My exotic and electrifying Venezuelan friend shared her knowledge with me about her homeland of Venezuela. This intelligent and dynamic businesswoman gave careful thought and reflection to her impressions of her homeland, then and now. I have always been fascinated with Venezuela from the first time I met her back in the 1980’s. When our family was vacationing in Aruba in 1981, we could see Venezuela in the distance only 14 miles away, approximately. I have been curious about this South American country since then.
How long did you live in Venezuela?
I lived there for 18 years and left to go to college in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
What trip itinerary would you recommend?
From Houston, you can take a direct flight in one of the major airlines, or take other airlines and go via Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica. From other cities one might be able to take a direct flight or make a stop in a hub city. But going to Venezuela right now is not one recommendation I would make. Venezuela is going through a terrible time politically, economically, and socially. The current government has made it its task to ruin my beautiful country. Unfortunately, Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries in the world right now where 25,000 people die of common crime and kidnappings every year for the last several years- a statistic that is alarming and disturbing.
Describe the terrain.
Even though I have lived away from Venezuela for the last 35 years, I still have much concern and love for my country of birth. Venezuela has some of the most beautiful natural resources you could find anywhere in the world. She has beaches to die for, with white sand and incredibly blue refreshing water from the Caribbean. Caracas, the main capital has the Avila Mountain, which is also called the lung of Caracas. It is a beautiful mountain that welcomes “Caraquenos” every morning with amazing views! Other mountains throughout the country are also incredibly gorgeous, some very sharp lines; others luscious. The Andes Mountain range is part of those mountains. You can go to the area where you can find snow! Venezuela has a desert, and has jungle- one of the most incredible earth formations in the world are found there, as well as the tallest water fall in the world called “Churumeru”, also called the Angel’s Fall. I choose to call it by its indigenous name instead.
What was it like growing up there?
I grew up during the 1970’s, which were great years in Venezuela. As a teenager I could go out with my friends everywhere without fear of being robbed or assaulted. Typically, we went out, to parties, or the dancing clubs and from there we would go to the “areperas”: where we would have an arepa as a late snack. At times we would go straight from there to the beach, which is about 45 minutes away. Of course, that was late at night and little traffic. It was a healthy, fun, safe time to be out!
When you go back, how do you feel? What are you proud about sharing with your son?
When I go back, I very much look forward to spending time with my family and seeing some of my good friends. I’m proud of how we feel family is so important, and how our some of our friends are forever. Resiliency is something we admire. Venezuelans have the best sense of humor and great resiliency, perhaps to a fault….we endure way too much in Venezuela now.
What museums do you recommend?
Back then, the Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural Sciences and the Museum of Contemporary Art which housed original Picassos and original artists. I assume they are still there, but I am not sure in what condition they are. As I mentioned, this government has destroyed so much of Venezuela. Thank God the people continue to move forward and do their best to survive in such chaos.
When you came to attend the University of Tulsa, what did you find here in Tulsa regarding the culture that stood out as different?
It was a completely new city, new culture, a new world for me. Three things made a great impact on me: The large number of churches, people walking barefoot in Tulsa! I grew up being told to put my shoes on all the time. And, last but not least, the racial discrimination here also stood out to me. Tulsa became my home for the next 33 years of my life. It was a city that welcomed me, and I will always be grateful for that. I made the greatest friends and had wonderful colleagues. My best friends live there, my son grew up there, I went to school for my bachelors and both masters degrees and worked in Tulsa for the last 20 years. I miss it and will always love my Tulsa.
Describe the perfect Venezuelan meal.
I love the fusion of food Venezuela has. Venezuelan, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian influences. …. European influence and some German food, too. Arepa is the typical dish that is made from cornmeal flour that looks like a round muffin but prettier and much more delicious. .You open it and put shredded beef, cheese, ham….everything you want in it. It is the “best breakfast in the world.”
Tell me about your background and identity.
I am Venezuelan and partly Spanish and German descent. In my family tree, I am a descendant of Simon Bolivar who liberated Latin America from Spain back in the 1800’s.
What Venezuelan customs did you incorporate in Tulsa while raising your son?
Eating at the table together was an important part of the culture. Taking care of each other, and celebrating holidays and important dates. Being bilingual has been an advantage, too. I raised my child to be bilingual and because of that he has career advantages, and languages come easily for him. He loves to be a world citizen, travel and enjoy the richness of different cultures.
Describe the vibe of the culture.
The vibe is alive! It’s vibrant and happy. We are in a depressed situation in Venezuela now but despite of that, we’re happy, content, and have a wit that is unique. People are resilient, resourceful….and have a sense of humor that allows us to have our own kind of fun. Dancing is a big deal—-Venezuelans are born dancing! We dance without music, in the car, everywhere!
How does your Venezuelan heritage enrich your life?
I have the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. I can be an insider or an outsider. It can enrich me to see, understand and accept people differently. I feel like I am a citizen of the world.