Do you remember back in seventh grade Texas History class with Mrs. Teeter, when we had Where Are You From Week, and we learned about the waves of immigration to the Lone Star State, with the Germans and the Czechs, and then some more Germans? Of course, there were also Mexicans, several times, but that wasn’t really immigration, because they were already living in Texas, right?
And do you remember how we made quilt squares representing our family’s history? And then we had lunch one day, and our moms cooked schnitzel, or strudel, or tostadas, or they brought lukewarm kolache or kugel? And then we were done with our Diversity Unit, so we could get back to the textbook and the Alamo? Yeah, me too.
So it was with low expectations that I attended last weekend’s International Fair at Escuela Campo Alegre. Sure, we have students and teachers from around the world; sure, their roots are recent and their traditions are strong. But I was ready for a letdown, for cold chorizo and weak Peruvian soup. Instead, I passed under the flags and balloons to find elaborately decorated booths stocked with the most authentic Malaysian noodles, Argentine grilled beef, French crepes. Parents in traditional costumes served up food and tourism brochures. Kids had their hands painted with Indian mehndi and their faces with non-traditional butterflies.
But first, there was a parade. It was like an Olympic opening ceremony: coordinated costumes, flags. Proud kids holding a banner in front of cheering crowds, proud parents recording it all on video. We had no torches or eternal flames and the television coverage was limited, but it was about the same. Troupes of young dancers from the Club Italo of Venezuela took the stage, followed by Korean violinists and a Lebanese bellydancer. Across the parking lot, families sold crafts and clothing from their home nations.
In about twenty minutes, I had traversed Asia and snacked on South America: samosas, bulgogi, kimchi, empanadas. I lingered in Argentina, where they grilled imported steak and served it at tables topped with wine bottles (but no wine!). Then on to Africa for the third course, and North America for dessert. The Colombians were doing nonstop business selling crappy Nescafe in plastic cups; they didn’t bother importing food, instead flying in a 7-foot-tall supermodel in a skintight dress to stand by the machine and smile. Nations of South America, take note: this is how you get a tourism economy moving.
Mrs. Teeter would be impressed by the multicultural pride, but it’s no surprise. More than you might expect, Venezuela really is an immigrant nation. Like Texas, Venezuela has seen waves of migration from Europe, but also from the Middle East and more recently from Asia. There are thriving communities in Caracas that maintain their traditions with clubs and classes. Especially at an international school, we’re reminded daily of the big mix of cultures in Venezuela. Still, there’s only one Korean restaurant in a town of almost six million, and all the Indian places have closed up shop. While there are a few Middle Eastern joints, you can’t just walk to the corner for a late-nite kebab. So, I’ll be looking forward to next year’s fair, and I’ll be prepared with tupperware and plastic wrap.
Politics Update: President Hugo Chavez is in Cuba for the next few days, receiving the first of several radiation treatments for cancer. Last week, Chavez announced that his government had intelligence on a possible assassination attempt against the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, and Chavez promised that if something horrible were to happen, it definitely wouldn’t be because of a government hit. Definitely. A couple of weeks ago, Capriles was campaigning in a traditionally chavista neighborhood when shots were fired in a crowd. A Capriles associate (and son of a congressman) was hit in the arm. Each side blames the other for the violence.
More Politics: in several parts of the country, the quality of drinking water has been in decline due to systemic pollution and catastrophic oil spills. Newspapers and other media reporting on the issue are recently subject to an emergency law that any stories must be supported by (expensive) technical laboratory data, preventing any investigative or speculative reporting, or any stories on the human effects of the pollution. Elections are in October; it’s going to be an interesting summer. (If you’re interested in following local news, you could check out this English-language edition of the national newspaper El Universal; you might also check out and bookmark this link to a Google News search on Venezuela.)