Why I Love Being A Woman in Latin America

Here we are. One week after Women’s Day. March 14: the anniversary of the death of Marielle Franco, influential and powerful Afro-Brazilian feminist and activist who fought for the rights of women and girls, Afro-Brazilians, and favela communities.

This is a little late. I know that Women’s Day was an entire week ago.

But when the most important woman in your life, namely your own mother, finally got a passport just to come see you for a week in Colombia, you make time.

I wanted to make this article as a source of positivity and empowerment for International Women’s Day as I share with the world why I love to be a woman, particularly in Latin America.

I’d like to focus on the reality of women’s realities here in Colombia. Extreme feminists might describe it as a hurricane of harassment, and I certainly feel that way sometimes. I mean how ironic that on the way to the café where I wrote this article I passed by a 70-some year old man who, point blank, refused to back down his stares up and down my body as I strolled on by fearlessly staring right back.

I won’t lie. If there is one thing I detest about living in Colombia and Latin America it’s the fact that I am subject to living in a society that devalues women.

It is a constant and daily battle every day here in Colombia, a country that still has a long way to go with regards to gender equality. Every day I get catcalled. Every day I get unwelcome and sick stares from men of all ages. Stares that I don’t have to see, but nonetheless, I feel. Every. Damn. Day.

It’s an unfortunate reality some say, and yes, it absolutely is!

And maybe if I was a man, the article would end there, as if calling out the issue is good enough. But I am a woman, so I am going to talk about it.

Being from the United States, I consider myself lucky enough to have come from a country that is more advanced with regards to women’s rights. The society is more sensitive and outspoken on the abuse of women in all its forms. Although there is still progress to be made with closing the gender pay gap for example, the statistics of violence toward women are indisputable in comparison to Latin American countries.

This is a product of the devaluation of women and the normalization of machista behaviors whether on a conscious or subconscious level.

In saying this, I mean to point out that I have a unique perspective on this topic as an American woman living in Medellin, Colombia. While there are days, no joke, I come home and have at it at my pillows, I consider this opportunity of living in Colombia a huge learning experience.

Never in my life have I felt so subjected to inequality, but at the same time, never in my life have I felt so strong and empowered in all of my femininity.

I love being a woman. I love being able to say, yes, I am WOMAN!

You know why?

Because unless you have some sort of opposing force or resistance, there is no reason to RISE! In our patriarchal world that profits from our self-doubt, loving yourself as a woman is a rebellious act. And I love being the little rebel.

I’ve realized that the machismo that exists in Latin America serves a purpose for women who know how to take advantage of it. Although it revels in seeing me shrink in shame, it has the opposite effect. It serves to push me to love myself deeper than I thought I ever could. It forces me to come in touch with the power of my femininity and to embrace and HONOR that more than ever before. Living in a world where I am subjected to more harassment and disrespect, I can either give in to the force or rise up against it.

A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We have this ‘comfort’ and ‘convenience’ a little more in the United States. However, it is places like Latin America, where we women face the ‘challenge’ and ‘controversy’ much more, where the real work goes on.

In honor of Women’s Day we applaud all women who have fought for our equality all around the world. But I more especially commend the women of developing regions like Latin America, regions with more potent and outward sexism, for the advancements they’ve made to attaining women’s rights.

Some of these women (Latina women) I have posted on my Instagram page as a tribute to their inspiring efforts that affect even me, an American woman. I am also announcing my continuation of my #LatinaLoveLunes feature where I will post in my IG Story every Monday the life and work of one badass Latina (famous or not) as inspiration for the week ahead. J

The world benefits from the female presence and here in Latin America that presence does not go unnoticed – in large part because of the work of phenomenal woman leaders who have paved the way for us. I love being a woman in Latin America because in the face of a greater resistance I am able to grow stronger and more beautiful through the respect I cultivate for myself. And this comes as a daily reminder.

To be woman is an honor, not a shame.

To be woman is respectable, not unworthy.

To be woman is your greatest strength, not your weakness.

For now, I take each day as it comes, some days with more peace and confidence than others. But on the days where I don’t have the energy or patience to say anything back to the drive-by whistles or those under-the-breath comments, I just walk away and in my head know that those cowardly men, unable to grasp what it really means to be a man, must really wish that they had the dignity and pride that comes only with being a woman.

Transportation in Latin America: The Ride of Your Life

Before coming to Latin America, all I knew with regards to transportation in Nebraska and the New York metropolitan area were the standard methods that serve us well in the States: car, bus, subway, and train (and the occasional farmer in the dell tractor that yes I’ve seen off in the panhandle of Nebraska).

Americans value efficiency and speed above all things in life. And yeah I know this last example wasn’t the best reference of that but anyway…

These American values of efficiency and speed are reflected in the way that we get around in very obvious ways– from the app you can use to buy your tickets while on board the train, thereby saving time you might have spent waiting in line at the machine to get it (although you should technically purchase it before you get on…) to the punctuality of Uber and Lyft drivers that we take into account when giving them the star rating at the end.

Getting from point A to point B is the goal, and everything that gets in our way from here to there is just an annoyance.

En cambiooooo …

If I’ve learned anything from living in the slower-paced society here in Latin America it’s that…

Life is not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

I’m reminded of this lesson in a very literal way when I just look at the kinds of vehicles outside in the street!

