Poetic Youth: Tales, Poetry, and Interviews from Garzon, Huila

I am currently pursuing a B.A in Global Studies with a minor in Creative Writing at The New School. I have focused on markets, states, and governance– primarily on the deconstruction and analysis of the prior through an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial lens. When it comes to Colombia, I have always wanted to pursue a line of work that would interrupt the manners in which our youth has been portrayed by popular culture and mainstream media. Millennials in Colombia are the children of the generation that witnessed tremendous violence and trauma, and there are a lot of revolutionary movements beginning to form through the medium of arts that I hope to participate in.

Our International Field Program in Colombia began the last week of May of 2018, and carried through until mid July. Our team was comprised of four students, and our professor, all of us came from a vast variety of backgrounds and none of us knew precisely what to expect. Throughout the prior semester we had begun to draft outlines of possible work we could do abroad, and we began to unravel our discussions about what it meant to be doing work through the vessel of a Colombian Coffee Cooperative, CooCentral, a roasting company, Sustainable Harvest, and a U.S private institution, The New School. We all agreed that while we had a loose set of ideas on the projects we hoped to carry out, it would be impractical to go in with a fixed plan as we first needed to meet the people we would be working with. We all had a theme we wanted to focus on, two of my teammates chose to focus on women’s development, my other teammate chose to analyze tourism in the región, and I chose to focus on youth and interrupt the conversation that surrounds Colombian youth in mainstream media.

I was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and I have grown up hearing a very specific tone surround our representation. The way in which we are spoken about is not inclusive, it is typically not contextualized within the broader narrative of our country’s history, and it is not hopeful. We are the children of a generation that faced national trauma. We are the post-conflict generation, and since there has been more space between us and the conflict of the late 80’s, and early 90’s, there has been enough time to process it and use it to fuel an artistic revolution.

I moved to Miami when I was a teen, and would still spend four months out of the year in Colombia. I feel like there has always been a force drawing me back home, something about the culture, the people, and my family that made it clear to me from a young age that I wanted to take whatever I learned and gained through my experiences abroad and make sure I used it to plant seeds in Colombia. I am immensely grateful to have gotten the privilege of growing up in two places, and I feel like the line of work I chose to pursue is one that allows me to continue the national duality I was raised with.

Over the past two years, I have been planning, drafting, and arranging to go back to Colombia in order to write a narrative around youth that is didactic, expressive, passionate, and hopeful. This year I got the opportunity to begin to create a collaborative body of art and writing as a response to the manners in which armed conflict has penetrated multiple layers of youth culture in the city of Garzon, Huila.

The research will be the groundwork for the final project. It will be in the composition of a multi-genre book made up of a compilation of interviews, poetry, photography, and prose. The book itself is divided into two parts, the first part being an introduction to the socio-political situation in Colombia, and the second part being a fifteen chapter unit where each chapter represents one of the people I have been working with.

This book will interrupt how agrarian youth has been characterized and portrayed. It aims to allow a range of people to tell their stories themselves and explore self-expression through the arts in a forum that will be transnationally distributed. Few articles and books have been written about the region, it is important to begin to give the new generation a platform as The South Zone (El Huila, Narino, and Cauca) is one of the main coffee producing regions in Colombia.

Below is an excerpt from one of the short stories I am working on that is inspired by my trip:

An Excerpt From a Short Piece “A Maria”:




A Maria


El pan dulce era santo remedio en tiempos como aquellos. Sweetbread was holy medicine in times like those. Times that were tiresome, bitter, aching. Maria stood in front of her bedroom window, which stood in front of a busy road, which stood in between the Zuluaga mountains in the town of Garzon, Huila, which bordered the Magdalena River on one end, and the coffee producing farms on the other. Maria was nineteen, turning twenty in September, getting married that same November to a slightly older woman, Lua. They remet a few months prior to the day in which Maria decided to stare outside her window for hours counting the motorcycles that passed, waiting for a familiar one. Lua was a mujer cafetera, she produced her own coffee, toasted it, and sold it to a large local cooperative which paid her very little money in comparison to the extensive labor she quotidianly underwent. Lua wanted to start producing specialty coffee, and her and Maria had taken the initiative on informing themselves on ways in which they could make the transition. Lua spoke Spanish, English, and Portuguese. A rare quality to possess in Garzon, and part of what caught Maria’s gaze when they met.

Lua knocked on the half shut door on Maria’s childhood bedroom, opening it sluggishly.

“The bikes were loud this morning, don’t you think?” Maria said to Lua.

“The bikes are always loud.”

“But I really felt it today.”

Maria was the daughter of a man named Federico, Fe for short, meaning faith in spanish. The name suited him as he took care of his pitaya de la flor crops until he died at 84. One kilo was sold for $2,000 pesos Colombianos. That was less than one U.S. dollar. But the pitaya market was steady, unlike coffee which frequently fluctuated, and knowing he could rely on that income plus his additional lechona sales made him feel at ease. Their finca was called A Maria, a dedication to his daughter, an ode and vow to agriculture and family. Maria grew up raising the pigs her father sold. She took classes at the SENA, the government owned and run agro-enterprise and livestock development center of Huila. She first castrated a pig when she was the tender age of fourteen and three hundred and sixty four days. Fe had told her:

“China, how do you expect to turn fifteen, a woman, and not know how to castrate the livestock you’re going to inherit?”

