Los Suenos Paisas

April 13, 2011
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Seventh period…Journalism Honors…room 216…12:35 pm. Mrs. Cunningham grabs everyone’s attention in the classroom and hands out a blue paper explaining the next assignment. No matter what the assignment was, as long as it dealt with writing and journalism then that wasn’t a problem at all for Junito Matía Valdez. Junito and journalism went together like news and paper! Heck, even his parents recall that when he was a young boy, the first thing he ever did was pick up a newspaper. At the age of seven, he would come out of the family bathroom with a newspaper in hand. He also grew up watching the Telemundo News at 10 p.m. since news just interested the boy. As long as there wasn’t any math or science involved, he’d be fine. The assignment: interview a special person who has influenced you most throughout your life. Junito immediately began to think about both his mom and dad. What makes them so special? Unlike the overpowering population of white teenagers in his school and class, Junito’s parents weren’t born in the United States. They actually had to work for what they wanted and for where they wanted to be. They didn’t just get a great life handed over to them on a silver platter like a golden retriever receives his kibbles and bits or like any white person in his class did. Why play the race card? Considering Junito was the only Hispanic in his Journalism class, this not only meant happiness for being enrolled in the class but it was a great representation of what he as a Hispanic was capable of doing. It was unusual back in those days to see a Hispanic succeed in that school system…sadly. They weren’t given the respect a human being deserved. Unlike the other Hispanics in the school, he was trying to learn and was trying to succeed in life and in the classroom and not on the streets. Within the halls of his high school, Hispanics were either spit on, beaten, picked on, and if you were lucky then you might even have gotten p***ed on as well…lucky? It beats the hell out of getting called a “wetback” or “immigrant” and then thrown into a locker next to the kid’s locker whom no one would want to be next to since he’s “the athlete” of the school with the sweaty socks and old, oversized lunch bags stuffed in his monstrosity of a locker.

In regards to his character, Junito was making a name for himself…knowing how to read unlike the older Hispanic sophomores before him who had been held back. Knowing how to speak correct, proper English unlike the Hispanic juniors of the school; they even had trouble reading and writing during their PACT’s. Unlike anyone else, Junito knew what he wanted to do and did it without worrying about anyone’s judgment…writing was the key to opening a whole new world of tranquility and contentment. Writing is the most important aspect of Junito’s life and without it, undeniably, he would not have any other way of expressing himself.

Now his parents…well, they’re a different story. They were born in Medellín, Colombia, and immigrated to the United States in 1989. At that time, Junito’s mom had found out she was pregnant with Junito. Junito’s parents were not in search of a better life, but a life with their relatives who happened to live in the beautiful city of Chicago...and yes, they came here legally. Memories continually marred their horrendous entrance to the United States. Which brings us into Junito’s incomparable revealing interview; “Was moving from Colombia to the United States a difficult transition?” Put it this way…crossing the Mexican American border would be far less emotionally pain-enduring. Welcomed by hecklers chanting “Drug dealers” as they departed from the plane, pulled aside by custom agents as they held their luggage to their chest, questioned by security as they held their frayed passports and frisked for drugs while they completed the visa forms…all served as a sign of the future obstacles they would encounter…so why…why did they come? During the 1970s and 1980s and into the early 1990s Colombia was perhaps the most horrible place to live in the world; a country plagued by so many problems. As stated earlier, Junito’s parents were born in Medellin, growing up in the small neighborhood of Calasanz, nowhere in Colombia was anybody ever too far from the violence. Countless murders, bombs’ going off in the streets, and the mass production of cocaine were completely evident. Colombia was in a situation of mass proportions…drugs, violence and more drugs. All of this, of course, operated by the Medellín Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar in which he established a ruthless organization, kidnapping or murdering those who interfered with its objectives. In the neighborhood of Calasanz, Junito’s parents witnessed at least 200 to 225 murders a year. The Medellín Cartel was not only responsible for the murders of hundreds of innocent people, but it also included government officials, politicians, law enforcement members, and journalists, and innocent bystanders. Put it this way…the Medellin Cartel was an army of sheep, sheep led by a lion and that lion was Pablo Escobar.