For one, there is the CHIVA. It’s basically the ultimate Colombian party vehicle that looks like a decked out school bus straight out of a psychedelic Beatles song. You get on with a group of people you don’t know, immediately get a rush from the blasting reggaeton music, end up taking shots of guaro (Colombia’s traditional liquor) along the way whether you like it or not, and never really know where you went at the end of the night.

In this case, it’s really exaggerated; it has nothing to do with the destination and everything to do with the journey.

Let me tell you – a chiva ride is a really good time and you might forget the respectable adult that you are for the carefree kid that’ll come out of you while onboard. Iiiiiiit’s a party!

If you are visiting Medellin for the first time, I recommend taking one from http://chivasrumba.com.co/ located on Calle 70 that has daily tours and night rides on weekends.

Now of course a chiva would be for a night out. How I prefer to get around on a daily basis?

–> MOTO  <–

Almost everybody it seems gets around in motorcycle (which I will hereby be referring to as moto because the word ‘motorcycle’ is obnoxiously long for me now). There are so many of them, used by both men and women alike, that at times there are more motos in the street than cars! The culture here is highly dependent upon motos. You’d think that this would mean more accidents and less safety in the streets. However, from my experience, the safety standards here with regards to driving are highly observed in the city and I’ve never felt unsafe in any way while riding on a moto.

How would I know this? Well I take one almost every other day! I’m gonna drop a big secret bomb for those who live in Medellin. The app is called Picap. It’s a very young company, but has saved me tons of cash! It’s just like the Uber app but the driver comes in moto, with an extra helmet of course. J

Since it’s technically less safe being on a moto as opposed to a car, the prices are much cheaper. For example, to go from Laureles to Poblado in Uber might cost anywhere between 10,000-15,000 pesos given the hour. In Picap it would only cost you 8,000 normally, sometimes a little less. I highly recommend downloading it here from the app store.

Among another fun mode of transportation in Colombia is the tuk-tuk. Mostly found in pueblitos (little towns), tuk-tuks are moto taxis sometimes ornately decorated with bright colors like a chiva. They’re just another addition to the already highly picturesque scenes of the pueblo streets.

The last mode of transportation I want to mention is highly unique to Medellin – the metrocable! It gives you a spectacular view of the city from above and is a must-do activity for those visiting.

Not only has the metrocable provided the people of poor outskirt neighborhoods access to jobs and opportunities in the city center, but it has transformed the city in its entirety! The metrocable is so much more than just a mode of transportation for Medellin. It has been the solution to integrating marginalized communities, spurring social and economic development for the city, and reducing violence significantly.

Transportation is so much more than just getting to your final destination. Sometimes it’s a long ride and it forces you to be patient, like for example the buses (combis) I rode every day when I lived in Lima Peru.

The fact is … we all have places to go. But if you’re so focused on where you have to be or who’s gonna be mad at you for how late you arrived, you could miss some pretty beautiful things along the way. The same goes for life. Sometimes we feel like we’re going at lightning speed on a Kawasaki Ninja down an open highway and we’re gaining speed. Sometimes we can’t get a hold of life because it’s going by us SO fast.

Living in Latin America has taught me to stop the rush, get off the moto, and take a moment to lay in the grass. It’s taught me to breathe in the moment and exhale the worry, both literally and figuratively. There’s nothing more valuable than taking the time to appreciate THIS MOMENT. Because that’s the thing with time, it’s not a road. We can’t go back. Only forward.

So wherever you go next, whether you take a smelly subway, a normal car, or a cool AF chiva, enjoy the ride. And don’t miss a moment.

Life is not about the destination. It’s about the journey… and the many moments that make the ride.

*tune the Rascal Flatts “Life is a Highway”*

How Living in Latin America Has Forced Me to Become More Patient

On dictionary.com the word ‘patience’ is defined as “the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.”

I’ll admit, I have never been anything close to being a patient person. I am ambitious. I am action-oriented. I like to see progress, change, and results. Part of me thinks that these are just my own personal qualities, but then I take a step back and realize that the culture I was surrounded by in the States actually had a huge impact on my ability to be a patient person.

Think about it. Aren’t we wired to be naturally impatient people in the United States, where life runs on convenience and time is very legitimately money?

We work ourselves to death, literally, especially when considering the alarming number of the stress-related health conditions Americans suffer from. We value punctuality, expect timeliness, manage our lives ‘on the go’ as the norm and most importantly – hate waiting.

Wow – that’s a depressing light you shed on us Lauren. Sorry, I know. I’m a realist. But it’s a reality that I’m hoping to call attention to as I share my reflections on just how the Latin culture can teach us to become more patient.

Here in Latin America it’s a very different story.

Given that Colombia is still a developing country, the pace of life is naturally much slower. Understandably therefore, progress and innovation don’t come as easily or as quickly when the institutional systems put in place are racked with corruption, misguidance, or general lack of resources. To give a very simplified example, people are used to waiting in long lines at the bank and the grocery stores. They have seen harder times, so they don’t complain. In other words, they are forced to be patient.

