Last week, the first female Consul General of Colombia, Elsa Cifuentes Aranzazu, came to NYU to share her experience as a female Politian in Latin America and to introduce her new book “Mi vida a la Carrera” or “My life on the Run.”
About 30 people, mostly Latin Americans, attended the event, which took place in Gallatin. The consul told her story through a translator; her recollections prompted tears from both Aranzazu herself and the audience members.
The Consul talked about how she grew up in Pereira, a coffee growing and rather poor area of the country. She shared how the Alliance of Progress and the help from the US permitted her and her friends to receive food and education in the midst of chaos and violence from guerilla groups in the 70s. Aranzazu then began crying, as she explained that her country had been dealing with nonstop kidnappings, drug dealing and insecurity for fifty years. This statement also has contemporary significance as she is a representative if President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration, which is currently conducting peace talks with the most prominent Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC.
Many in the audience got emotional when the Consul couldn’t finish her sentences without pausing to compose herself. Given the difficult political situations not only in Latin America but around the world, many identified with her frustration.
The question and answer session started with a rather emotional charge. Maria Ignacia Curiel, a junior in CAS from Venezuela, broke to tears asking the consul for her advice to students like her, who want to catalyze change in their countries but are far away. Everyone seemed to understand the significance of her question, including the Consul, whose answer was quite empathetic, and the translators whose eyes were unescapably wet.
After the question and answer session ended, Curiel shared some of her thoughts with NYU Local.
NYU Local: Did the Consul’s speech inspire you?
Curiel: It did to a certain extent, because she talked about all the obstacles she encountered and it may sound very cliché, but at times one has to like hear these stories face to face, about how things won’t be easy, doing whatever it is that you want to do. It was also inspiring because I feel that we are from a very similar premise. Like I relate very much to her ambition to be a productive person in her society and to be a public servant.
NYU Local: So what was your question?
Curiel: So my question was that given the current circumstance in Venezuela, and as a Venezuelan and as a person who is outside her country and watching everything from the outside, and interested very intimately in being a part of social and political change in Venezuela, what was her biggest piece of advice to a girl like myself in that kind of similar situation that she encountered.
NYU Local: And why did you cry?
I don’t know [laughs]. I think that the situation in Venezuela now, and being so far from it, is emotionally distressful because you are so far removed from it geographically and so intimately, you know, related to it. And all of your family is there, your friends are there, you know, they’re living in this like such terrible circumstances, and the country is going through such pivotal moments. And the whole student movement, you know, I feel that I could so much contribute and be a part of it but you know, I’m here in New York City. And life continues and like, you still have to wake up in the morning, and go to class, and do your work. The world doesn’t change and the people that are around you don’t really understand what’s going on. And they’re not to blame for it you know?
The have their own lives,their own desires and interests. But it’s something that like everyone at home is so preoccupied about, and it’s the only thing they talk about, but like you’re here. So it’s not the first time I felt that way. But I guess that you have to kind of learn to like suppress the emotion because if not you go crazy and you can’t focus in anything else. But I guess it was just like, being there, and being with a group of people that understood what was happening. Because Colombians have very much played an important role in Venezuela, specially in terms of media coverage, they’ve been our only source of information in a lot of things. So I guess that feeling people around me were understanding what I was saying and that they were empathetic to it, and you know her speech had already had a very emotional content and she also got emotional. I guess that’s what led me to not be able to control my emotions.
NYU Local: What did you think of her [Aranzazu’s] answer?
Curiel: Her response was very heartfelt, and she seemed very touched by it because I think she understood where that frustration was coming from, that frustration where like you feel passionate about something but you feel there’s not a lot you can do to really contribute to the core of the issue. She understood that and she advised us to work hard, keep focused, remember yourself why it is that you’re here, remind yourself that you have endowed yourself with the responsibility to give back to your country, and don’t stay here, go back and like give the people of your country the opportunities that you have been able to receive here.
NYU Local: Will you do that?
Curiel: I will do everything I can until the day that I no longer exist, and hopefully the situation will allow me to.