COVER - Patricia Velásquez - Pulowi Walks On Earth
Pulowi is a Wayuu (a Colombian and northwest Venezuelan indigenous population) demigoddess, who is associated with procreation and life. Pulowi is related to the wind and dry seasons; so it seemed fitting that she would join Patricia, my team, and I on our editorial on the beach. Over the years, my family and I have done a lot of traveling and interacting with indigenous communities, mostly in the Americas. There is something incredibly special about these people and their culture. They have been mistreated more than any other population on Earth, yet they fight for what they feel is right and hold true to themselves to the best of their ability. You can feel the magic that just radiates off of them when they are near you.
While Patricia Velásquez (represented by Iconic Focus), sometimes know as Wayuu Princess, did not grow up in the Venezuelan Wayuu culture, and we are lucky enough to have her on our big screen and magazines, she still has the Wayuu blood coursing through her veins, and you can tell. There is a beautiful, yet passionate, quiet wisdom and humbleness to her that will inspire you. This strength lead her to be a super model and an actress full of empathy and sensitivity. She goes into her roles with zero ego, but rather more of a loving protectiveness. This amazing part of her character can be seem through all parts of her life, one of my personal favorites being her NGO, The Wayuu Taya Foundation. The Wayuu Taya Foundation seeks to aid the Wayuu populations in Venezuela. At one point in time, this meant enrichment programs, creating schools, and working with mothers and children, but with the current humanitarian emergency that Venezuela is experiencing, The Wayuu Taya Foundation is doing whatever can be done to help keep these people alive.
Please read further to learn more about the incredible Patricia Velásquez and The Wayuu Taya Foundation, as she tries to help make the world a better place, in Jejune’s exclusive interview below.
Foreword by Kira Bucca, Editor in Chief of Jejune Magazine.
What made you decide to leave engineering and pursue modeling?
I was offered work in Milan by an Italian agent who came to Venezuela. At that time, my family was enduring financial hardship, so I took this opportunity to help my family.
What made you decide to focus on acting?
The acting part came many years later and it happened naturally. I was asked to be in a movie called Le Jaguar with Jean Reno. It was written and directed by Francis Veber. It was a very big production from France. I accepted it because I loved the story, and some of it was shot in Venezuela, and I had never worked in my home country. I completely fell in love with the experience of acting. When I returned to NY, after we shot the movie, I changed the direction of my life and became very committed to acting.
You have done a lot of roles over the years, but we know you were just Patricia Alvarez in the new horror film The Curse of La Llorona. Can you tell us a bit about your character and the film?
I’m very blessed to have participated in this film because it talks about a presence who is La Llorona. She has been a part of the Spanish culture for generations, and to be able to participate in this film really meant a lot to me. It almost felt like I had a responsibility, that I had to make sure La Llorona was treated respectfully. My character, Patricia, is a mother doing everything she can to protect her children. One of the messages of the movie that spoke to me is that this is a film about three mothers who will stop at nothing for the love of their children. I loved working on the film and I am grateful to have worked with such incredible talents as Michael Chaves, James Wan, Linda Cardellini, Marisol Ramirez, Raymond Cruz, among others.
Also, we love that you were Begoña on The L Word. This show was a bit ahead of its time. Can you tell us a bit about being on The L Word?
Honestly, I can’t tell you too much about the L Word, because my participation in it was very small. I had a meeting with Ilene Chaiken, one of the creators, who told me she wanted to have me on the show. We had discussed the possibilities of developing an immigration storyline for the character. Unfortunately, the series got cancelled. So, while I was in several episodes , there was really no time to develop my character. Still, it was a great experience.
You are from the Wayuu group, an indigenous community located in northwestern Venezuelan and northern Colombia. Can you talk a little bit about growing up Wayuu in Venezuela?
I didn’t grow up in Venezuela. My dad worked with UNESCO. When I was one year old, we moved to France and we lived in Paris my first few years. Then we moved to Mexico for five years. So, by the time we moved to Venezuela, I was already well into my childhood. Because we traveled so much since I was little, I had a feeling of being an outsider all the time. I think my interests in wanting to know more about my Wayuu community, where my mom comes from, really came from that desire to belong. And of course, the more I found out, and the closer I got to our roots and our community, the more I fell in love with it.
What are your thoughts on how the indigenous populations of South America were treated when the Spaniards came?
This is a very deep and long question, which will take more than an interview for me to answer, but I appreciate you asking me. Of course, indigenous populations are the first to be conquered, and have been mistreated throughout the times. Anything that is done to hurt indigenous communities is very painful to me. At the same time, it makes me very proud to see, and be aware, of the resiliency, that indigenous communities have shown through the generations. When you think of how many wars there have been, indigenous communities have stayed throughout history. I believe their survival is because they have knowledge, and that is something that I wish we could take as an example for the rest of the world.
Are most of the Wayuu Christian now, or do they hold onto their original believes?
Wayuu people definitely hold their original beliefs. So much of the culture and knowledge has been passed down through oral stories. There are some Wayuu Christians and Evangelicals, but definitely at the core, it doesn’t matter what religion they practice, most Wayuu people hold on to their original beliefs.
What made you decide to start The Wayuu Taya Foundation?
