I had the privilege recently to be in the company of a number of people from several Latin American countries, and was unable to help noticing that whenever the name of Hugo Chavez is pronounced, lips smile and eyes light up. With hope.

In Venezuela, Chavez has fed and continues to feed the hungry, treat the sick, house the homeless, educate the illiterate, and affirm not only his own humanity, but that of millions who have been told for literally centuries that they are not human.

But his influence extends far beyond Venezuela. Those people with hopeful smiles come from Mexico, from El Salvador, from Honduras, from Guatemala, from Peru, Bolivia, Republica Dominicana, I lost count.

“If the people of Venezuela can do it….,” they nod to each other, there is no need to finish the sentence.

These are people who are quite familiar with being told they are not human. Five hundred years worth of familiar, and belying the popularity of skin whiteners and giving babies names like “Alanis” and “Jason,” there is a much deeper sense of identity that even half a millennium of “mixing,” both consensual and non, has not been able to vanquish.

“Indios,” laughed a fifty-ish man from Michoacan, when asked by an earnest youth from Yemen whether his people preferred being called Hispanics or Latinos.

“We’re Indios. And you’re a frum-frum-fruk,” the man went on, explaining the affectionate umbrella term applied to people who are neither black nor white nor indigenous people of the Americas.

“Yeah, you better learn Spanish so El Tio Sam don’t catch you,” “La migra is after the frum-frum-fruk,” “Get you some boots like these,” “Tortillas – never leave home without one,” the other young men tease him. For them, America’s war on terra is just another chapter in a never-ending Road Runner cartoon, albeit a deadly one. There are few, if any here without loved ones who have lost their lives one way or another to Tio Sam’s brutality, but five centuries is not a long time in their history, and having recently become the largest, and fastest growing minority in that part of their continent occupied by Tio Sam, their laughter rings with as much confidence as defensiveness.

Some of those present are clearly Chicanos, people whose indigenous genes are so mixed that I see a few wavy heads, green eyes. Forrest Gump’s Law of Chocolates applies to genetics, too, though the dominance of chromosones native to the American continent is evident. The curls are dark, the green eyes sit above proud high caramel cheekbones, and their native identity and pride is just as strong as that of the diminutive group from a remote region in Guatemala that has managed to avoid European sperm for the whole 500 years. They tease the Chicanos, calling them blonds, hug them, tell them not to worry, they are blond Indians. Even if their blood is not pure. Here. you have eaten nothing. I made these tortillas myself. By hand. I ground the maiz the old-fashioned way. Those from the store taste like dust. Only blonds like them.

Nobody knows, or dares ask, how old this woman is. Pat pat, slap slap, poof! Another basket of tortillas. Eat. Long white braids to her waist swing with her. Back to the comal. Pat pat.
“Chavez,” she smiles. “He makes sure everybody in Venezuela gets tortillas.”

“Let me tell you how the ricos of Venezuela are,” a Chicana with skin the color of almonds, eyes and hair blacker than ink tells of teaching an English class in a US city. “They come to my class, they look around, they look at me.” Then they ask, “What time are the classes for people like us?”

“I tell her, there is another class in the evening. Is there a different teacher, they want to know, a teacher for people like us? No, senora, I answer her. I am the same Indian in the evening as I am in the morning. All the classes are for everyone.”

“Another time, a group of them came and told me to send the class home, so they could use the computers. This is how the opposition people think. I laughed in their faces and gave them the address of the Best Buy.”

“It is a small breeze now,” says a serious young man in a Chavez t-shirt. “But it is a breeze that we feel, and it will get stronger and stronger. It will blow democracy over the water to Central America.” His companion, dressed in full cowboy regalia, including boots and pearl-studded shirt, slaps him on the back.

“Quizas hasta Tejas,” he says.

(originally on my blog, but I since people are posting about South America, I thought I would put it here too. 🙂 )

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