The consumers may not receive the technologies they desire that would otherwise make these processes faster and more efficient, but societies like this also don’t tend to suffer from the adverse side-effects of the impatience, whether that be chronic high blood pressure or simply a cranky mood.

I’ve learned that the price of not living in the fastest or most efficient societies is the development of patience. This, when extended to other areas of your life, can reap tremendous benefits to our overall well-being and happiness.

So I wait in line, and ponder freely about the coincidences of life. I walk slower, like I own time, because really I do. I take a deep breath when things don’t go my way and understand it as an opportunity to strengthen that virtue of patience that the typical modern American worker tends to lack.

Living in a country where the newest products, updates, and trends aren’t necessarily changing as often really does have its benefits. I can live  s l o w e r. I can live with more thought and less pressure. I can give myself the TIME needed to reflect.

All good things come with time, so I won’t fret or lose my temper. I’ll instead follow the words of one of my favorite albums by Latin artist Juan Luis Guerra: Todo Tiene Su Hora (Everything Has It’s Time).

La Historia de Los Chamos

Son personas acogedoras, luchadoras, y soñadoras. Son venezolanos. Esta es la historia de Los Chamos Arepas Venezolanos y Algo Más, un restaurante pequeño en el barrio Laureles de Medellín Colombia. Dónde las arepas, creo yo, son el mejor secreto en su tan peculiar gastronomía, pues detrás del negocio hay una familia con una historia inspiradora a compartir.

Primero, conocí a Fernando y pensé en ese momento que era el dueño; Alto y con barba, parecía tener unos treinta años, a pesar de tener realmente veintiuno. Pedí una arepa de Pabellón con una Coca-Cola, me senté, y comí en un estado de felicidad absoluta mientras miraba las noticias locales en la tele. La arepa, resultó tener un sabor de alta calidad, los empleados brindaron un excelente servicio, fue económico y con un buen ambiente. Pensé de inmediato: definitivamente volveré. Me encanta la comida venezolana, pero aún más cómo la prepararon en Los Chamos. Entonces, naturalmente volví, como dos días después…

Por supuesto, me recordaron. ¿Qué gringa alta y rubia volvería tan rápido a un restaurante venezolano y no ser recordado? Pedí la misma arepa de Pabellón e igualmente como la vez pasada estaba satisfecha. Me volví adicta.

Regresé varias veces y después de muchas arepas rellenas, conocí a algunos de los empleados que trabajan allí. Me enteré, que los sueños eran los padres de Fernando. Inmediatamente, quería conocerles y escuchar su historia. Sabía que por haber abierto un restaurante  en los últimos cinco años en medio de la crisis humanitaria por la que atravesaba su país, debieron haber pasado por momentos difíciles antes de llegar a dónde están hoy, con un negocio exitoso en Medellín.       Conocí a Ramón Andrés, padre de la familia y a su esposa Sonia, quién realmente inició la empresa. La única manera en la cual los puedo describir es que son personas acogedoras y cariñosas. Confirmé al instante la manera de como eran los venezolanos: gente realmente amable con un corazón grande. Me escucharon con atención, mientras les hablaba sobre el proyecto que tengo con los venezolanos aquí en Medellín. Al culminar, exclamé: ¡Díganme su historia, porque el mundo se merece escucharla!



Para aquellos que no están familiarizados con los detalles de la crisis política y económica que está sucediendo en Venezuela, les haré un resumen al respecto. Tiene sus inicios con el ascenso del líder populista Hugo Chávez a fines de la década de 1990. Después de ganar la presidencia en 1998 promulgando un mensaje de ‘poder para el pueblo’ rápidamente buscó consolidar su poder a través de varias reformas legislativas y ejecutivas. Inmediatamente reemplazó el Congreso con la Asamblea Nacional formado completamente de sus partidarios y empezó una guerra contra el sector privado a través de la nacionalización, confiscación, y expropiación de miles de empresas privadas.

Venezuela, es el país con las mayores reservas probadas de petróleo en el mundo, aún más que Arabia Saudita. La situación del país empeoró cuando Chávez nacionalizó a las reservas de petróleo y reemplazó a unos 18.000 técnicos y mecánicos calificados de la empresa petrolera estatal Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) con 100.000 de sus partidarios en 2003. La compañía sufrió daños irreparables, la producción se redujo drásticamente, la tasa de lesiones se triplicó y el país entró en una crisis económica. Con el aumento increíble de las tasas de pobreza y una significativa agitación social, Chávez respondió por canalizar el dinero del estado hacia pequeños grupos armados, conocidos como colectivos, para controlar a las masas y someter a los manifestantes. La tasa de homicidios se elevó a una de las más altas del hemisferio. Con hambre, desesperados e indefensos, los venezolanos comenzaron a huir.

La crisis continuó bajo el predecesor y fuerte partidario de Chávez, Nicolás Maduro cuando se convirtió en presidente en 2013. Maduro elevó la crisis económica a un desastre humanitario que ganó la atención internacional cuando, en un intento a generar más fondos para las importaciones, decidió imprimir más dinero, lo cual originó una drástica inflación y una escasez de comida que trajo graves consecuencias para la población. Con estantes vacíos en cada tienda, la gente se desbordó a  las calles exigiendo el referendo revocatorio del presidente. Maduro respondió desplegando “unidades policiales y militares fuertemente armados” que resultaron en “baños de sangre.”

