By Daniela Láncara

Through My Lens—Dear Oklahoma

Dear Oklahoma,

I’m so grateful for you.

Thank you for the hospitality that’s welcomed an unlikely outsider like me. As a Venezuelan Cuban Spanish American immigrant born in Caracas, Venezuela, I never thought I’d find myself in small-town Norman, Oklahoma. From the friends and families who have opened their homes and lives, to the local Christian community who baptized me, to the catalyzing violin training I received, to my students who’ve openly shared their lives and cultures, and to the four seasons we get (sometimes all in one day), I’ve experienced God’s grace through your hospitality. Thank you for being my safe haven!

As I look back on my last six years here in sweet Oklahoma, there’s more to my story that I’d like you to know. For generations on end, it’s just been me. What I mean is that key people in my family lineage, including me, have had to navigate new spaces on our own, without the support and help that comes with family living in the same nation for many, many years. After three generations of forced immigration, my family is now spread across different states and countries. We live and serve apart from each other.

Yet together we carry our stories and experiences in our hearts. My everyday life carries the thumbprints of the generational traumas, sins, and blessings of our collective stories. The lessons I’ve learned from the matriarchs of my family and our immigration stories shape how I engage with Scripture and the gospel. And as a multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial woman, I know that stepping into Oklahoma means bringing my family’s stories and lives with me.

We are four women from the same family. We are immigrants, political refugees, multicultural, and tenacious women filled with grit. We are a mom of three children, a young bride, a mom of two children, and a young girl. We have direct connections to Spain, Cuba, the US, and Venezuela. Three out of the four of us fled from communism not knowing when we would see our husbands or fathers again. We saw no other way but to emigrate.

Sharing Our Stories

Margarita, my paternal grandmother. A 35-year-old Spaniard Cuban woman in the 1960s with three toddlers and one opportunity to flee from the oppressive systems in Cuba. A future there would have meant continued worry about having enough food, fear that the government might take away her home, and anxiety that if any family member caused the slightest interruption, the government would unjustly punish them. There was no other way but to emigrate. My grandmother set aside all her fears and boarded a boat headed for Venezuela with her three toddlers, dreaming of a new life. Fast-forward to 2018 when Venezuela followed in Cuba’s footsteps. Once again, my grandmother found herself confronted by the daily fear that her family wouldn’t have food or medicine, among other things. There was no choice but to emigrate again—this time to the US.

Sandra, my maternal grandmother. A 24-year-old American woman from Mystic, Connecticut, wooed by a handsome young man from Biscucuy, Venezuela, in the 1950s. After a sweet romance, they tied the knot in Barbados—the only place at the time where two young foreigners could legally marry. They then built a bicultural family in a little town in Venezuela called Punto Fijo. They lived there for 37 years and had five children. My grandmother worked as an English teacher with her students calling her “gua-tis-dis,” the Spanish reading of “What is this?” She loved their sense of humor, but the reality was and is that being an immigrant in her own family has been difficult at times. Ultimately, my grandparents’ story ended with a painful divorce and her returning to her land.

Mercedes, my mother. A 37-year-old Venezuelan American woman with two children and a chance to flee from Venezuela’s oppressive systems in 2002. Like Cuba, a group of power hungry people also dominate Venezuela. “We immigrated because we were afraid,” she tells me. “We had the knowledge of what had happened in Cuba, and everything was pointing to the same direction.” With her mother and mother-in-law’s same tenacity, Mercedes immigrated to the US. She managed three jobs, took care of two children, and learned how to navigate a new country and language. Soon after she arrived, things in Venezuela took an unexpected turn, and my dad needed to come to the US as soon as possible. Seventeen years later, my parents are still dealing with the aftermath of this traumatic transition.

Daniela, me. Back in 2002, an 11-year-old Venezuelan Cuban Spaniard American girl with a mom, brother, and a violin in hand. Protected by my music and my mother’s arms, I felt like immigrating was an adventure I didn’t choose. I quickly learned to assume adult responsibilities, that hard work is nonnegotiable, that cultivating a quiet strength is the key to success, and that with every new experience, I would become more and more resilient.

Shaped by the Past, Longing for New Life

I consider the context of my life’s daily grind and continuing to push through difficult situations: watching from afar as Venezuela goes downhill every day, the confusion and guilt for not feeling Venezuelan enough, navigating college in the US as a first-generation immigrant, and oh, so much more. And I naturally gravitate toward meditating on Jesus’ pain at Calvary. My King at the cross. For me. My God in the flesh, experiencing the most excruciating pain—way more suffering than I will ever go through. At his feet, I leave my troubles. At his feet, I wait. At his feet, I plead for mercy. May God grant me the strength to echar pa’ lante (Spanish slang for “to move forward”) the way Jesus did, the way my mother and grandmothers did.

My family’s collective sin has tainted our relationships with God. We’ve elevated family relationships over a personal one with him. We’re confused about our own brokenness, our original sin, and are quick to point fingers. After divorces, arguments, panic attacks, and addictions, we fail to see where we fall short. And I’ve learned that we’re not unique in this. I’ve sat with college students over and over again who are heavy laden, full of tears, and living in similar cycles of generational sin.

But Jesus is not done. I believe he has brought my family into the darkest time to turn our eyes up to his. As heartache and pain follow my family line for years on end, Jesus’ pain at the cross is near to my heart. In his sovereign time, I believe God’s redemptive plan will unfold in my family. Just as I believe new life will come in my family, I believe God also desires reconciliation and unity in our college campuses and communities. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Acts 17:26–27 on God’s ultimate plan for us as his children:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

So, my dear Oklahoma, as we pray for unity and reconciliation—across race and ethnicity in our families, campuses, and local communities—hear our stories, feel our pain, and hold our hands. Understand that my Jesus leaves room for our generational grief and sorrow. This is a glimpse of my story, the lens through which I see my faith. I invite you to continue to ask me, ask us questions and step into the pain. Feel the weight of it as if it were yours. Only when that happens, can we be united in prayer.

Con sincero amor (Spanish for “with sincere love”),

Daniela

Daniela serves as a Campus Staff Minister with InterVarsity’s Black Campus Ministries and LaFe (Latino Fellowship) chapters at the University of Oklahoma.

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