of Native People in regards to invasive settlers: we come to center an Indigenous perspective and experience of knowing, being, and acting—of their stories, songs, and ceremonies. We must address how we came to be and how power has worked through nation-states on this continent.

When we speak of what settler colonization has done to this hemisphere—destroying land, water, air, people and our body, mind, and spirit —we begin to recognize the damage brought by european settlers, which continues today. The glorification of globalization, of hyper-capitalism, of neoliberalism, and of the hegemony of the western world on these lands is to legitimize the values of imperialism and erasure of Indigenous people.

Our current and contemporary society has been structured by racializations based on whiteness and white supremacy: colorism becomes the rule in the United States—all Communities of Color are subject to racism and discrimination based by the intersectionalities of identity, i.e. documentation, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and so on.

These systems of hegemony have allowed our own people—Gente de Maíz—to be relegated to the margins of society and to be told that these are not our lands: they say we are not Indigenous. The processes of dominance shape the narrative to fit their existence, their power, and their investment to be white.

 

As I come toward my spiritual awakening,

I seek to understand the Four Directions,

The sacred Nahui Ollin.

I open my mind to Ometeotl:

The representation of dualities on Mother Earth,

Of the sacred cosmos,

The creating energies of the Universe.

I learn to pray to Tonantzin,

To dig my hands under the Red soil

And cultivate these lands with Maíz

In preparation of another seven generations.

Centeotzintli: the history of our people

Told in stories that we were created

7,000 years ago.

This is our story:

Non kuahuitl centli in tlalnepantla.

When I open my spirit to Aztlan,

In ixtli, in yollotl,

With all my relations,

I find my roots from a rootless existence.

In Lak’ech becomes my connection to all my

Gente de Maíz,

Grounding my lost soul to these lands of Abya Yala.

So I continue to grow

Under the guidance of

Tezcatlipoca,

Quetzalcoatl,

Huitzilopochtli,

Xipe Totec;

Lead by the direction of Panche Be,

I seek the truth in my roots.

As a Xicano it is my responsibility

To uncover for my familia

De la Raza,

Aztlan profundo.

It is that deep

Memory

Searching for reconnection.

As we all come to this

Conocimiento

Of our lives,

We will one day chant with our cuicatl:

Xicana Tiahui!

 

To reclaim Aztlan is to recognize a unity for our people, which extends to la Raza diaspora under the illegitimate border of the nation-state of the United States. This also means our connection to the Indigenous struggle here in the U.S., thus bridging our struggles of all Indigenous Nations of this hemisphere.

The realization that these struggles are our duty to act upon and speak out on is needed in our collective movement toward liberation. As de-Indigenized people, we have also been met with oppositions which situate our existence as nothing more than what nation-state powers have given us: a nationality based and established by colonial powers.

Our Xican@/x people who recognize their positionality and take action to establish themselves on these lands already understand themselves as Indigenous. To reclaim Aztlan and connect again to la tierra de nuestros antepasados is a grounding of Indigeneity.

Thus we must start to conceptualize our Xican@/x Nation, not based on normative configurations of what some have defined as essentialist and associated with the nation-states of México or the United States, but one which acknowledges pan-Indigeneity across this hemisphere.

This is the work I propose by articulating what Aztlan profundo means in our collective memory and present lives, which will identify our spiritual roots to Abya Yala.

The time to understand and discuss our sovereignty as a people must come soon. To align to nation-state identities, thus providing colonialism the energy to sustain itself, we continue to be left with colonial institutional powers defining who we are. Working toward reforming colonial legacies, i.e. believing these structures of oppression can be mended, is a struggle which has persisted for too long. Our cultural and political destinies are subsumed by these types of movements, and the liberation of our people is out of the scope in reformist politics.

(Re)Indigenizing our communities, to educate our Raza on the potential for community-building as a Xican@/x people, allows us to begin this process of creating and determining what Aztlan means to us.