Las estadísticas varían acerca el número exacto de venezolanos que han huido el país. Sin embargo, según el Bloomberg Business, “La inundación de gente huyendo la crisis de Venezuela se ha convertido en uno de las migraciones más grandes del mundo, superando el flujo de refugiados y migrantes cruzando el Mediterráneo desde el norte de África a Europa.”


En este contexto entra la familia Sánchez Pérez a la historia. Para empezar, vivían muy bien en Venezuela. Mejor de lo que se puede imaginar. La familia es de Mérida, una ciudad ubicada en la parte sur-este del país en una región muy popular para el turismo por sus paisajes atractivos. Sonia y su esposo Ramón habían trabajado en un laboratorio Americano por quince años y hacían salarios muy buenos. “Cuando yo comencé con el laboratorio me fue muy bien, devengaba excelente sueldo, me enfoqué en tener casa propia, compré unas cabañas, carro nuevo, viajé, disfruté, o sea, teníamos una vida extraordinaria, explicó Sonia.

¿Entonces cómo se cambiaron tan dramáticamente sus vidas? ¿Cómo se encontraron en Medellín?

Respondió diciendo que fue a finales del año 2012 cuando comenzaba a agudizarse la situación económica, política y humanitaria del país, en la misma época cuando Maduro se convirtió en presidente. El laboratorio donde trabajaba la envió a Medellín, Colombia por algunos días para vender sus productos naturales debido al mercado reducido que tenía en Venezuela.  Eso fue en 2013. Nunca volvió.

“Ni idea que iba a vivir acá” dijo Sonia. Ella pensaba que iba a estar en Medellín sólo unos días, pero resultó que el laboratorio encontró mucha competencia en Colombia, por lo que no le fue bien en la patria vecina, originando un declive en su economía, ya que sin trabajo no tenía dinero a mantenerse, ni para enviar a su familia, todavía en Mérida. Fue entonces cuando tuvo que empezar a vender arepas en la calle.

Continuó diciendo: “Un día me levanté, fui y busqué un carito con una plancha, una cocina y allí empecé con las arepas”. Una comida muy común en su país, la arepa rellena se puede ver como una comida emblemática de la cultura y la cocina venezolana. Sonia, las hacía y con ellas compartía un poco de la cultura y la comida venezolana con la gente de Medellín. En ese momento, tenía la ayuda de otra amiga venezolana y su hijo Fernando, quien, al no ver un futuro  para él mismo en Venezuela, había venido a vivir con su madre en Colombia.

“Poco a poco la gente fue probando las arepas y les fue gustando. Una señora me dijo que montara un negocio, de inmediato le dije que no porque le temía a los impuestos y todo lo que implicaba. Y de repente… se dió. Dios tenía algo maravilloso para mí y un señor me alquiló este local”, explicó Sonia.

Los Chamos abrió en 2015 y desde entonces ha sido muy exitoso vendiendo sus deliciosas arepas.

Sin duda, mi arepa favorita es la de pabellón. El pabellón criollo, es un plato muy tradicional y reconocido como el plato nacional de Venezuela. La arepa de pabellón viene rellena con una mezcla de sabores riquísimos: carne mechada, frijoles negros, queso blanco rallado y plátano maduro frito (las tajadas). Sin embargo, hay una variedad amplia de arepas, todas llenas de diversos ingredientes desde mariscos hasta pollo, queso y vegetales.

Unos clientes le preguntaron a los dueños por qué no ofrecían en el menú opciones colombianas, Ramón tuvo la siguiente respuesta: “Los colombianos, especialmente el paisa han recibido con agrado nuestra comida. Entonces, ¿para qué nos vamos a meter comida colombiana? Así nos distinguimos de cualquier negocio.”

Sonia da su opinión, “Lo que queremos realmente es mantener la tradición, llevar nuestra sazón y lo mejor de nuestro país a todo el mundo, que  nos conozcan por nuestra gastronomía…por nuestro bueno desempeño, por nuestro trabajo, por todo lo que hacemos, pues somos venezolanos trabajadores y con muchos sueños.”

Por haber dejado atrás casi todo,  menos el uno al otro, por haber pasado por momentos muy difíciles financieramente, cuando emigraron, por tener que aguantar a un gobierno que ha abandonado su deber de proteger y defender sus derechos humanos  y por tener que vivir este  momento difícil en la historia de su país, yo creo que esta es una respuesta muy honorable y valiente. Sin duda han mostrado al mundo que son gente luchadora a través de su negocio.


La familia Sánchez Pérez está aquí en Medellín, Colombia por necesidad. Nuestro sistema internacional, está formado con LA PROTECCIÓN DE LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS como uno de sus objetivos principales, pero ha fallado. No es lo que suceda a una sola familia, una población, ni a un país, sino, ¿qué nos dice sobre la convicción del mundo de rechazar tales acciones de un líder de un país y su desprecio flagrante por la vida y el bienestar de sus ciudadanos, más especialmente en un país que históricamente ha mantenido valores democráticos? Este punto se vuelve más relevante tomando en cuenta que los medios de comunicación afuera de Venezuela casi no prestan atención a esta crisis que ya se ha desarrollado a lo largo de muchos años. Se ve por algunos como un asunto doméstico, y nos deja con la pregunta: ¿Dónde está la rendición de cuentas?