She looked at him with her one brown eye and one clear eye, put on a pair of latex gloves, and followed her father to the cage in which a squealing two month old pig lied. His legs were tied so that his testicles would sit on top of his thighs. His snout, one of the toughest parts of the pig, tied to the front of the cage.

“Bueno, mija. First, and foremost what do you do?” His skin looked like it was melting, full of sun spots, freckles, and stray hairs.

“You disinfect the testicles with soap and benzalkonium chloride.”

“Good.” He smiled.

Maria went on to wash the pig, then she injected his left ear with the tranquilizer, then injected him once again with local anesthesia. She pushed the boar’s testicles into the scrotum, and began to make the incision. Slowly, and with no hesitance she pushed the first testicle out, placed it inside a bucket, applied pressure and iodine, and moved on to do the right one. The pig screamed like a human.

“Muy bien, hija. Now, you’re ready.” Her father placed his palm, heavy and worn on her shoulder as she cleaned up the tools she had used. Maria saw no issue in the procedure, she had grown up seeing her father and older brother, Simon do them much faster than she had, with much less sympathy. Her and her father took a walk around the farm that afternoon before her fifteenth birthday that she would remember forever. In that walk her father told her she was to inherit the fifty three pigs they owned right away. Her brother inherited the pitaya, but not until their father died. That afternoon Maria told her father she didn’t want to get married. To which he replied:

“I don’t care. I’m not married.”

This was atypical. Where she was from girls had to marry men with cattle, or coffee, or dreams that could guarantee them an “easier life”. Her father thought differently. He always told her:

“As long as you stay in the mountains working with agriculture to support your community, your country, and your old man, you will make me proud. The worst thing we tell our children is to get an education and leave the countryside. Why do people want their children to leave the countryside? What’s a town full of old people, no youth, no yearning?”

“I don’t know, papi. But I’m staying. There’s nothing more I could want.”

Her father passed away three years later, when she was eighteen. Her and Simon continued to care for the farm. Simon eventually got married to a woman from a nearby vereda named Angela. They had one child, a girl, her name was Lucia. They built a cottage towards the opposite side of the farm where their childhood home had been built, and the three of them lived there. Maria lived by herself on the other side, eventually Lua moved in.

Maria and Lua had grown up just a few farms away from each other. They had seen one another become women, and exchanged few words in almost twenty years. When Maria’s father died, Lua went over with a basket of sweet bread her and her mother baked.

Pan dulce. Pan de arequipe. Pan de guayaba y amor.

Sweet bread. Caramelized milk bread. Guava and love bread. English slaughters dessert diction.

Pan dulce came in many forms, Lua’s favorite being the roscon. It was bread in the shape of a doughnut, only denser and larger, with fresh guava and caramel slathered on the inside, and a brown sugar bath on the outside that crackled with every bite. The pastries were still warm when they arrived to Maria on that evening. The stars looked like they were cut out from paper mache, and the color of the sky was a consuming and milky indigo. Lua lit her path with a dim flashlight, and she walked over, machete and all, to Maria’s home. The dogs barked upon arrival, the geese shrieked, and the chickens fluttered around their coup, but Maria walked outside with mellowness. She wore eternal braids adorned with orange yarn that tickled the back of her knees.

“Buenas noches.” Lua smiled. That was the first time they had ever spoken directly to one another.

“Do you want to come in?”

“I brought you these.” It wasn’t a yes, but when Maria turned around to head back inside without grabbing the basket, Lua stumbled after her.

They drank tinto, and dipped the treats in it. Maria stuck the very tip of her index finger dirty with soil into the drink, and played with the excess sugar from the roscones that sat on top of her coffee. She had never before been interested in romance, even in that moment in which her heart seemed to be skipping, she didn’t think it to be love. They didn’t care that they were women, the town was far and they never kissed on the road. There were no public same sex affairs in their community, and because of the political climate, it was not a safe thing to flaunt and proclaim. They were satisfied with their lives as they were. Eventually, Maria sold all of her pigs, killed her geese, and only kept the chickens for eggs, two cows, and a horse. She was more preoccupied on developing the coffee culture business and fueling the narrative of specialty coffee.

“What the foreigner doesn’t understand, is how difficult it is to produce specialty coffee. People don’t even know what it means within the region, so what hope is there for foreigners to become interested in learning our backstories?” Maria huffed into her morning coffee and bread.

“I hear you baby, but that’s why I’m saying we need to get our story out there.”

“Okay, but even then, doesn’t it frustrate you? Say that we sit and we tell them that this is special, that there are one hundred and thirteen steps that come after the moment in which the coffee is picked from the tree that can ruin the entire batch. That one bean that was not quite ripe enough slid into the mixture and immediately made the coffee bitter. Que a uno le toca catar y catar y catar café hasta que uno aprende a respirarlo, until you learn to recognize each tone in the flavor. Would they even understand?”

“You have to hope so.”

“My father used to tell me the worst thing you can do is tell your children to get an education and leave the countryside, and I always agreed, but I’m tired of being a ghost in the history of this country when we’re the ones running it.”

“That’s valid.”

“I know.”



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