Our familias possess a knowledge that is able to culminate into something beautiful. Our spiritual connection to Abya Yala gives us the hope we need. Our Nation building, not to be confused as representing a nation-state, but our Indigenous Nation, will consist of a heterogenous Raza who embrace themselves as Xican@/x.

What we focus here are the teachings of Quetzalcoatl. We must dig in our memory and identity in which we share, one which we can reflect and define with purpose and meaning: this is one I embrace with [email protected]/x.

It is our responsibility as a conscious and learning people to orient ourselves toward a spiritual awakening rooted in these lands, and to begin those processes of decolonization.

Understanding Aztlan profundo, we start here to set our eyes on our Indigeneity, our history, and our conocimiento.

Tlazocamati.
Author’s note: I have lower-cased certain words, such as proper nouns, as a political acknowledgement of power in language. This is evident in my choosing to lower-case words such as “european” and “united states” for their historical and contemporary oppressive structures and actions. I have chosen to capitalize instead words which have been relegated to not being propers, such as “Native,” “Indigenous,” and “Raza.” This was to recognize , again, the power of language by reversing what was superior and inferior, disrupting those dynamics in the way we write words. I also italicized specific words to highlight their significance and to stress their importance.

The Ladder of Hope Through the Eyes of an Immigrant

It’s easy to vocalize our artistic ideas but it’s even harder to make these ideas become a reality, no matter how large-scale they may be. Therefore, I crave to hear those stories of struggle, like that of Crescendo screenwriter/director Alonso Alvarez-Barreda-in which one is not driven by success or appearances but rather their own will to inspire others.

One might say that the American Dream is dead, but I’d like to believe that whether you are an immigrant or a struggling artist, life hands us opportunities to rise above. We are handed gifts and talents that people are waiting to witness and if by grace they do, our messages should be used in a way that ignites our fellow brothers and sisters in solidarity.

Thus, Alvarez-Barreda extends to us an invitation to cruise with him on his imaginative journey full of emotional highs and lows, realistic characters, and inspiring stories of hope that leave us pondering at the film’s close.

We are led into a world of cinematographic perspective that many directors don’t typically experiment with and we can’t help but feel that the characters were more than mere actors fulfilling their role.

Alvarez-Barreda’s characters come alive because his stories encapsulate the human experience and every feeling of sadness, joy, and pain that we have ever felt in our lifetime. Rather than leave us to dwell in the emotional turmoil that each character comes to face in his films, we realize that with every pain comes beauty, growth, and wisdom.

When looking at his work and the projects he has created one tends to overlook the taxing process required in writing and directing.

Alvarez-Barreda, as well as countless others, were not handed the opportunities on a silver platter, nor did they idly wait for the opportunities to arise. They were forced to create a new path for themselves, however scary it might have been.

Therefore, rather than take two film school rejections as an answer, Alvarez-Barreda decided to leave his hometown of Tampico, Mexico for Los Angeles, California. It was here where he would shadow his long-term mentor, Alejandro Monteverde, who later inspired various short films and projects.

Alvarez-Barreda recounts his experience and life’s unexpected pathway.

“I did try to pursue a film career in Mexico. I applied to two film schools at the time and I got rejected…I wasn’t accepted, I didn’t pass the test. It was clear to me that I had to do something. I had to try elsewhere. And life and circumstances led me to meet somebody who became my mentor and gave me the opportunity to come to the United States. After a film I did that was successful in the film festivals the opportunity arose to come to the United States which was [still] a dream of mine,” he said.

His dream of pursuing film in the United States eventually flourished into several years of dedication, persistence, and faith. For how can one pursue “passion projects” without practicing these very core qualities? One’s ideas would fall short, which is what makes a storyteller such as Alvarez-Barreda so inspiring. He actively took risks and with perpetual reminders that he had bills to pay and projects to pursue, he was put to the test and forced to survive.