Cuando la situación económica empeora hasta el punto de que tres de cada cuatro ciudadanos reportan un promedio de 8,61 kilos de pérdida involuntaria de peso por año, se hace muy difícil entender por qué no ha habido acciones más rápidas y consecuencias más graves para Maduro y su gobierno. Se hace muy difícil entender por qué la comunidad internacional no ha adoptado medidas de protección más amplias para los venezolanos que están huyendo, muchos de los cuales que pueden ser clasificados como refugiados bajo su definición internacional en la Convención de Ginebra de 1951. En un mundo con tasas de migración las más altas que hemos visto, este es el momento cuando el sistema internacional (es decir todas las naciones del mundo juntas) necesita reaccionar con su fuerza absoluta con el propósito de impedir que los gobiernos represivos, como el de Maduro, funcionen y para correr en ayuda de las víctimas.

En mi opinión, la pena más grande cae en el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, el país más poderoso del mundo y un líder principal en las Naciones Unidas y el Consejo de Seguridad, por no responder más seriamente y exhaustivamente en el campo diplomático, pero realmente no debemos tener esperanzas muy altas de que Presidente Donald Trump tomará las acciones adecuadas y responsables acerca otras naciones.

Todo esto está dentro del contexto de los eventos de lo que pasó el día 23 de enero de 2019. El nuevo líder Guaído tomó poder con el apoyo de la gente y la mayoría de los países en las Américas. Maduro no quiere renunciar su puesto pero está dispuesto a negociar. Ha explusado al embajador de los Estados Unidos aunque Trump dice que Venezuela no tiene ese poder.

Parece que la situación está a punto a cambiar, osea ¿cómo puede empeorar? La gente están desesperada por un cambio. Está desesperada por la paz. Están acabados de esperar. Venezuela es un país hermoso que ha caído víctima de un tirano. Pero no se rindieron, siguen adelante…


Por lo que parece una situación desesperada y trágica, la actitud y la respuesta general de los venezolanos es algo asombroso: seguir adelante. El sentimiento colectivo de resiliencia es claramente evidente a cualquiera que conozca a un venezolano en el exterior. La única cosa que  puede explicar esto es una creencia firme en la belleza de su tierra y un amor profundo por su país, que sin querer se comparten con los demás.

La familia Sánchez Pérez, es el ejemplo más perfecto de esto. A pesar de tener una vida perfecta allá en su país, no se rindieron. No se dieron por vencidos. Seguían luchando por una vida mejor y lograron el sueño de muchos: abrir una empresa pequeña que ha crecido con mucho éxito en solo algunos años. Incluso en este momento tienen planes de expandirse a otra ubicación.

Ha sido un privilegio compartir su historia,  más allá de una crítica de su comida. Su amabilidad no se compara con cualquier negociante y estoy verdaderamente feliz por el éxito que han recibido con su empresa. Aquí está la prueba de que el trabajo duro junto con una actitud positiva te puede llevar muy lejos.

Los Chamos Arepas Venezolanos y Algo Más, está ubicado en el Circular 5 #70-30 en el barrio Laureles en Medellín, Colombia. Este artículo, escrito como parte de mi proyecto Panas Venezolanos, lo hice con la intención de generar más consciencia y educación sobre la crisis que hoy en día recibe muy poca atención en los dominantes medios de comunicación. Subcriben a mi canal de YouTube y quedan pendientes de videos con mis panas venezolanos y más historias como esta de los venezolanos en Medellín!













The Story of Los Chamos

They are dreamers. They are fighters. They are Venezuelan.

This is the story of Los Chamos, a small Venezuelan restaurant in the neighborhood of Laureles Medellín, with arepas that are (what I consider) the best kept secret of the city, and a family behind the business with an inspiring story to share.

I first met Fernando whom I thought at the time was the owner. Tall, stalky, and with a beard he looked to be about 30 despite actually being 21. I ordered my arepa de pabellon with a Coca-Cola, sat there, and ate in a state of bliss as I watched the local news on the TV.

High quality flavor. Excellent service. Affordable. Good ambiance. I will absolutely be back. I love Venezuelan food, but most especially how Los Chamos prepared it. So naturally I went back…like two days later.

Of course they remembered me. What tall blonde gringa would return so quickly to a Venezuelan restaurant and not be remembered? I ordered the same thing and was equally satisfied. Damn they just did it right. I was hooked.

I began returning, and over many arepas rellenas I got to know some of los chamos (the guys) that worked there. I found out that it was Fernando’s parents who are the owners. I immediately wanted to meet them to hear their story. I knew that having opened the restaurant only in the past 5 years amidst the current humanitarian crisis going on in their country that they must have seen difficult times before getting to where they are today with a successful business mounted in Medellín.

I met Ramon Andres, the father of the family, and then his wife Sonia who initially began the business. I can only describe them as whole heartedly welcoming and warm people. It was an instant and firm confirmation to how I had always viewed Venezuelans – friendly people with the biggest hearts. They were kind enough to hear about the project I am doing with my blog and Venezuelans in Medellín. Tell me your story I said, because the world deserves to hear it.


