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The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

Personal Column: Growing up in a world of colors

Young+me+in+La+Patagonia
Photo cred: Nicole Rodil Suarez
Young me in La Patagonia

“Where are you from?”

I hate that question. How am I supposed to answer? Am I supposed to say the country I was born in or the one I’m currently living in? Or should I say any of the other countries I lived in that were as much a part of me?

I was born in Venezuela because both my parents are Venezuelan.

Yes, they were living in Argentina when my mom was pregnant with me.

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Yes, my mom insisted I was born in Venezuela because I was her first born.

Yes, she took a flight seven months pregnant to Caracas, Venezuela so I could proudly call myself Venezuelan.

Yes, they moved back to Argentina two months after I was born, taking me with them. 

It’s a mess — one I can barely keep up with. Nine countries later, I’ve started to blur things together. Was this here or was this there? Did this happen then or was it somewhere else? 

More importantly: Where did I learn to talk? To walk? To read? Where did I learn to write? Where did I make my first friend?

Not when, but where.

They all have different answers. 

However, I wouldn’t change a single thing. We moved around a lot because my dad worked in the oil and gas industry. Because of this, I learned so much about different people and cultures, and I got to share mine with them. But it wasn’t always easy. 

There was a period in my life when I was fully convinced I was Mexican. At the time we were living in Mexico and all of my friends kept on calling themselves Mexicans (because they were born there), so I thought since I lived there like them then I was also Mexican. My grandparents found it hilarious of course and tried correcting me but I wouldn’t hear of it. I was Mexican, end of. 

My parents were amazing. They tried their best to teach me and my younger sister what being Venezuelan meant. Every new country came with a fresh start and new lessons. It’s easier to just list them out and explain them one by one, so that is exactly what I will do. 

Me with my dad in Argentina, while we were visiting for the summer after we had moved somewhere else. (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

Comodoro Rivadavua, Argentina (Ages 2 months-7 months)

The very start of my journey. I don’t remember a single thing about this place. The only proof of me being there are photographs of me at the beach with my mom. It’s here that I learned to hate sand. I guess being surrounded by it and finding it everywhere made baby me go insane. 

Punta Arenas, Chile (Ages 7 months – 2 ½)

I also have no memories of this place, but I know stories. There were blackout curtains in our home because the sun only set for five hours. It was freezing. Constantly. There were also penguins. This is how I got the nickname Pinguinita (little penguin) — little me imitated how the penguins walked because I would always see them whenever we went out. 

 

Reynosa, México (Ages 2 ½ – 5)

Mexico, my love. Some of the best things of my life happened here.

Me with my first dog Lucca in Mexico (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

I got my first dog, Lucca: he’s an adorable small Yorkshire Terrier who lived for fourteen long years. My sister was also born in this time frame but she was born in the U.S. She’s my own little tormentor, but I love her anyway. 

It was also here that my parents truly tried to teach me more about being Venezuelan, what with my delusion of being Mexican and then my sister being born in America. They made sure that wherever we moved it was the same bed frame, same toys, same comforter, same plushies. They wanted for me and my sister to have some form of a constant in our lives. 

In Mexico, I learned to eat and love spicy food (something my mom could not relate to). My mom would make arepas (which are Venezuelan, not Colombian. Fight me on this.) and my dad would add Cholula and tell me that arepas are the best breakfast one could have. He’s biased though, because my mom has made him an arepa for breakfast almost every morning since they got married.

Me (in the middle with the blue scarf) for a school event in Mexico (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

There was a bad side though: sand. I think this was where it started to become my mortal enemy. My dad tells me that I refused to be put down on the beach unless I was sitting on a towel or blanket. And because my dad thinks he is hilarious, he would grab scoops of sand and place them at the edge of my blanket and watch as I frown and brush it off. But he kept on doing it. Every time I got the sand off my safe haven, he would just add more and laugh. 

Bogota, Colombia (Ages 6-7)

I don’t remember much, only that I learned how to rollerblade here. I think at this time, I still thought I was Mexican but was slowly growing more confused as to what that meant. 

What does being from a country mean? That you were born there, that your parents were born there, that you were raised there? Could I be from multiple places or just one?

Where was I from?

Dubai, UAE (Ages 5-6)

One thing I will say about this place is that it is beautiful. Photos don’t do it justice. Even with how young I was, I do have some memories of living here. The most beautiful thing about this place was not the architecture or the beaches, but the people.

Me (left) and my little sister Michelle (right) at the palm shaped beach in Dubai (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

This was where I started school. I remember being so excited to learn whatever was on the schedule for the day. I remember making friends and talking about things five-year-olds found cool. 

I remember one of my friends inviting me over to her house to play. We sat in her dining room after to eat the food her mother prepared for us. I don’t remember the name but it was wonderful Middle Eastern food that I fell in love with and insisted my mom make for me later. 

I celebrated Diwali, and I celebrated New Year’s Venezuelan style. I ate Emirati and Venezuelan food. I learned to play games that I only played in the UAE and games my parents played when they were growing up.

Caracas, Venezuela (Ages 7-8)

Being able to live in the country I was born in helped me figure out where I was from. I was surrounded by Venezuelan people, I was going to school with Venezuelan people, I was Venezuelan.

I was home. 

The best thing about going back to Venezuela is that I got to be normal. I was from the same country I was currently living in. I wasn’t one of a few or the only Venezuelans at my school. I lied though—the best thing about going back to Venezuela was being with my family.