“When I first got here I was basically living on people’s couches for a couple years, taking little jobs here and there. I came here with a tourist visa originally so I couldn’t apply for regular jobs…that was hard. I had to most of the time find investors from Mexico who were willing to support me or fund me for X amount of time…committing to them and turning in scripts for my projects that they were supporting so that was kind of like the key that helped me survive otherwise I don’t know what I would have done,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

As an immigrant, the constant flow of emotions that surround one become difficult to combat. What if your bills aren’t paid on time? What is happening at work and how long will I have my job for? What if they deport me? How much longer will I be able to work in California? And most importantly, who will catch me if I fall?

Everything can crumble in a matter of minutes, yet what still looms in the back of one’s mind is “I must continue on with my passion.”

While it may seem to one that is losing hope that their career might not follow in the direction that they wanted, Alvarez-Barreda remembers to tell himself that more than ever today minorities have access to opportunities in the field.

They are given opportunities to shine a light on their non-white perspective and experiences and for that now is a “great time to be Mexican.” It’s a time to use diversity to our advantage because “the industry is receiving a lot of heat for always hiring white Americans,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

With the rise of Mexican filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, and with the ever more diversifying film industry, the American audience is ready for diversity in the theater and we are ready to experience stories told from the eyes of those from another part of the world.

As Alvarez-Barreda reinforces, our backgrounds and experiences are essential in shaping our individual mindsets.

“Being Mexican/Latino is my essence, it’s who I am. I feel like one, my experiences growing up and coming from a different country are perceived by a different brain-a different mentality, a different lens if you will. So that obviously gives you a different voice, something that’s new, a different perspective on the way you tell your stories. That’s always great because I have a different pool of ideas and emotions to tap into,” he says.

His intuitiveness allows him to understand human struggles and how they affect others like himself. It is these themes that he wishes to portray in his films.

Rather than fill our minds with negativity, it is essential that instead we expose ourselves to the messages of positivity and uplifting scenarios that encourage us to thrive in a world that is not always on our side.

We are an impactful and astonishing species and it’s that very idea that Alvarez-Barreda strives to lace through his films.

“[My] messages are useful. I like to tell stories that help people relate to one another, to be more human. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no tragedy or drama, life is exactly that, but it’s how you react to that. It’s how you choose to move forward. So a lot of the stuff I write is the harshness of life and difficult situations. I write characters that somehow find a way out of it through hope and perseverance and believing that there is goodness in people…that everything with worth in this life requires sacrifice,” says Alvarez Barreda.

For this reason, healthy messages are evermore necessary in a society where negativity and aggression often overpower. It’s a matter of what messages we invest our energy into and how we truly reflect on what those messages mean to us all.

Universal messages are more often than not the most personal messages and for that Alvarez-Barreda’s films are highly relatable and emotionally driven.

By communicating with the audience through his films he assures us that although taxing at times, our life circumstances are not always permanent. “It’s okay to go through things in life” he says. “But you have the opportunity to change the outcome of your life…the human spirit is probably the most amazing thing in the world…it is unbreakable. [My] stories celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

Alvarez-Barreda, despite viewing the world through a lens marked by struggle, maintains his resilience. As an artist, I find this both hopeful and comforting.

With our artistic mediums, regardless of how idealistic they may sound, we will continue to push forward with our passions because it is our messages that reach the hearts of others.

Forget the acclaim, the fortune, and the recognition because, as Alvarez-Barreda says, “what we define as an accomplishment is a rather loose concept.”

“How do you measure an accomplishment?” he asks. “Is it the one that you get told that people like the most? Or is it the one that has more technical quality? Film is a statement…we make films to share with somebody, to share with an audience. Through true story telling we can find commonalities and realize again that we are humans…that we are powerful, and that we have the chance to change our lives.”