For those who are not familiar with the specifics of the current political and economic crisis happening in Venezuela, I will provide a short summary of it here. It has its beginnings with the rise of populist leader Hugo Chávez in the late 1990s. After winning the presidency in 1998 promulgating a message of ‘power to the people’ he quickly sought to consolidate his power through various legislative and executive reforms. He immediately replaced the Congress with a National Assembly made entirely of supporters and began a war on the private sector through the nationalization, confiscation, and expropriation of thousands of private companies.

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in world, even more than Saudi Arabia. The country’s situation took a turn for the worse when Chávez nationalized the oil reserves and replaced some 18,000 skilled technicians and mechanics at the state-run oil firm Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) with 100,000 of his supporters in 2003. The company was irrevocably damaged, production dropped dramatically, the injury rate more than tripled, and the country plunged head first into an economic crisis. With soaring poverty rates and increasing social urban unrest, Chávez responded by funneling state money into small armed groups known as ‘colectivos’ to control the masses and subdue protesters. The murder rate then spiked to one of the highest in the hemisphere. Starved, desperate, and helpless, Venezuelans began to flee.

The crisis continued under Chávez’s predecessor and strong supporter Nicolas Maduro when he became president in 2013. Maduro elevated the economic crisis to a humanitarian disaster that gained international attention when, in an attempt to generate more funds for imports, he printed more money causing sky high inflation and a food shortage that left serious implications on the population. With no way to make a living and empty shelves at nearly every grocery store, thousands poured into the streets demanding a recall referendum of the president. Maduro responded by deploying “heavily armed police and military units” resulting in “blood baths.”

A woman holds up a placard that reads “No more dictatorship” during a women’s march to protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela, May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

There are varying statistics as to the exact number of Venezuelans who have fled. However, as described by Bloomberg Business, “The flood of people fleeing Venezuela’s crisis has become one of the world’s great mass migrations, surpassing the flow of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.”

Opposition demonstrators take part in a women’s rally against Nicolas Maduro’s government in San Cristobal, about 410 miles (660 km) southwest of Caracas, February 26, 2014. Pope Francis called on Wednesday for an end to violence in Venezuela that has killed at least 13 people and urged politicians to take the lead in calming the nation’s worst unrest for a decade. The banner reads: “Resistance”. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) – RTR3FR40


It is in this context by which the Sánchez Pérez family comes into the story. For starters, they had it good in Venezuela. Better than you might imagine. The family is from Mérida, a city in the north western part of the country and a popular region for tourism for its stunning terrain. Both Sonia and her husband Ramón had worked in a Dutch laboratory for fifteen years and made very good salaries. “When I began at the laboratory, it went really well for me. I made very good money. So I focused on that, bought vacation homes, bought a new car, traveled, enjoyed, I mean we had an extraordinary life.”

So how did their lives change so dramatically? How did they end up in Medellín?

She tells me that around the turn of 2013 was when all the country’s current issues began, in other words, right around the time that Maduro took office. The laboratory where she worked sent her to Medellín Colombia for a few days to sell some of their natural products due to the shrunken market in Venezuela.

That was in 2013. She never returned.

“No idea at all that I was going to live here,” she says. Her thought was that she’d be in Medellin for just a few days, but when the laboratory was not doing well due to competition in Colombia she was left with no money to maintain herself nor for her family back home in Mérida. It was then that she had to start selling arepas in the street.

“One day I got up, I went out and I looked for a little street cart with a grill and a kitchen and it was there I started with the arepas.” A very common meal in her country, the arepa rellena (filled arepa) can be considered emblematic of Venezuelan culture and cuisine. Sonia would hand make make each one and with it shared a bit of her country’s culture and food with the people of Medellín. At the time, she was aided by another Venezuelan friend and her middle son Fernando, who, seeing no future for himself in Venezuela, had come to live with his mother in Colombia.

“Little by little the people went to try the arepas. They liked them, and a woman there told me that I should start a business. I told her no because I was afraid of taxes and all that. And just like that… it was given. God had something wonderful for me in store and a gentleman rented me a space.”

Los Chamos opened in 2015 and has been met with great success selling their delicious arepas.

My personal favorite is the traditional arepa de pabellón. Pabellón criollo is very traditional Venezuelan dish. The pabellón arepa comes as a soft and warm arepa filled with a heavenly mixture of flavors: seasoned flanked steak, black beans, white cheese, and sweet plantains. But there are several different kinds of arepas, all filled with varying ingredients from seafood to chicken to cheese and vegetables.

When once asked by some Colombians why they don’t offer some Colombian options on the menu, Ramón had this response: “Colombians have liked our food. Paisas have liked our food. So why would be change it? It is distinguished from every other business.”

Sonia chimes in, “What we really want is to maintain the tradition, bring our flavor, bring the best of our country and all things ours to the world…that the world see us for our good flavor, for our good performance, for our work, for everything we do, and that they see us in this positive light, not as the country that maybe is shattered and crushed right now. [We want the world to see] … that we Venezuelans are hardworking with lots of dreams.”

