I remember so many wonderful things about the place I was born. I would travel back to Venezuela with my mother—the entrepreneur who would go down to sell the latest fashions she bought in Miami or New York. My father worked for an airline in those years so, flying back and forth was a constant. We had moved to the United States when I was four years old.
My parents wanted opportunities for my siblings and I, and dad had a few job offers in England and the U.S. The family moved to Miami. My father was offered positions in California and Minneapolis. We didn’t come seeking refuge, my parents came for opportunity. In the first few months daddy worked in Silicon Valley, but mummy didn’t want to live in California, “too much boolaloo” to get back home, so they settled us in South Florida.
It was a year before the Civil Rights Act of ‘68 and we had racial troubles in our neighborhood from the moment we arrived. My mother had a hard time finding a school that would enroll me and this is where my memories of discrimination were born.
I come from a racially diverse family. Our roots are mainly African and East Indian. Some African Americans find it unbelievable that there are Black people in Venezuela and even pretty much all of Latin America. The fact is that enslaved Africans were brought to exploit Venezuela by a German finance family, the Welsers in 1528. The Weslers leased Venezuela as a promissory note on a loan they had given to King Charles V of Spain. African people have a long-documented history in Venezuela and it shows up in her people like me.
My earliest memory is our family’s house in Horizonte, with its indoor courtyard and high ceilings. I think this is the house I came home to as a newborn. It was called Quinta Debbie, probably for my sister. My father worked for the electric company and my mother had a hair salon nearby. I remember being part of a large family, my family—where I was the beloved baby girl, the youngest of my mother’s 12 children.
My parents were from Trinidad and Tobago, the twin-island nation just seven miles from Venezuela’s tropical shores. They both had come to work at the Shell Oil compound after World War II had ended. Both sides of the family had a long history of going back and forth, and both of my grandfathers were also Venezuelan. So now, I proudly claim Trini-Vene as part of my identity and I do so as a part of my personal and professional brand.
I remember that we had a beach house in Catya La Mar near Maiquetía Airport where my dad liked to go and watch the planes taking off. The worst thing I recall is the colossal earthquake that happened when we were all at a beach house. My mother broke her ankle because she came out last making certain that no children were left in the house and she fell into a crack on the steps outside the house. I watched her fall and the ground shaking beneath me was so scary.
There is this cable car – the Teleferico, a gondola lift that goes from one side of El Ávila mountain across the valley where Caracas sits, and takes you across to the mountaintop park and passengers can see spectacular views of Caracas and the ocean. It is the longest cable car ride on the planet. No news is reporting this side of Venezuela’s story though.
My memories are so vivid I can still see the brightly painted houses of the neighborhoods below. I remember going to my godfather’s house and rolling down a luscious green, grassy hill with a bunch of other kids, laughing the whole time. I remember eating arepas with carne mechada, drinking frescolitas and eating tomatoes everywhere we went to visit because all of Mummy’s friends knew tomatoes were my favorite.
My Madrina Luisa was an educator and a writer. She would have these great high-pitched conversations with my parents in endearing Spanish tinged with a distinct Trinidadian lilt.
My memories are impactful, and they inform my identity in the space I now occupy in the United States. They inform how I teach, how I produce the content I create weekly for my radio show and even what I chose to write about here. Venezuela is not a fantasy I’ve created in my mind, it’s where I was born, it’s a part of who I am. My childhood was sweet, precious and kind. Venezuela and its amazing people are an integral part of my identity and I am proud to be “from” Venezuela.
I think what is going on now in Venezuela is predictable and still telling in this age of bullying, revealing the efforts people are willing to go in the name of greed in search of plenty of oil and money to boot. We have never bombed another country, and there are no Venezuelan terrorists of any type. Yet Venezuela is on America’s terrorist watch list. This administration has crippling sanctions against Venezuela but no one in the country has anything to do with America feeling the way it does and imposing such debilitating sanctions. The U.S. has squeezed off money from the government needed to buy food, medicine and other basic goods and services in an effort to force out a government it doesn’t like.
We have heard that America will not tolerate a socialist country in its “backyard,” that the Bolivarian Revolution is antithetical to everything the U.S. is supposed to stand for. But the sanctions and other methods of punishment imposed against my country, a sovereign nation, has more to do with power and greed than any concern for the conditions my fellow Venezuelans are living under. The only people suffering are the Venezuelan common man. I read somewhere that since 2017, 40,000 humans have died since recent U.S. sanctions were placed on Venezuela. In the name of what did these people have to die?
Venezuela is a beautiful country with beautiful people. She has a new generation of people who were raised in the era of (Hugo) Chavez. A lot like the two-term presidency of Obama, Chavez gave marginalized people, Black people this sense of belonging and community they never had in the past. Chavez built homes for poor people, provided a free education and encouraged the creation of community gardens. The singular most empowering thing Chavez provided for poor Venezuelans was the deal with Cuba to exchange doctors for oil and the citizens, the people got to see a Cuban doctor and for many it was for the first time in their lives.
People who never received medical treatment got treated. People who did not have a roof over their head or an education, now do, and all of that happened during the Bolivarian Revolution. I saw on a news report, someone said Chavez gave a voice to the voiceless … that alone is progress because every human being deserves a chance.
I have many mixed feelings about this situation in Venezuela. One of my brothers, Ricardo Jason Machado-Luces was murdered in 2000, shot in the streets in front of a Plaza after selling the jewelry he made by hand. He was left to suffer and die in a very violent way. My brother was a Rastafarian and he was murdered solely because of his dreadlocks, his skin color and his lifestyle. Jason did not deserve to die the way he did and today 19 years later, I only know he is in a better place.
I say Venezuela is for Venezuelans and support a sovereign nation with an infrastructure that does not need any vultures to come in and take. But we cannot judge. We do not live there so we do not know the full extent of what’s going on. I just pray for God’s Grace, for the armor of God to guide in the transition in the Nation where I was born.
At the end of it all, I am proud to be MimiTVA: Mimi That Venezuelan African…
Mimi Machado-Luces is an Emmy award-winning producer, writer, and director. MimiTVA Media is a D.C.-area media consultancy and production firm, specializing in Bilingual-cross-cultural-digital, film, broadcast and radio content. Ms. Machado-Luces tells stories genuinely imbued with culture, engaging an overlooked audience with tremendous value. She is currently the host of a weekly radio show on Pacifica Radio’s WPFW in Washington, D.C.