If you don’t get the reference …
Let me start by giving you the standard disclaimer about how I’m a good liberal boy who supports immigration as does any economist worth his salt. Not that I’m an economist, but an informal student and lifelong fan.
I don’t advocate only “skilled immigration” or other code words like, say, immigrants from Norway. I’m all in for the tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuse, homeless, tempest-tost, etc. Every beating heart is economic growth, and a few of the wretches turn out to be stars, and that combo created the virtuous cycle which led to the greatest success story in the history of nations (the United States).
The point of this article is that the nature of immigration from Venezuela has changed. It used to be “skilled immigration,” but that’s over. It is now the wretches described by Emma Lazarus.
Like most everybody in this hemisphere, I know a shitload of Venezuelan migrants refugees. The first wave came to the United States in the early 2000s, and they were the cream of the crop. The oil engineers going to Houston, the upper-crust of Venezuelan society buying real estate in south Florida.
They waltzed in with fluent English and 10-year tourist visas and their graduate degrees, and they either found jobs in corporate America that sponsored their work visas (before even those got difficult) … or they married gringos. I know a few gringos just in St. Louis who married Venezuelans in the last 10 years.
Love them or hate them, the upper-crust Venezuelans were smart. They saw the writing on the wall and they got the fuck out. Good survival genes surviving.
After 2010 a more middle-class Venezuelan started leaving for other countries in Latin America. Above all Colombia but also Panama, Peru, Chile and Argentina. They were still highly educated, but they didn’t have whatever it is that helps some waltz right into middle- or even upper-middle-class life in the United States.
On the streets of Bogota or Lima I met doctors and engineers working as English teachers, servers and bartenders, teachers and of course arepa vendors. All kinds of jobs below their true station. Up until 2016 when meeting a Venezuelan, you would assume he or she was educated.
For years, Venezuela was sending their best!
That started changing around 2017. They started arriving by bus, a five-day trip to Lima from Venezuela. Some go on to Chile for two more days. They weren’t just selling arepas anymore, you started to see them hawking candies, DVDs and every other kind of trinket. These new arrivals were still nice people, but you knew they didn’t know a word of English outside baseball terms like “strike” and “jonron.”
It’s bizarre, surreal, but the Venezuelan slang term “chamo” (“dude” or “buddy”) came to mean Venezuelans in general but it also implied the lowest position in the restaurant, store or whatever. Where’s the chamito to take my order or ring me up? An underclass of migrant laborers … in Peru! And of all places, they hailed from the country in the region known for being gaudy, obscenely wealthy.
In the last year, we’ve seen the next level down in social class and education. The really inelegant Caribbean Spanish, calling you “papa” and such. The other day walking to the market I saw a woman in her 30s turn from the sidewalk and hock a loogey into the street. Then she continued some argument she was having with a local storeowner about how she can look at whoever she wants, and if somebody wants to look at her … on and on in that Caribbean Spanish.
The accent sounded like what I heard in Colombia in people from Barranquilla, poorly educated “costeños” as they’re known in Colombia. In Peruvian Spanish they would be “caribeños,” and in English we call them “scumbags.”
I’m still the good liberal boy who argues that all this Venezuelan immigration will make Peru stronger, and I never planned to write anything like this article … until last Sunday when I took my four-year-old boy (brave like the bull) and two-year-old girl (gorgeous) to the park.
Peru has effectively opened its borders to Venezuelans. Refugees must jump through all the bureaucratic hoops, but they get proper residence with the legal right to work, public healthcare, the works. So in Peru you don’t only see them working in informal markets or off-the-books jobs. They work in the most regulated industries, the city parks, schools and institutions, everywhere. And over the years my neighborhood park staff went from all Peruvian to all Venezuelan.
So the children are climbing, running and playing on the playground, and I can’t help but notice a boombox blaring whorehouse reggaeton 20 yards away where a team of park employees are cleaning up. It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning and all the Peruvian grandparents and children here at the playground are subjected to Bad Bunny at full blast.
Don’t get me wrong. I dig whorehouse reggaeton. I dig its American equivalent, which has been called stripper bop. It is more than just sex music. Actually it’s less, a subset. General sex music includes songs that work for couples who know each other’s names, couples who have done it before and even couples who have committed before church and state to do it only with each other.
Whorehouse reggaeton and stripper bop songs are the dripping-wet tunes that inspire people who won’t know each other’s names even after the fact. And it’s mostly for the woman, who is not an amateur but a professional. So it doesn’t matter if you catch her name, it’s fake.
Whorehouse reggaeton helps this woman open up … literally not figuratively (open it up, show them both). The music helps the professional to entice, it provokes her to be provocative.
As great as that music is, those songs are not exactly what you want to hear early on a Sunday morning at the playground with your children. I glanced around at the Peruvian parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and nannies. I could feel their discomfort. They didn’t like it. But nobody said anything.
Just then I looked over at the Venezuelans and the ringleader performed a humping motion for his cohorts.
The chamo wasn’t thrusting with the same force as Ace. He employed a softer thrust but a faster pace. And his audience wasn’t a room full of law enforcement trying to find Snowflake before the Super Bowl, but a playground full of children and their guardians.
I don’t really care, but I’m sure the Peruvians were annoyed. As I explained in an earlier post, Peru is a more conservative country than the whoremongering culture of Nueva Granada. I describe Peru to gringos as the Bible Belt of Latin America. Here they build statues and monuments to their canonized saints and their war heroes who died in all the wars they lost.
In that last post I predicted that Peru would begin to see a backlash against the chamos. It has started, but it’s mild. I’m afraid that backlash will heat up as the exodus is expected to accelerate (!) and the shit continues to hit the fan in Venezuela, and of course as the quality of refugees changes.
Before you could always badmouth Chavez and get a friendly reaction from the chamitos. You could show off what you know about their news, and then get a sadistic kick when they tell you how fucked things are where they’re from.
But I never talk politics with them anymore, because most of the new arrivals voted for chavismo all these years. Every time I hear “a la orden,” I scrutinize the chamo and wonder. And I cringe. Sometimes you meet a real scumbag who it’s safe to assume voted PSUV even in the 2015 midterms.
Before, meeting the Venezuelan diaspora before 2017, you wondered how this could happen. How could all these brilliant people allow chavismo to take over and turn the region’s richest economy into a bona fide shithole? Meeting the recent arrivals is an a-ha moment … Now I get it.
I recently read a piece in Caracas Chronicles which mentioned a PSUV militante – not just a lifelong voter, a party ORGANIZER – who had emigrated to Colombia, Ecuador or maybe even Peru.
Thanks for reading. Now enjoy my bicultural playlist of the subgenre I so eloquently described.
Tumba la Casa
Rake it Up
El Duo de Sex
(for those gringas who don’t do hip-hop)
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