For having left behind nearly everything but each other, for having faced extreme financial challenges upon emigrating, for having to put up with a government which abandoned its duty of protecting and upholding their inherent human rights, and for having to live through this difficult moment in their nation’s history, I believe this to be a very honorable and brave response. They certainly have shown their world that they are fighters.



The fact of the matter is that the Sánchez Pérez family is here in Medellín Colombia out of necessity. The fact of the matter is that our international system, formed with the protection of basic human rights as its cornerstone and foundation, has failed. It’s not what happens to just one family, one population, or one nation, but what does this say about the world’s conviction to reject such actions by a nation’s leader and his blatant disregard for the lives and well-being of his citizens, more especially in a country that has historically held democratic values? There is certainly a point to be made here given that the media pays almost no attention to the crisis that has unfolded over many years now. It is seen by some as simply a domestic matter, and yet the question remains:

Where is the accountability?

When the economic situation worsens to a point that three out of four citizens report an average 19 pounds of involuntary weight loss per year, it is very difficult to understand why there have not been more swift action and more severe consequences for Maduro and his government. It is difficult to understand why the international community has not made more sweeping protection measures for emigrating Venezuelans, many of whom reach the threshold of classifying as refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention. In a world with migration rates the highest we’ve ever seen, this is the moment when the international system (ie all nations together) needs to react in full force to prevent repressive governments, such as Maduro’s, from functioning and to rush to the aid of the victims.

More shame is to be put on the government of the United States, a top leader and influencer within the U.N. and Security Council, for failing to respond more seriously and comprehensively in the diplomatic arena. (But then again, we shouldn’t have high hopes that President Donald Trump will actually take responsible and appropriate actions when it comes to dealing with other nations.)

All this in light of the recent events which occurred on the 23rd of January, 2019 with Guaído stepping up to lead the nation and the EU calling for free and fair elections. Maduro is unwilling to give up power but is in a negotiating position. He has expelled the American ambassadors despite Trump’s claim that the Venezuelan government has no right to do so.

It looks as if change is on the brink, I mean how worse could the situation get with Maduro in power? The people are desperate for change. They are desperate for peace. They are done waiting. Venezuela is an incredible country that has fallen victim to a tyrant. But they don’t give up hope, they continue forward.


For what may seem like a hopeless and tragic situation, the general attitude and message of the Venezuelan people is astounding: keep moving forward (seguir adelante). The collective sentiment of resiliency is clearly evident to anyone who meets a Venezuelan outside of their country. I can only attribute this to a strong and unwavering belief in the beauty of their land and a deep love of their country that they can’t help but share.

The Sánchez Pérez family is the ultimate example of this. Despite already having a perfect life in their country, they did not roll over. They did not give up. They kept fighting for a better life and achieved what many would consider a dream of opening a small business that has grown in success and popularity over just a few short years. They even have plans to expand to another location.

It has been my privilege to share the story behind Los Chamos restaurant beyond simply a food review. Their kindness and warmth is unmatched by any business owners I’ve met and I am truly happy to know how successful their business has become. Here is the living proof that hard work coupled with a positive attitude can get you far.

Los Chamos Arepas Venezolanos y Algo Más is located at Circular 5 #70-30 in the neighborhood of Laureles in Medellín Colombia. This article, written as part of my project of Panas Venezolanos, is made with the intention to generate more awareness and education around the crisis that receives so little attention in mainstream news. Subscribe to my YouTube page for updates on my work with mis Panas Venezolanos.















Bye Bye American Bubble

I got tired of the American bubble. When I told people I was moving to Colombia, they would either mistake it for the well-known university of Columbia which I was always flattered by, or – understanding correctly – give me the ‘you-can’t-be-serious-white-girl’ face. It didn’t take me long to realize that the people who reacted in this way were those who had never actually been to the country of Colombia and/or the ones affected by the American bubble.

I’ll explain what I mean by this, but first I want to discuss why I chose Colombia.

I understand that it’s not common for most 24 year olds to relocate abroad post-graduation, but I had a purpose.

For those who have actually visited Medellin Colombia, you know what a diamond in the ruff it really is. 70 degree weather every day of the year. Low cost of living. Kind and welcoming locals. Buzzing hub for social innovators and entrepreneurs. And a growing bed for investment projects.

It’s certainly the place to invest in at the moment, and yet most people don’t know otherwise. It’s hard to believe at times that only 25 years ago it was the city with one of the highest homicide rates in the Western hemisphere. With the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the building of the city’s metrocable in 2004 to connect the peripheries to the city’s center, the safety and security of the city increased dramatically, so much so that in 2014 it was named the most innovative city in the world.

*take notes people*

So when I was given that ‘are you kidding?’ face when I told people that I was moving to Colombia, I’d nonchalantly bring up some of these major points. I’d focus on the city’s transformation from one of the most notoriously dangerous cities in the world into one of innovation, social transformation, and positive change.

The stigma surrounding Colombia has yet to be shed and the stereotypes have yet to be broken. But that is partly what I am setting out to do here in my culture blog.

To show the world the beautiful and amazing city of Medellin, the country of Colombia, and the entire region of Latin America at large.

Unfortunately, in the United States we live in a bubble, and until you leave, you won’t understand what I mean.