My little sister (left), me (middle), and my cousin (right) at El Avila in Venezuela (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

My entire family lives in Venezuela, even now. I barely see them, but I’m thankful for the year I got with them. I remember my tia abuela’s house which doubled as a school. I think it was pre-K. My abuela taught there too. Some of my favorite memories were walking down the street with my abuela to get an empanada and Frescolita— a Venezuelan cream soda — from some little shop during lunch on the days she was teaching. 

I had sleepovers with my cousin who I thought was the coolest person on the planet, but I think that had more to do with her being six years older than me than her actually being cool. I lived with my grandma, got to see my cousin and uncle and aunt almost every day and got to see so many other family members more often than before.

It all felt so normal.

I never had that before then. I would visit my family every once in a while, but they weren’t an important part of my life. Even the friends I made were temporary, as I would eventually leave and lose contact with them, becoming just another person in a picture from their childhood. It was only ever me, my little sister, my mom and my dad.

That was my constant. 

Warsaw, Poland(8-9)

My family walking down one of the parks in Warsaw (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

Leaving behind my country was not as difficult as expected. I have always thrived in new environments —always adaptable, always changing. I was used to moving, packing up, saying goodbye. That was easy, especially now that I could confidently say where I was from. 

Warsaw was an experience like no other. It was so different from any other country I have lived in. It was colder, it was funner, it was a winter wonderland. The school was awesome because we had a pet tortoise for our class that we got to feed and take out into the heated garden. During recess, we had to put on winter suits to go out and play in the snow. For the Halloween talent show, I was the assistant of a boy who made paper disappear by eating it. I helped my friend pick out strawberries and raspberries from the garden in her backyard so we could wash and eat them. 

I would get out of school Friday afternoon, head straight to the train station with my parents, board a train to whatever country my parents wanted to visit for the weekend, and wake up Monday morning on the train back to Warsaw and head off to school from the station to start the school week. 

My parents would have friends over and have arepa parties, and everyone would come to our house to make and eat arepas. My sister and I would make friends with their kids and play the entire time.

It felt like being in Venezuela. 

Panama City, Panama(9-12)

Me (blue skirt and white top) in Venezuelan traditional clothes (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

I know I said Mexico was my love, but that was before I lived here. Four wonderful years in this country left its mark on me. Panama was the longest I had ever lived in any country by that point. I learned so much about myself and my culture here. 

I made friends with other Venezuelans in my school, and this particular school had an international festival where each country had its own table. My mom was one of the chaperones for the table, who also found friends in my friends’ moms. I got to talk to other Venezuelans who were similar to me and learned more about my culture through them. I learned our traditional dances and had the traditional clothes. My love for my culture grew. 

This was also where I learned about my love for reading. I used to hate any assignment for English. I couldn’t stand sitting for long periods of time and just giving all of my attention to some book. It wasn’t until my friends introduced me to the “Percy Jackson” series that I realized how fun reading could be. Now I have an overflowing bookcase in my room, and reading has become a huge part of who I am. 

Sand also made its return. I guess I can stand it more than before because you can’t live next to the sea without coming into contact with it constantly. I don’t hate going to the beach but I don’t love it either. I wouldn’t mind it as much if whenever we went to the beach I was left alone to read, but having a younger sibling won’t allow that. 

It was also around this time that the 2017 protests in Venezuela started. My parents would send back food, hygiene products, over-the-counter medicine and medical supplies like bandages, and gas masks. It was difficult knowing your country was suffering and all you could do was send back supplies and pray. The crimes and horrors those brave enough to oppose the government had to endure are things of nightmares. Eventually, things calmed down, but only because people got tired of being killed. Maybe this was part of the reason my parents decided to move somewhere farther from Venezuela than Panama. 

Houston, TX, USA (13-present)

Me with my best friend Isabella (Nicole Rodil Suarez)

For the first time in my life, we were moving with the intention of staying. It was weird. I was unsure for the first time in my life about how I would navigate this new country. I was scared to talk to people in my new school at first, and it took me two days to actually talk to someone. But I guess luck was on my side because the first person I talked to just happened to be Venezuelan. 

I was happy to have that connection. My parents were also happy because they got to connect with other Venezuelans through me. That girl I talked to is now my best friend and her family is practically our family. We share holidays together and celebrate our culture together by making Hallacas every December and running out on New Year’s with suitcases exactly at midnight. 

We also happen to have extended family here, so I get to see my uncles, aunts and cousins (three times removed or something). I get to celebrate our traditions with them and get to know even more about my culture and family. I am confident in who I am and where I am from.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Nine countries later, my Venezuelan identity has stood strong. The flavors of my mom’s Arepas and the sound of my dad’s favorite gaita music echo in my heart, grounding me in a sense of belonging despite the changing landscapes.

“Where are you from?” they ask.

Now, I smile.

“I’m from Venezuela,” I say, “but I’m also from a few other places.”

“Want me to tell you?” 

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About the Contributor
Nicole Rodil Suarez, Photo Editor
Nicole Rodil Suarez is a current senior here at CVHS. Some tasks that she enjoys doing out of school are reading, specifically fiction, baking with her little sister, cooking with her mom, and watching Star Wars with her dad. Nicole has traveled all around the world, and her favorite place she has lived in so far has been Panama.
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Comments (2)

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  • I

    IsabellaFeb 8, 2024 at 3:46 pm

    Amazing!!! Masterpiece! I loved it! I support this message!

    Reply
  • M

    Manizeh RahmanFeb 8, 2024 at 7:19 am

    Ahhhh you did such a good job on this! I love the pictures you included, especially the one of you and Michelle in Dubai as well as the family picture in Warsaw. Amazing article! ❤️

    Reply