Who Wants to Come to Colombia? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Seeing that my country's image is in shambles, I have some thank yous to shout out.

Thank you, Oliver Stone, Al Pacino and everyone involved in "Scarface"! Your brilliant film was the first to portray Colombians as savage ruthless killers who butcher their enemies with chainsaws. Ever since its 1983 release, people like me carry around the image of narco-traffickers that we deserve. Well done. However, in the making of this film, you must have forgotten that the majority of us don't traffic narcotics. You must have forgotten that most of us are hard-working, warm, industrious people who succeed at growing the world's finest coffee and flowers, who are renowned professionals, executives, artists, writers and musicians. Or maybe you didn't know. Had you ever met anyone from Colombia, you would have known that our country repudiates drug traffic. "Scarface" made a lasting impression on the average American who won't believe me when I tell him or her that Colombia spends one billion dollars annually fighting drugs, more money per capita than any other country in the world.

Thank you, Rob Zemeckis, Michael Douglas and the others from "Romancing the Stone"! When I saw your insightful and accurate film based in Colombia (but filmed in Mexico), I couldn't help but notice that all the Colombian characters were drooling, horny, ignorant, gun-toting monkeys. It left me convinced that my whole country couldn't scrape up an ounce of intelligence or artistic sensibility. Then I remembered that Colombia's Nobel Prize-winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the most-read novelist in the world. I remembered that Fernando Botero has exhibited his sculptures and paintings at the Champs Elysees in Paris, Central Park in New York, and St. Mark's Square in Venice. I remembered that Manuel Elkin Patarroyo discovered the vaccine for malaria and gave it to the World Health Organization, and that the Neuroscience Director at NASA is Colombian scientist Rodolfo Llinas.

Thank you, CNN! Your only reports from Colombia cover gruesome violence. Let me compliment you on the graphic footage you show when covering what you call a civil war that engulfs the whole country. Did anyone ever tell you that our population is not divided into armed camps fighting for competing political agendas? Or that less than 40,000 of the 42 million people are involved in terrorism? Or that popular support for the terrorists is less than five percent? Why don't you ever report on how Colombia has the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, or that we have enjoyed peaceful changes of government every four years for more than a half century? Why don't you report on how Colombia enjoys full freedom of press? Or that everyday life carries on normally in the cities, even with conflict in the countryside?

Thank you, Vin Diesel, Rob Cohen, Rich Wilkes and all the folks from "XXX." What your film contributes to Colombia's image is one of a racial homogeneity, which explains our obvious hate for anyone with blond hair and white skin (foreign devils!). Apparently, you didn't look at the CIA's World Fact Book, which states that Colombia's population consists of 58% Mestizos, 20% Whites, 14% Mulattos, 4% Blacks, 3% Indian, and 9% are from 85 ethnic groups whose lives intermingle in Colombia. Why didn't this seem obvious before? After all, Carlos Valderrama, the most famous soccer player in Colombian history, is a mulatto with blond hair. John Leguizamo, famous for his roles in "The Pest" and "Romeo and Juliet" is a white Colombian. Colombia was colonized by Europeans, just like America. So why don't we make a big deal out of our racial variety? Why aren't we known for it? Because our melting pot didn't explode in our face. Unlike the United States, Colombia has never been the stage for racial violence or oppression after it gained its independence from Spain.

Thank you, Governor Schwarzenegger! Before you decided to pretend that you were politically correct, you starred in "Collateral Damage." In it, a Colombian terrorist (known as Wolf) attacks Los Angeles and plans an assault on Washington, D.C. Thanks to films of that sort, Americans and Europeans are convinced that Colombians harbor hatred toward foreigners. However, you forgot to clarify that Wolf doesn't exist, and that your film is not accurate. No Colombian terrorist group has ever attacked the U.S. or Europe. If Colombians hate the U.S., then how can one explain the economic partnership (which involves $11 billion in

bilateral trade every year, including 20% of U.S. oil purchases) between the countries? How can one explain the fact that Colombia sent troops to help the U.S. during both world wars, Korea and is the only South American country supporting the U.S. in its campaign in Iraq? Foreigners are not targeted by terrorist groups in Colombia. It is undeniable that foreigners get kidnapped now and then because they seem to be worth a good ransom, but that is why our president has cracked down on kidnappings.

This type of paranoia reminds me of the 1998 Soccer World Cup match between the U.S. and Iran (part of the "axis of evil"). Before the game, there was fear for the American players' safety. Some even wanted the match to be cancelled. Security was tighter for that game than for any other in the tournament. Then the Iranians stunned the U.S. players by presenting them with flowers and taking a picture with them before the match. As we watched on TV, my dad commented scornfully, "I bet it would have been a better story if the Iranian players had come out with guns and shot down the U.S. team." When I heard him, I thought of the distorted image that my country has, and wondered whether other countries images are distorted too.

Where is objectivity? Why all this yellow press? Is the news filtered so only the gory stories air to help ratings? Do filmmakers and newscasters know that what they do feeds American ignorance and fear about other countries? Most who visit Colombia return safely, inspired by the sensual, dramatic beauty of the country. All are surprised by the warmth of the people. Why don't others hear about this?

How do I know the countries of the axis of evil are in fact as evil as they're proclaimed? What if they are people just like me, who suffer under a painful label slapped on their foreheads by movies and newscasters? Can I trust any news source?

And thank you, Pablo Escobar! You are the famous one, the prototype of the thug who has become synonymous with Colombia. We stopped you, but not before the rest of the world put you on a podium and made you a legend. By the time you were shot down, our national pride had already died.

Thank you all for not allowing me to show my beautiful country to the people I love.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






Join the Discussion

This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

sweetxluv said...
Nov. 24, 2009 at 6:12 pm
i liked your article.
i feel what ur saying.
people just automatically sterotype you based on where they come from.
it's happened to me.
there's always more to a place than wars,drugs,and other awful things.
you have to look a little deeper to find it that's all.
look at the beauty of the place.
the ppl.
what makes it come alive.
 
SN180 said...
Feb. 21, 2009 at 7:25 pm
This was very good. I really enjoyed reading it. It is such a shame that the many are categorized by the few. Just because Columbia has a few drug traffickers does not mean that all of your beautiful people are. Anyhow, great work!
 
my_username8 said...
Feb. 7, 2009 at 7:33 pm
Great piece of writing. As a fellow Colombian I found this work very moving. I am proud to be Colombian and it truly is a wonderful country with kind people and beautiful places.
 
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