Protests Painful and Personal for Venezuelans in Miami

ANGELA DELGADO/THE REPORTER
ANGELA DELGADO/THE REPORTER

For Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus student Diego Almaral, watching Venezuelan protesters being shot at and beaten in the streets of his country Is painful and personal. Like many Venezuelans abroad, he is trying to raise awareness about the situation.

“Even though I am far from my homeland, I will continue to fight for the good of my people,” Almaral said.

The Venezuelan protests sprang from dissatisfaction with living standards, a hobbled economy and high crime, as well as from the frustration of government opponents who felt shut out of the political system, The New York Times reported. President Nicolás Maduro dismissed the protesters as coup-plotters and fascists.

Almaral hopes to raise awareness of the violence there by leading the newly formed Venezuelan Student Association at Wolfson Campus. It is a chapter of the Venezuelan Student Alliance at Florida International University. The Wolfson Campus currently hosts 166 Venezuelan students as international students, according to the Office of International Students.

The new club will host its first event, a lecture and student discussion entitled “S.O.S. Venezuela: a country in crisis,” on March 27 in Room 3208-09 from 5:40 p.m.– 7 p.m.

Venezuelan students at multiple MDC campuses have been touched by the turmoil in the country and are expressing their dissatisfaction. Many are showing their concern for their country by wearing T-shirts with messages in solidarity with the protesters, sporting Venezuelan flag pendants, painting S.O.S. Venezuela on their cars and attending rallies in Miami.

Voicing their support for the protesters and raising awareness about  the government brutality is just about all Venezuelans here can do. The Venezuelan government closed their consulate here two years ago in a diplomatic dispute leaving the estimated 300,000 Venezuelans here without consular services and protesters without a direct focus.

On a recent balmy night in downtown Miami, more than a hundred people wearing white as well as the red, blue and yellow colors of the Venezuelan flag crowded around a statue of the 19th century Latin American independence leader Simón Bolívar for an S.O.S. Venezuela rally.

The statue was a significant reminder of Bolivar’s key role in freeing Venezuela and other surrounding countries from oppressive Spanish colonial rule.

“If in Venezuela, they march 365 days of the year, we too have stand up for them,” Andrea Martini told the crowd in Spanish through a megaphone, her voice full of ardor.

This candlelight vigil began at 8 p.m. and included singing the Venezuelan national anthem and commemorating fallen student protesters.

S.O.S. Venezuela en Miami, a Miami-based activist group working for human rights in Venezuela facilitated the largest demonstration of anti-government sentiment on February 22 at J.C. Bermudez Park in Doral, attended by thousands. The Bayfront Park demonstration marked one month since the February 12 anti-government protests in Venezuela garnered global attention when three protesters were killed.

Doral is known for its high concentration of Venezuelans and MDC’s West Campus has a large Venezuelan population.

”Some of these students held a small rally at the campus that showed their solidarity,” said Ana DeMahy, Director of Administrative and Student Services at the West Campus.

Zacharias Cohen, a Venezuelan student at Wolfson Campus, is disturbed that the Venezuelan army has been using tear gas and rubber bullets against their own people. He notes the irony, that the force has “guardia del pueblo” (guardian of the people) inscribed on the back of their uniforms.

Cohen said life in his oil rich country is unstable and chaotic with mobs of customers invading supermarkets once their stock comes in. The availability of basic goods like sugar, butter, milk and flour (used to make arepas, a Venezuelan staple) are limited, with supermarkets placing signs such as “1 kilogram of powdered milk” per person.

“It makes no sense,” says Cohen, who returned to Venezuela at the age of 16 to finish high school but later returned to the U.S. to finish college. “Why would you want to limit your population?”

Cohen’s own friends are victims of the increased crime. He describes Venezuela’s recent history as a bubble that was waiting to burst.

“For 15 years, the same government has been in power,” Cohen said, adding that the current violence and anti-government demonstrations were bound to happen. “Basically, it’s just  chaos.”

