I was born during a very confusing time in my country’s history. 1995: the year that marked the middle point of the war on drugs and violence in Colombia. Two years had gone by since Pablo Escobar’s death, but the consequences of his “business” were still heavily felt.
I still remember the lack of security in my country. It was dangerous to go to the countryside, travel long distances by car, or go anywhere alone. After all, car bombs could go off where you would least expect them to and leftist armed groups were always prepared to steal and kidnap.
Times were tough.
I was a kid when my pre-school friends started leaving the country because their families were being prosecuted for their wealth (of course I didn’t know this at the time). I only knew that it was better to get out, but my family didn’t have the means to do so. In a way I felt like I was being left behind in a place that was scary and unsafe.
Fear was definitely in the air. Even though I didn’t know exactly what was going on, I could feel it (to the point where I would cry in the playground every time I got the news that one of my friends was leaving). It was kind of like “and then there were none.”
But like I said, I didn’t really know what was causing all the chaos until I went to Europe for the first time with my dad and brother. I was 11 years old at the time.
After a day of doing “touristy” things, we decided to take a break in a Parisian coffeeshop. When it was time to pay, my dad gave the waiter his Colombian credit card. A few minutes later, the guy came back with a grin on his face. He jokingly said to my dad: “Oh, Colombia?! Pablo Escobar, eh? The drugs, eh? Very good!”
My dad’s reaction was quite brutal. He shook his head, got really angry, said “No señor!”, threw the check roughly on the table, and left the waiter no tip. His anger lasted quite a while as we walked back to the hotel in the middle of the rain. I think it was the first time that I saw my dad be so rude to a waiter.
I innocently asked my dad who Pablo Escobar was and he simply said that he was a really bad man. Now that right there was an understatement.
From that moment on, I started to become more and more aware of the implications and stereotypes that came along with being Colombian. It translated into being sent to “special lines” at the airport, everyone grinning with the simple mention of Escobar, and later on, being asked if you had cocaine at American college parties.
But what puzzles me the most is the ability that people from other countries have to think that all of this is funny. I mean, I understand that Colombia is the main producer of cocaine and that Escobar became globally-known (I get it, it became a stereotype), but what I don’t really “get” is why someone would ever think that any of this is funny.
Or even worse, “cool enough” to make a TV show out of it.
I think I’m speaking for most Colombians when I say that this is unacceptable.
What saddens me the most is that our past has made us so humble that we don’t even feel like complaining about something that is actually so painful to remember. I mean, our country lost parents, children, siblings, and friends to the war on drugs, yet whenever someone makes a joke about “powder,” we stay silent.
Although our country is doing better than most in South America right now, we still don’t brag about it (or perhaps even believe it). It’s been a hard battle that we’ve all fought into getting where we are right now, and it’s been even harder to do so when all the world can remember is that one dark spot in our past.
I speak for myself when I say that I’m tired of the grins on people’s faces when I mention where I’m from. I’m done with being humble and shy about it. So honestly, the next time you ask me if I do cocaine, I won’t be careful in forcing you to think about all the suffering that your desire for this drug has cost my country.