It was 2002 in NY, and my uncle was ill. He was one of the oldest of my mom’s 12 brothers and sisters — he was almost like her dad. My mom loved him dearly, and before he died, he said to my cousin, ‘do not forget about the Wayuu.’ It almost started as a way of gratitude to him, but in time, we understood why he said that. At that point, through UNICEF, we learned that one Wayuu child was dying every day. It was the second poorest community in Latin America. Since both of my parents are educators, I thought - what if we started with a little pre-school because most of the kids that were dying were between 0-6 years old, so that would guarantee that at least the kids would get two meals a day. So that was where the sparkle of the Wayuu Taya Foundation started. Now we help care for thousands of children in different schools around the Wayuu area.
What exactly does the The Wayuu Taya Foundation do?
As you might be aware, we are living in a very difficult situation in Venezuela, the biggest humanitarian crisis in the continent throughout history. Close to four million people have left the country in the past few years. The Wayuu Village is on the border, which presents many challenges. Because thousands of people are crossing the border on foot, looking for more opportunities in Colombia, due to the lack of medicine and food in Venezuela. This has made us change our goals. In the past, we had the Roof Project, where we had a school, and the kids would come, and they received two meals a day. We had music programs, sports programs, entrepreneurship programs, and technology programs in very underprivileged areas. Now that we are dealing with a humanitarian emergency, we are just trying to feed the children and helping some of the families. We’re bringing health drives, which assess the children, bring nourishment to them, and we’re really trying to help as we go. Gasoline is in extremely limited supply in the country; therefore, it is sometimes difficult to get to some of the communities. Right now, the work of the foundation has shifted its focus to humanitarian work, due to emergency.
What are your thoughts on the current situation going on in Venezuela?
It’s very sad what’s going on in Venezuela, and I hope we can have a political transition very soon. We need to have free elections so we can get back to having freedom again, and rebuild the country.
Do you feel the indigenous populations are affected more than the rest of the population by what is happening in Venezuela?
I think indigenous populations have always been the more affected by everything, because they’re kind of on the bottom of a pit of poverty, but right now the situation in Venezuela is so extreme that everyone has been affected.
Can you speak some about the increased issue of human trafficking that is happening now with the Venezuelan people?
This is a very big problem because Venezuelans are fleeing the country to find food and medicine. There is so much human trafficking and slavery that is happening through the mafias that are ruling the borders between Venezuela and Colombia, between Venezuela and Brazil, and also the ones that are leaving by boat to, for example, Trinidad. It’s really a terrible problem that we probably won’t see the magnitude of yet because it’s happening as we speak, and everything is so desperate right now. Most concerning are all these mines in Venezuela that are in control of some of these groups, and unfortunately women and children are being trafficked. I just really hope that we can get to a place of transition so that this problem can stop.
Do you get to go back there to see the families you are helping?
I have gone back there many, many times, over the years, of course. I am in contact with them every day. There’s no electricity right now in many of these areas, given that the Wayuu Village is located in the Zulia state, which is the most affected by the electricity problem in the country, but we are very much in touch.
Is Wayuunaiki, the Wayuu language, still spoken?
It is actually obligatory in all of our schools, and is the main language that is spoken.
I know you helped preserve it through creating a dictionary for the Wayuu people. Can you please talk about that experience?
It’s really a wonderful thing the team was able to achieve, and I’m really proud of the Foundation for that. They worked with Microsoft and the Foundation was chosen for this grant. We worked with linguists from the University of Zulia, and we had to do a consensus with all the leaders amongst all the different heads of the clans in the community. The main problem in losing languages around the world, especially indigenous languages, is because all these modern terminologies, like technological terminology, doesn’t exist. It was an amazing thing to be able to see the leaders in the community now having a way to say “computer,” for example, in Wayuunaiki. Hundreds of these books have been given out to many different schools around the area.
Your mother is Wayuu. Does she help with your Foundation?
The Wayuu heritage is acquired through the mother’s side. Since my mother is Wayuu, I’m 100% Wayuu. Yes, my mom has helped all along. Not only is she the main inspiration, but anytime I have a doubt, or anytime I’m feeling like giving up, or I’m super excited, my mom is the one that I seek out. She is the one that I go to for advice. My sister Limayri is my other half in the Foundation. Without Limayri, none of this would be alive.
What is the best thing a lay person can do to help/get involved?
Thank you so much for this question. Money is always a big issue for nonprofits, and donations enable us to exist. We can do so much with so little, with just $10 dollars, for example. And, of course, there is all the work the volunteers do. But there are many other things that can be done. I mean, getting involved through spreading the word of what’s happening in the area, through the things that we publish, just not forgetting about us, or just talking to friends about it. Anything that we can do to spread the word is always a very big help.
One of your projects is that you have the Wayuu women knit bags to sell. Can you please explain how this empowers the women?
The Susu bags have been made for generations within our communities. When this was being focused on, it would take 21 days to make a bag. So the idea was that they would come, and make these bags under our roof, while the kids were at school. Then, after 21 days, they would get all kinds of workshops on family planning, hygiene, entrepreneurship, nutrition and many other things. Now it’s gotten challenging, given the situation there. We still give the workshops to the women though. Anytime we can, there are some empowering workshops being given to the women that are the moms of the children in the Wayuu Taya Foundation.
Where can we find these bags?
The bags are still available for sale at www.susustyle.com.