By the early 1980s, the marijuana traffic was already being covered up by the cocaine trade in terms of the wealth, power, and violence associated with it. Thank god for Junito’s parents, they had left in 1989 to live in the United States. Throughout the neighborhood and into the Medellin city limits, the Medellín Cartel would rely on paid assassins…sicarios. At least 30 of these assassins were spotted in Calasanz. During this time, the cartels, and drug lords contributed significantly to the "depression" of life throughout Colombia and converted murder and brutality into a regular source of income for some parts of society. Day by day Junito’s parents would live under constant fear and we’re intimidated on a daily basis.

In the year 1989, the goal for all Colombians was to reclaim their country and blaze a path to a new society. This is what Luis Carlos Galan openly endorsed and campaigned for. He also campaigned for complete extradition in order to get rid of Escobar and his cartel. On August 18th, 1989, Luis Carlos Galan and a bystander were shot in Soacha, Colombia. After these two murders, the state recognized drug trafficking as a severe threat. It marked the moment of transition out of tolerance and straight into war. During Junito’s interview, he recalls his mother in tears as she paraphrases the then president of Colombia’s words immediately following these two murders…”This is not an isolated incident. We have learned the hard lesson of tolerating this criminal organization and its deranged leader. The Colombian government will dedicate all resources to dismantle Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel once and for all.” Who knows if Pablo had wanted to take over the world but what was certain was that Pablo did want to take over the United States next…his motto, “Sooner a grave in Colombia, than a jail in the U.S.”

The experience of the most violent era in Medellín was not over for the Valdez’s yet. While carrying Junito in her womb, the Valdez’s were on one of the busiest streets in Medellín simply grocery shopping. On one fateful afternoon, the Medellín Cartel had arrived with 10 to 15 armored cars to battle the local authorities on the streets. As a result, 540 cops…dead, and nearly a thousand were injured. There was no safe place to hide…nowhere…just nowhere. Distress overshadowed the country and drugs were just the starting point…violence was the trigger.

This interview got Junito an A+. He expressed how writing this story got him closer to his roots, and a lot closer to his parents. Today, Junito considers this interview to be the best feature story he has ever written. It was published in the school’s newspaper, eventually picked up by Scholastic books and it was put into publication inside a small compilation of high school student written essays and short stories. In 2006, Junito Matía Valdez was urged to submit this piece to JEA (Journalism Education Association) competing for the Aspiring Young Journalist Award. Junito had competed against 800 other kids within the state of Illinois. As a result, Junito became the first Hispanic in his school to be awarded the Aspiring Young Journalist Award for outstanding feature story in an Illinois student run publication. Later on in life, Junito Matía Valdez became the first member of his family to attend college. He attended the University of Missouri on a full scholarship majoring in Journalism. Today, Junito is currently a news and feature writer for the Chicago Sun Times and is currently an intern at Telemundo News in Chicago.

Later on in Colombia’s history, Pablo Escobar was eventually killed…it wasn’t drugs that killed him; it was the society. During the era of Pablo Escobar and the rest of the Cartels, Colombia’s murder rate was the highest in the entire world. Today Colombia is still cleaning up streets and constantly trying to rebuild. In 2009, the murder rate had been cut in half. To this day, writing is what brings peace to Junito and on March 22nd, 2006, Junito Matía Valdez accepted his award in front of 2000 of his fellow classmates, and his parents and said “Let us please maintain respect for those that choose to express themselves through words. It’s been a most amazing and rare experience to be recognized with such an award for something I truly and sincerely love to do. No matter how difficult our lives may be or our parents for that matter, we must learn from them in order to succeed in life and to pursue our dreams. This is a message to you all and a message that I learned to accept from writing this story: “We only have two options: either allow anger to cripple us, and the violence will surely continue or we can all overcome and try our best to help others. Let’s change the world…it’s not too difficult…thank you. I love you mom and dad.”

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