Small Favors (George Saunder’s “Sea Oak”)

George Saunder’s “Sea Oak” is a horrifically saunders001satiric perspective on some of the idiosyncrasies of human beings. The comments, circumstances and dialog that occur in the narrator’s mind, in his conversations with others and in his dealings with the difficult world he lives in, feel unrelentingly despondent, a characteristic that’s accentuated by the dark comedic quality that these phenomena exploit.

The very title of the story reveals a human self-defense mechanism: that of wanting to pass something off as something it’s not. “Sea Oak” is the name of the living complex that the narrator, his sister, cousin and their children live at. The name of the place supposes an ethereal living arrangement that’s nothing like the reality of “an ad hoc crackhouse in the laundry room” and “brass knuckles in the kiddie pool.”

The mechanism is pervasive throughout the story. Min and Jade entertain themselves with macabre television shows that are passed off as entertainment, such as How My Child Died Violently and The Worst That Could Happen. When the paramedics arrive to diagnose Bernie’s condition following the shooting, the entire episode is matter-of-factly summarized in a bunch of papers that need signing. When the narrator and his relatives go to Lobton’s Funeral Parlor, Lobton tries to sell them a cardboard box coffin as a “Sierra Sunset” fiberboard, as if ignoring the “writing about Folding Tab A into Slot B” that’s on the box. Lobton’s own parlor is just “a regular house on a regular street,” even though it services relatives deeply and momentously moved by another’s death. When Father Brian calls the narrator about Bernie’s grave having been defaced, the narrator is supposedly restless but he tells the Father that he’s sitting down. Following Bernie’s death, the narrator is expected to carry on like usual at his job, as per Mr. Frendt’s harsh commands, for something even as momentous as the death of a relative finds no room to breathe in the results-oriented nature of the narrator’s workplace. The sorority girls at the restaurant sing “intelligent nasty” songs that are euphemized expressions of their sexual desires, built to fit their identity as righteous sisterhood members. Finally, when Father Brian speaks with the narrator outside the narrator’s home, the Father tells him that he suppressed his true emotions and desires to beat the crap out of someone who defaced the Virgin Mary, but felt that honoring such fantasies offended his belief system.

That mechanism is also applied to an

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animal larger than a sole human being: Americancapitalist society. The motivation behind every thought process in the story is guided by the demands of a market economy that stipulate a precarious balance between one’s own desires and the things that one “has” to do. The last thing Min and Jade want to do, for example, is study for their GED. It takes a zombie to convince them of the importance of doing so. That zombie, though, had herself erred in her response to societal demands. Instead of capitulating upon her own understanding that the life she led was as bad as the smell and appearance of her zombified reincarnation, she chose to reject such notions in favor of blissful optimism. Bernie’s constant suggestions that even her and the narrator and the narrator’s relatives should be “thankful” for living in the crap hole they live in reveal Bernie’s frailty in the face of an economy that she couldn’t really satisfy.

When smug Freddie talks about picking saunders003oneself up by the bootstraps and how the American way of life is to continually increase the safety of the craphole one lives in, he delivers a cheat sheet on how to do things properly in this society but also portrays his own calmness and satisfaction at having beaten the game. He’s done things correctly enough that he actually has the mental space needed to be smug and arrogant and full of himself. His spiel at the Italian restaurant now owned by Vietnamese folk prompts Min to say “Thank God for small favors”, which is a paraphrase of her refusal to study when Zombie Bernie tells her to do so. Min and Bernie appear to be one and the same archetype in this exchange because they both fail to give in the nature of the society they live in. Bernie refused to give in by being grossly while Min did so by feigning ignorance and acting crassly, thereby acknowledging the negatives of her living arrangements but being unable to put two and two together and getting to work.

She may dismiss Freddie’s luck and accomplishments as being “small favors”, but they’re really not, because for being so small, they’re hard to attain. Freddie, therefore, can take first place for “best American society member”.

The only character that may have it all down pat is Mr. Frendt, who owns a successful business and exists in a mental space that allows him to ridicule the come-and-go dynamics of his employees, such as when he compares Lloyd’s demise to how some in other countries must supposedly “color their faces or don some kind of distinctive headdress upon achieving menopause.” Mr. Frendt tries to romanticize Lloyd’s departure in favor of making capitalism seem a little friendlier, when in reality (and Mr. Frendt knows this), Lloyd and his family are screwed now.

