Conversation with Jaime “el chino” Chang
Black Chronicles are a series of interviews conducted to different anarchists currently living in Venezuela, narrating all the struggles that they face living in one of the few socialist regimes of the 21st century. These interviews deal with the everyday lives of men and women and highlight the precarious situations to which they have been subjected.
In this last edition we interview Jaime Chang from Brazil, libertarian colleague, better known by everybody as “el chino” (the Chinese) for his Asian ancestry. He was a member of the local anarcho-punk scene, collaborating with music, magazines and art.
How was to live in socialist Caracas?
Living in socialist Caracas was a crucial time in my life which convinced me that I didn’t want anything to do with the State. It also helped me grow as an autonomous individual.
I remember that working or being connected to the government was one of my goals and a solution for many people. I managed to work in many cultural projects, where a hierarchy based on status existed. There was a huge gap between newbies like me and those who had already been working there. Instead of growing together as a collective through solidarity, I noticed all the competition in the environment, as old workers felt intimidated by new competences. There was a mini mafia recruiting all of the most skilfully workers that fitted into their aesthetic group. You then saw them all in all the cultural programs and shortly after they all had new motorbikes that the State offered, it looked like there were already assigned for them and the sons of military members.
The university was decadent every day, indefinite unemployment and the dining rooms eventually stopped working.
I was very excited when everybody started expressing their discontent, there was solidarity with many teachers and we were all united in the same fight. I remember that there were student demonstrations, book sales to spread news and elaboration of banners.
We all went together to demand our rights to the principal of the university. But when the fight started gaining momentum, the discontent was divided into red or blue.
University life was reduced to queuing for a number in the secretary department to get into the waiting list. The attraction of the queue was to see in the message board the requirements that you had to present to get the paperwork to leave, it was like playing bingo.
In the social areas, the high cost of living and precariousness helped build alternative means. Amongst these the necessity of generating DIY guides (Do it yourself) arose. This scheme took into account recent events with leisure time: In youtube you can find many tutorials, including with many household materials that we discard daily.
These home meeting became more frequent and we made lots of Friends. They became offices or workshops for vegan cuisine, video forums, DIY offices and even tattoos.
What motivated you to leave Venezuela?
I left as a consequence of an emotional crisis. I felt sad, lost, fooled and like a prisoner. The social expectations were to gain respect and admiration by being the liveliest person. I simply didn’t identify with this behaviour of harming people just to benefit a few individuals, I couldn’t stand being surrounded by these types of people. I feel like one doesn’t have the chance to grow as an individual in this atmosphere.
The main reason for my departure was to destroy this past and rebuild it in another place, isolated from all these toxic people. I wanted to be able to solve problems without relying on any contacts (I am sick of pragmatic friendships), test my autonomy and continue practicing my Portuguese.
During your time in Venezuela did they ever steal from you? In Brazil there is delinquency…is it the same like Venezuela? Where do you feel safer?
They robbed me once a Discman with a cd, which is a pretty harmless robbery, whilst I was leaving the underground station of Chacaíto.
In Brazil there are lots of robberies. They tried to steal from me in São Paulo when I was returning from the place I was living in.
Comparing the fact that I don’t have to worry about the time that I have to return home, I feel much safer here. Maybe the use of my bicycle influences this, as I don’t have to depend on the timetable services of a bus.
You have travelled a lot in Brazil? Talk a little about these trips.
Brazil is huge, each state is like a country where the accent and use of words and cultural context vary a lot. São Paulo is called the grey city for its asphalts, buildings and smoke from the factories.
In December 2014 there was a very interesting festival of anarchist films in the centre of São Paulo. There were international guests of the Anarchist Federations. Representatives of Mexico, France, Radio Berlin, FAL in Argentina and the federation of Valdivia, Chile.
We did a vegan barbecue in the social centre of the comrades of popular uprisings. I talked about movements, collectives, publications and bands in Venezuela and we culminated in melodies with the accordion.
I was left very impressed by the immense market of faith that Brazil possesses. It is a block where you can see several Christian churches of different branches, all of them next to each other. In the favelas you can see rented houses with people opening churches. It is absurd the amount of churches, common in all states.
It is common to see many people that live in the street and people collect cardboard in a trolley to recycle. It has lots of people from different ethnic groups. There are lots of people from communities like the Asian, Hispanic, black, LGBT and even Americans and Europeans for work or tourism. With so much ethnic diversity I can’t explain why there are still intolerant neo-nazis in the underground. In relation to intolerance, there is a segregation of people from the north and south. The northerners are pejoratively considered farmers. I travelled in several states in which I lived with these people, amongst them:
Bahia is beautiful, its black roots are present everywhere. From capoeira to the amazing acarajés (a bean croquette with a salad), there were lots of vegan options. The warmth of the Bahia is equally reflected through the people and the weather. Here I met the collectives crust or die and the napalm raid. I stayed in the house of a great friend, the coexistence was incredible. Every day we grew together by watching documentaries, exchanging bands, making magazines, composing music, cooking vegan food and clearing the land for farmers.
With these experiences in Bahia I started building my base. My friend even stopped working in his paid job and now works independently with vegan food. We all started selling alfajores (caramel cookies).
I witnessed the best party of San Juan in Campina Grande, in June they celebrate the corn and rain. I pretended to dance until I lost consciousness. I never imaged being in a celebration were the heroes were corn and the accordion. The only thing else I needed was a cachapa to feel at home.
Now I’m living a few metres away from the beach. I’m sharing a space with 3 people from Bike Vegan, which promotes urban cycling and vegan cuisine, demystifying it as gourmet.
Are you already a master of capoeira?
I learnt all the basics and I think that I would be able to defend myself. It is admirable how all people know how to play the pandeiro. Capoeira is basically letting go, sharpening reflexes to react and control any negative intentions. Applying this to my daily life has helped me come out of challenging situations.
What are the differences between living in Brazil and Venezuela?
Differences…Caribbean beaches are enviable. There is no folkloric music that compares to ours: the unpredictable rhythms stimulate all of us to sing. Even our accent is nice.
Do you feel any nostalgia for Venezuela? What are your fondest memories?
I feel nostalgia for my family and Friends. My fondest memory is going out every Saturday to the market next to the crystal park to eat cachapas (Venezuelan pancakes), the rivers and cakes of Mérida.
What techniques and discussions learnt in anarchist groups Brazil would you bring to Venezuela?
Management and organization of events, autonomous fairs and teaching vegan cooking workshops (demystifying from its supposed gourmet label).
How do you currently see Venezuela?
I must admit that I’m a little isolated from its current situation. I only find out through my friends and I try to collaborate with art.
Would you ever return to change things in Venezuela?
To change things I would return.
To end the interview… What would you like to say to your libertarian comrades in Venezuela?
The transmission of magazines with vegan content can be a link to connect members of the community. Through this common interest, using it as an alternative to fight scarcity, a community based activity could be organized, and the money collected could be used for a common good, such as: materials for cultivating food into the communities land.
A magazine or video publication could be done which shows the community how we organize ourselves, solve problems and other learning experiences that could be useful.
Local communities could be presented with this initiative, offer workshops and organize days of this initiative with other communities, creating a type of community network. This scheme could be organized at a certain time and could raise money for a social centre.
Translated by Pietro Casati (firstname.lastname@example.org)