Nuestro Éxito

“Mi hija Libni,” my tía says before she pauses to measure the significance of what she is about to say next. As tears well in the pools of her eyes, she finishes her thought in an amazed quiver, “es una graduada de Maestría.”

Friday, May 5th was a monumental day for my family. My cousin, Libni Banya Cortez, 25, graduated with a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Vanguard University, making her the first in our family to achieve this level of education.

The last few Sundays leading up to this milestone, my abuelita, tías, and mamá spent hours in conversation, deciding how we were going to celebrate such an event (by the way, they decided on tacos, aguas frescas, pastel, and naturally, a piñata).

Libni—aided by my sister and I via iMessage—went on a hunt for the dress she would forever remember as her graduation dress and, perhaps more importantly, for the perfect pair of heels in which she would walk across that long-awaited stage.

Geovanna Medel, Libni Cortez, and Rachel Medel posing with flowers for an affectionate sisters/cousin picture. Photo by: Manuel Cortez

My mamá purchased round-trip airplane tickets to fly my sister in from UC Davis and phoned me numerous times to ask what day and time I would return home and if I had bought a new dress yet.

I felt the extent of their celebratory preparations—and what it meant to all of them to be making such preparations—from UCLA, where I am roughly fifty miles away from Libni and my family.

However, years before the rest of us could negotiate on food and company and outfits and songs, there was a more imperative decision that had to be made and preparatory measures that had to be taken: Libni had to decide she was going to enroll in and complete graduate school. That decision alone took three years to realize.

As a first-generation Mexican-American aspiring to earn her Master’s degree, Libni pursued a diploma only six percent of Mexican-Americans in the United States are successful in obtaining.

When asked about the challenges of graduate school, Libni answers that her university and field of study are both predominantly Anglo, which was in itself a navigational complication. In spite of this, she adds, her greatest difficulty was actually getting to graduate school.

She elaborates, saying, “I did not have people to turn to when I had questions about the application program because no one I knew had done it before. I had to do most of the research myself so I waited one and a half years to apply to graduate school.”

Despite all the obstacles that preceded and followed her admission into Vanguard University, Libni’s personal and academic resilience reaped a newfound source of pride in our family.

Libni’s mamá, Rosalba Cervantes, is exceptionally proud of her only daughter. When asked what it means to her to witness Libni receive her graduate degree, my tía answers, “Ni podría verbalizar el significado tan profundo.” Still, she attempts. “Significa la redención de mis sueños truncados en México. Crucé la frontera cuando tenía veintiún años. Me trajeron mis hijos que aún no tenía pero que yo quería que tuvieran un futuro mejor que yo. Esto es el éxito de una madre que no tuvo la oportunidad en su país.”

Her mother’s lack of opportunity in her home country and sacrifice as an immigrant were present in Libni’s gratitudinal reflection on her own accomplishment. When asked what it means to her to obtain this degree, she says, “It is very emotional. When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me of opportunities she did not have so this degree is dedicated to her.”

My tía does not have a Master’s degree to dedicate to Libni but she does have her truth to offer: “Me gustaría decirle algo a Banya. Hija, eres mi orgullo. Tú eres mi éxito. Me representas a mí y a mi familia y todo lo que no pudimos hacer. Yo siempre he querido que seas mejor que yo y ya lo has logrado. Me alegra saber que tu calidad de vida será mejor que la mía. Eres mi éxito, mi único éxito.”

In our lifetimes, we will experience moments that will forever change the narrative of the generations to follow.

In one of their own moments, our mamás crossed the border through the desert together. As I witness my cousin cross that stage toward her Master’s hood and diploma, in light blue heels and a unique cap that reads “Sanar y Amar,” I realize Libni is living a moment of her own.

I imagine the borders—I mean barriers—she is shattering. They are called limitations, ignorance, mental illness, statistics, and stigmas. She is a brown revolution and I fathom this is what promise looks like.