Saunder’s story comments on the idiosyncrasies of both human beings and American capitalist society as a whole, describing the latter as inclusive of a group of extremists that, one way or another, choose to ignore the demands of the same. He does not explain why this is the case, however, as epitomized by the narrator when he explains how he doesn’t know what to tell Bernie when he appears in his dreams and asks him why she never had anything.

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Moving to WordPress / New Blog Series

For the longest time, I’ve hosted my blog on Blogger.com, namely photo 4because I wasn’t as aware of its shortcomings several years back when I chose it, especially when stacked against the array of features and the higher quality user interface that a more refined blogging platform like WordPress offers. 

To that end, I’ve transitioned the blog over to WordPress. You can already see the beautiful new layout (one of WordPress’ default templates), a photo-centric design choice that I hope to populate with my best snapshots.

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The cover for the last volume of the journal I had to keep.

I’d also like to announce that the next several posts will be a part of a series called New Directions: Reflections from My First Semester in College. These writings will come from a nearly 60 page journal I had to keep for my first semester English class at Miami Dade College’s Honors College. I took the obligation of having to keep the journal as an opportunity to reflect, more often than I otherwise would have, on the happenings and ordeals of my first semester in college – a time worth reminiscing upon.

Enjoy, and as always, thank you for reading my blog!

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The State of Cycling at MDC’s Wolfson Campus

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My current rider: a Dutch-style Electra Amstersdam (Original 3i).
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One of my former riders, perched up against the backdrop of US1 and 57 Ave.

Through my involvement with The Reporter and through my own obsession with bicycles, I have spent a large part of this spring semester thinking about the state of cycling at MDC’s different campuses, particularly the safety and security aspect.

I’ve been commuting by bicycle, in and around Miami, ever since the summer before my freshman year of high school, when I rode my department store BMX bike to the first day of a summer film workshop. Since then, I’ve ridden hundreds of miles on Miami streets and realized that, in many situations, the bicycle is regarded as a second-class mode of transportation.

Take MDC’s Wolfson Campus, for example. Only one of the three parking lots features bicycle parking, which is covered by a generously sized canopy but is cordoned off by a metal fence with a flimsy lock that isn’t engaged during the day. Anyonecan enter, whether they’re MDC students or not.

Now compare that to the largest parking facility at the campus: a multi-story concrete behemoth with classrooms on its first floor, 24-hour security personnel and a decal system that’ll tip off the guards to whoever’s not supposed to be parking there.

See the difference? Of course, one mustn’t be blind to the differences between bikes and automobiles. A multi-story building that takes up half a city block obviously wouldn’t befit even the largest mass of bicycles. Simpler accoutrements would do: a parking area with monitored access and egress, a small indoor facility that will shield the bicycles from the elements and a security guard that will monitor the area for at least the majority of the workday.

I believe the demand for such renovations is here. Dr. Edwin Gines-Candelaria, Associate Professor of Biology at the Wolfson Campus, has had bicycle tampered with at least two times with “a couple of years” in between. One incident forced him to ride back to South Beach without a saddle.

I’ve personally had two bicycles stolen around campus within the span of a few months.

Earth Ethics Institute director, Dr. Colleen Ahern-Hettich, and Program Assistant Heidi Lellelid, both agree that the amount of bicycles parked in places like the area in Faculty Parking Lot 1 area has increased substantially since the lot was renovated two years ago. Lellelid also acknowledges that the area needs security improvements.

Granted, times at the college are tough. Dr. Padron’s plight in Tallahassee to get a half-cent tax approved for the benefit of the college is not to be ignored.  There are other priorities, college-wide, that need to be taken care of, such as cleaner facilities, truly ubiquitous wi-fi and a working pool at the Kendall Campus.

But by the same token, this atmosphere we’re in, of looking for ways we can improve MDC, is precisely the right time to bring this issue to light.

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