Instead of drinking red Kool-Aid, kids breathed in fumes from dirty glass bottles. Girls dressed like women, selling roses at restaurants. Boys acted tough in the hopes of being men.
These were some of the first few images from La Vendedora de Rosas, a 1998 Colombian film directed by Victor Garcia. It’s based on a short story by Hans Christian Anderson called “The Little Match Girl.”
The short story in a line: A dying girl, abused, lonely and poor tries to sell matches on New Year’s Eve, thinking of the contrast between the coldness of the world and the love shown to her by her grandmother. Then the girl dies.
She gave up on living.
And we see the same in La Vendedora de Rosas.
A group of young teens are trying to make it on their own because they don’t want to go back to their often abusive homes. They’re looking for love more than anything else: acceptance, compassion, mercy and the opportunity to make their dreams come true.
Monica, the protagonist, often thinks of her grandmother. She was the one who showed Monica love and compassion in the harsh world of Medellin’s slums.
It was difficult to watch this film at points. You see kids, between the ages of 10 and 13 huffing, high, defending each other on the street and at some points running for their lives. They live life through the haze of drugs and try to hang on each day.
Instead of finding food vendors late at night (as you often do in Colombia), the film showed informal drink stands: Moms with their toddlers selling a variety of liquors.
The movie doesn’t end on a happy note (SPOILER ALERT in the next sentence). Monica dies.
I was left with a number of questions after watching this film.
1. What are the challenges and situations that make children vulnerable in rural and urban Colombia?
2. What are the challenges and situations young girls in those contexts have to face?
3. So what can I do?
It’s natural for any person to come to the third question without really thinking so much about the first two. I do want to help. I want to make a change for the better in the lives of children like Monica. But without understanding the context–the why and the how of their situation–it’s impossible to make a lasting difference.
I’ve also realized, through other class readings and my own thinking that the solutions to those problems aren’t going to come from some 19 year-old Colombian-American who has lived in America her entire life (ie, me). The best solutions will come from the people who are facing those problems. We can help with resources and structure to accomplish those goals. But the best solutions come from people who understand community dynamics and culture. You can’t walk into a situation expecting to be the expert.
It’s not about you.
This is the mentality I want to bring to my journalistic work now and in the future..
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my goals is to create a rural journalism start up in Colombia one day. And the more I think about it, I have to go in with the mentality “It’s not about you,” in place.
Or else, I’ll fail.