Libni Cortez holding flowers and smiling for a post-Master’s degree picture in her cap, gown, and hood. Photo by: Rachel Medel

As I watch my family gather around tables full of tacos and rizas, I realize this is the first of infinite graduate celebrations I will get to attend for my own flesh and blood. These celebrations will continue long after we are gone because Libni has paved a way for our family where there was not one before.

Libni, thank you for sharing your éxito with us. Our narratives are forever changed because of it. Wherever you may take this degree, I know it will be blessed for this is your calling and you have prepared well for it. Felicidades, prima.

Note from Libni: I would like to tell other students of color something I wish I carried going into graduate school. Do not feel insecure about the way you look or speak. We are often put down for our cultures so we grow a sense of shame in our skin, accents, and the communities we come from. Know that we can do things just as well as others, if not better, even with less opportunities and resources because we know both worlds. I am proud to be Mexican and speak Spanish; I can reach twice the amount of people because of it. I want everyone to be empowered because confidence in yourself can open doors for you and take you places you cannot imagine.

Xicanx Studies as Healing and Resistance

Author Saphirre Long. Photo by Joel Calixto.

A rush of emotions swept over me as I sat in my Mexican-Americans in Schools class. Empowerment, anger, gratitude, and frustration fluctuated within me like I never felt before.

My professor was discussing the contemporary circumstances of Xicanx/Latinx students in public education, and it struck me that it was the first time I was hearing a lecture related to my personal experiences, as well as my identity, the part of my identity that has been suppressed.

Ironically, we have been taught to believe that school is where we receive an education, and that obtaining knowledge and learning occurs in the classroom. However, my exposure to Xicanx Studies during my first year at UCLA has been the opposite.

I have begun the process of unlearning all that I have been taught in an academic setting, and I have come to realize that the American education system is not about education at all, but the miseducation of many Xicanx/Latinx students.

Although I cannot speak for all students who have been a part of Xicanx Studies classrooms, it has become more evident that other Xicanx/Latinx students have a similar experience to my own. Prior to being at UCLA, I was not exposed to Xicanx Studies. With the ability to critically reflect on this now, I understand that this was no accident. I feel excitement and empowerment in being able to dedicate my studies to deconstructing and raising critical consciousness. However, it does not erase the trauma and injustice I have faced, and to an extent have internalized in my education.

It has never been as emotional as it is now to sit in a classroom, because for starters, I am barely learning about events in Xicanx/Latinx history that I had the right to know about years ago. Secondly, learning to use my voice is a challenge when our community has been intentionally silenced, especially in the classroom. On the other hand, acknowledging my emotions and experiences is crucial in my healing process, and to become empowered in an institution that was not built for me.

The introduction I have had in Xicanx Studies has transformed my life in only a few months, and it is one of the most important spaces I will ever be a part of. I could have never imagined that I would have the opportunity to critically analyze or reflect on my personal experiences, and to do so with other Xicanx/Latinx students as a community is liberating. While our community faces systemic barriers and oppression outside of these classrooms, continuing to pursue Xicanx Studies in higher education in itself is an act of resistance.

For my own personal journey, Xicanx Studies is my resistance against hegemonic ideologies of a career or degree that society tells me to pursue in order to be “successful.”

My perception of fulfillment is being able to transform my own narrative of injustice into purpose, in hopes that it can relate to others, and to assist in the spark I wish I would have had sooner.

Xicanx Studies has taught me that for as long as I am disconnected with my history, that I will also be disconnected with myself. Although the process of unlearning and transforming my miseducation is personally challenging, the beauty in the revolution of consciousness overpowers all.

This course of digging deep within myself, to discover what has been buried by colonization and capitalism will be a lifelong progression. My resistance and healing has begun in Xicanx Studies, and I realize now that it is much bigger than myself, but healing and resistance is also for my family and my community.

To embrace my identity and narrative from the Xicanx Studies space is also the cultivation of a sacred seed from the roots that is my lineage.