Luissana Cardenas was a television reporter in Venezuela before fleeing the political persecution of the media there. This is her open letter to her estranged country.
Note: Venezuela has been in a social, political and economic crisis for the last 18 years under the leftist movement established by Hugo Chávez Frias. From the beginning the government created a division of political parties into the “opposition” and the “chavismo.” After Hugo Chávez Frias died of cancer in 2013, his successor, Nicolas Maduro, came to power and continued Chávez’s oppressive policies, including trying to shut down the free media. As a result, the economy has deteriorated. Inflation in Venezuela is considered one of the highest in the world. The shortage of food and medicines has increased by 80 percent. Venezuelans go out into the streets to find food from the garbage to feed their families. More than 28 children die daily from malnutrition and other diseases. Social support for the government has ceased. Today, millions of Venezuelans are begging for change. In the last two years, protests around the country have been massive, with more than 5,000 registered incidents of dead, wounded, persecuted and imprisoned politicians. Venezuelans are calling for presidential elections this year; however, Nicolas Maduro said he will not give in to such a request because elections are scheduled for 2018, in which he said he will be victorious.
Divagando en el recuerdo de mi tierra amada; aquella que me vio crecer, hice un encuentro con la nostalgia. Nostalgia, que poco a poco se ha apoderado de mis dias haciendome sentir de cierto modo vacía. Dicen que el tiempo te enseña a vivir con ella y cuando menos lo esperas ... se desvanece. Pero ... a veces no depende de el tiempo. Cuando tu tierra te ha dado todo, cuando te ha enseñado a crecer, querido amigo me cuesta entender porque mi tierra ya no es lo que fue.
Vivo en la constante agonía de sentirme vacía porque no te he podido volver a ver. Por eso hoy...mi hermano venezolano, he decidido contarte mi historia.
Dear brother and sister,
Today I want to talk with you from the depths of my being. Today I want to tell you what may be silenced one day. My name is Luissana Cardenas. I was born and raised for 26 years of my life in the country of the cool people, opportunities and dreams – in my country, Venezuela. Growing up there, I never traveled abroad. There was no need. I didn’t even go all over Venezuela. But where I went made me a happy girl with a perfect childhood. My father, my mother, my older and younger brothers were the perfect match for a happy life. No matter where we went, no matter what we had, whenever we could be together, in our country, was fair enough.
There is no Christmas in the world like a Venezuelan Christmas. It is one of the most colorful in Latin America and the whole world. A Venezuelan Christmas starts on December 21 and ends on New Year’s night. It’s a whole month of celebrations and fireworks — a whole month where everyone is happy.
Education in Venezuela was demanding but accessible to all. Being a professional in Venezuela was not an option, it was a duty.
Eating three times per day was never a concern. The food … how I miss Venezuelan food — always authentic, fresh, varied and with an unforgettable flavor. If you ask for the recipe, I think there is no other word describing it better than “love.”
Love for what you do, love for your land, your people, your sunsets, your beaches, the taste of the arepa in the morning, the Venezuelan folklore, the llanera music, the beautiful people of my land. The love for that land that was once full of hope.
But Venezuela can’t live much longer with so much pain; it doesn’t want to cry anymore, it doesn’t want to miss anymore. My land just wants reconciliation.
Almost five years ago I decided to leave – to leave everything that made me who I am, to leave everything I knew – for an uncertain future.
It is not easy to say goodbye. It is not easy to stay either. It is not easy to be absent. It is not easy, neither in Venezuela nor abroad.
The absence is the sacrifice and the distance is the challenge. It’s a challenge that millions of Venezuelans have conquered by leaving their country. Although saying goodbye seems simple, it contains many emotions.
Living away from your family is the big challenge when you leave your country. But dear brother and sister, let me tell you something: it is not the most difficult. Starting over puts you on a never-ending roller coaster of emotions.
Although many Venezuelans think that you actually live better outside Venezuela, let me tell you that it’s not necessarily true.
It’s not a coward who decides to leave, neither is the one who stays. Every one of us as Venezuelans are responsible for our own decisions no matter how misunderstood we are. There is no wrong or right decision. So don’t judge me for leaving my country.
Do you remember when we were “the country with the opportunities”? Where everybody was free to think and do whatever we wanted? What happened with that?
We have forgotten those principles. We are all agreeing that what Venezuela is going through is not necessarily our fault. But, brother and sister, if we want our world changed we have to start with us. Where are our helping hands, our words of encouragement, our compassion, our mutual respect and understanding?
We have to begin to understand ourselves as Venezuelans, to understand that every situation and life is different. If your friend or your neighbor does not like or think the same as you, it does not mean that he is wrong. It just means that he thinks differently. Thinking differently is not bad, my people. We must learn to respect ourselves.
Five years ago, I decided to leave with only a suitcase loaded with dreams, illusions and hopes. I decided to move to Dallas, Texas to complete my journalism studies because I had a dream to return to Venezuela, to continue to spread the word of what is going on there.
My first year away was very tough and depression was my constant companion. I needed the noise of the cars, the subway, the press conferences, the protests, the sound of the ice cream car around my neighborhood, the weather and every other single detail, even the worst. How absurd to miss those kind of things, right? The truth is that it was like waking from a dream that I never lived. So I decided to return to Venezuela. But returning was worse. Venezuela, that beautiful land that I missed every day, was gone. It was just the shadow of what I left just eight months before.
Still, I dedicated myself to reach out to every Venezuelan, to give them a voice to be heard. I walked the streets of our country with a microphone and a camera, without a bulletproof vest. I refused to take sides, but always wanted to be in the middle. I was with Venezuela, not with Chávez or the opposition. I dreamed of a country with no divisions, just Venezuelan people.
I suffered insults, robbery and attacks as a journalist and as a Venezuelan. My father and brother were kidnapped and friends died, almost all my friends had to leave. I did not want to leave. I wanted to stay and fight. But the chance to get away, though risky, came to me.
So I came here to Texas, always to prepare to return. It has not been easy at all. There have been physical and emotional pains, fears, rages and impotence. How many times I wanted to give up. How many times I have eaten once per day. How many times I ran out of money. How many times I have cried. How many times I have wondered what I’m doing here. But I came from the land of the Liberator of America – in my blood there is a fighting spirit which will not let me give up despite how much I want it. But believe me, my friend, believing is easier than doing.
Starting again is very scary. Learning a new language, a new culture, eating different, smelling different. Everything is different. But it is neither better nor worse than where I came from. It’s just different.
I was always happy in Venezuela. Living away from there does not make me less Venezuelan. It does not make me any less a part of you. I love my country and will never stop. But I want to tell you, brother and sister, that although I’m here I can’t stop loving you.
Do not judge me; do not point me out as a coward, as not a real Venezuelan. The Venezuelan people that I remember are not like that, and I don’t want to change my feelings about you. You can take me out of my country, but Venezuela never went out of me.
Sometimes I want to wake up and go back to that happy childhood in my land of opportunities. Then I realize that that land is gone, vanished in the wind of politics and civil war. Today we have forgotten that country that no longer exists. Venezuela will not be the same as before, but it can and will still be different than what it is today.
Brother and sister, our country is going to change – I do not question it. Believe me that change will not come only from a change in government, but it will come from us.
If I could be there with you, believe me, I would. But each one of us has a role in this story that we must follow. I am absent but still present, hurting yet hoping like you. I will always be one of you. A Venezuelan.