For being the biggest melting pot of all nations in the world, the United States, we can say is pretty unique. In New York City, you can find just about every nationality in the world. It is certainly an incredible and special thing when you can experience the whole world packed in the same city – feels like you got it all.

The access to diversity is outstanding, however, we need to realize that it’s all coming to us secondhand. Having lots of Dominican friends, practicing Spanish with them, and dancing bachata every weekend is not the same thing as actually visiting the Dominican Republic itself. Until we get out of the bubble and visit these other places where the language, dance, food, etc. came from we lack a deep understanding of it all. Our ideas and conceptions of a people and their culture can often be misconstrued. That’s not to say that we gain nothing by participating in cultural activities here in the U.S. – certainly not.

However, it’s not right to assume either that having access to diversity and a wide variety of cultural groups in the U.S. means that we don’t need to travel elsewhere to authentically experience them.

When we see the land itself, meet and speak with the locals, learn the history, and live the people’s experience we’re then able to form an educated opinion and fully understand and appreciate another culture, country, or people. This in turn can then serve for introspective reflection on how and what kind of impact that country, culture, or people have on your own. For me and my personal journey in Colombia, this move to Medellin is my opportunity to encounter the raw and authentic life of Latin America, to be fully immersed and to feel what it is to really LIVE, challenges and all.

So when someone says, ‘Omg I have nothing to wear!’ while standing in their walk-in closet or ‘I hate when my Uber driver doesn’t speak English!’ or even ‘I can’t believe they don’t have wifi.’ .. that’s the American bubble speaking.

I’ll be happy to leave it for a while.


*mic drop…*

I’m Moving to Colombia

You’re doing what white girl? They all thought I was crazy. “I’m moving to Colombia,” I said. That was sixteen months ago, and I can’t believe I actually did it. I took a leap of faith and set off on a long term adventure of a lifetime.

I began this blog shortly thereafter but unfortunately had to take it down in August of 2018. I’m now reposting all of my articles starting from the beginning, with new reflections, new edits, and new perspectives on my past ideas. This being my first one, well I’ll begin here…

When I think about my move here to Medellin Colombia and the moment of absolute truth when I placed my three bags one by one on the scale at the counter in the Newark airport, I just imagined for a second all other people of this world who have to move their lives involuntarily, the displaced.

On the contrary, I came here to Colombia out of a mere desire. I had the means, liberty, and confidence to do so, and I am immensely blessed for this. People often ask me if my job brought me here to Medellin. It did not; I made the decision to move here, and then I found a job.

But anyways, getting back to the move…

On my last day in New York, I visited the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Of all the museums I have visited all over the world, this was probably the most important and relevant of them all. I encourage everyone who visits New York City to go for obvious reasons in this politically turbulent time in the nation’s history.

The museum takes you on a journey as it tells the stories of millions of immigrants through photos, memorabilia, and artifacts of those who passed through Ellis Island on their way to the United States. It was so fascinating that I actually missed the last ferry to visit Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty is! 😦

Words could not describe the feeling as I blankly stood there looking at photos of women, children, and big families who came not knowing the language, not knowing where they’d go next, and not knowing what their future would hold. Some had to lie about how much money they had in their pockets. Others had to wait months on the island just to leave. The journey itself was overwhelming not to mention their unseen future.

Looking back, I suppose I visited the museum as a way of relating to the people in who’s memory the museum was made; that I too was moving to a land that is not my own. I wanted to know what these immigrants were feeling even if this move was my decision.

I came to find that that feeling of moving somewhere completely new can be terrifying! Instead of invigorating me, it frightened me. But that’s okay! It is normal and human to react in this way. It’s scary not knowing what’s going to happen or where you’ll end up. Fast forward from 1892 to 2018, the lives we see of travelers and digital nomads on social media makes it all seem like a breeze, fun, exciting, adventurous, and most especially easy.

Let me kick that stereotype right in the throat: living life in a foreign land can be hard, very hard,

especially if staying for months or years at a time. It ain’t all what Instagram chalks up for you. It comes with challenges, something I wanted a taste of, even if I’ll never be able to relate to the kind of immigrants that came to my country.

I respect highly and admire every individual who risked their life and so much more to come to the United States of America. They left behind their beloved country, their friends, family, and everything they knew. They faced challenges that people born in the U.S. never had to face. They faced hardships that the U.S. has never seen – famine, state-based violence, civil war, widespread disease, and persecution. They did whatever it took to survive, and they migrated.

You think that took a bit of courage? You think that took a bit of strength? ….Of course it did. It’s people like these immigrants, the ones who made my country what it is today, who’s realities I wanted to share in, even if the motivations behind the migrations are different. I could never compare myself to any of these courageous people, but by living in a foreign country, I am able to understand a bit more clearly their perspectives, thoughts, and fears.

Taken from the photo caption: “She told him, ‘I do not want to raise my children in this country any longer. I don’t want no wars. I don’t want no poverty. I want to go… to the United States. You work over there. The children will work over there. And at least we’ll eat.” Rocco Morelli, an Italian immigrant in 1907, interviewed in 1985.

Some still may not understand why I moved to Colombia coming from a country that provides me with everything, and that’s okay. I guess you could say that I no longer wanted to live in total ignorance of this woman’s reality and every other human being who walked in her same footsteps.