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New Year’s Venezuelan Style

That it has been a complicated year on a global scale is quite an understatement. Since I’ve done a lot of reflecting on our world’s myriad crises and shortcomings in previous community letters, I wanted the last letter of 2018 to bring you some Venezuelan magic. One of the things I learned from my father’s disappearance is that one can feel guilty being happy when faced with loss. For years, I felt I was betraying my father if days went by and I hadn’t mourned his absence. Now that I’m a parent myself, I realize we want our children to enjoy their lives, to learn, to grow, and to make the world better. I have learned to be OK with feeling happy even while coping with distress. We Venezuelans have quite a recipe for creating happiness as the year ends. The traditions vary from family to family, but as a country we see New Year’s Eve as a way to create our own spectacular sunrise for a new beginning. This is how my mom and I used to spend the last day of the year and how my husband Nate, my sons, and I spend it now.

First, we make sure we’re surrounded by family and friends. We dress up, and after a delicious dinner, we write down our wishes for the year to come. When I was a girl, we used to write them on the bathroom mirror with lipstick, but now we use one sheet of paper per family, creating a collage of wishes in our different handwritings. We then think of all the things that have made us unhappy this year, and we take turns mentally throwing them into a communal bucket of water, which we dump outside right before midnight in order to start the year without that baggage. At midnight, we hold money in our hand for prosperity, and we eat 12 grapes in the first 12 seconds of the year for luck during each coming month. We hug and run out the door, crossing the street with a suitcase in hand to make sure we get to travel in the new year. When we get back, we women change the good-luck yellow underwear we’ve been wearing inside out to the right side in. We then welcome the new year by dancing. 2018 is poised to be another complicated year, which is why I want to greet it brimming with energy and happiness. That way I can be ready for the battles that are to come. I hope you all join us in welcoming 2019 with your own rituals.

We Got a New Grant for The Weeping Season

We were awarded a Diversity Research Network Launch Award for $5,000 toward completing The Weeping Season. This exciting award will allow me to continue working with our editor Cristina Carrasco on shaping our rough draft of the film. We are hard at work on our Argentina (where she lives)/USA (where I live) collaboration on this draft, which we aim to complete by the spring of 2019.

Unearthed Photo of the Month

When my parents first got married, they lived in a beautiful house in el Hatillo, a secluded, wooded area outside Caracas. They blended their two last names—Hidalgo and Aagaard—to christen the house Hidalgaard, and they planted a series of pine trees around their property so they could watch them grow together. At Christmas, they’d buy a natural pine tree and would invite their family and friends for raucous Christmas parties. I was two when we sold that house, and I can’t remember any of these gatherings. I spent a lot of time imagining them, though, as I perused old photo albums featuring these celebrations in which younger versions of my relatives were frozen in poses of laughter and enjoyment.

After my parents’ divorce, my mom and I moved to the lovely apartment where she still lives today. We could no longer afford to buy a natural tree, but Mom refused to buy a plastic one. She wanted the scent of pine in our home and the cohabitation with nature that the pine tree represented. She asked her brother Tío José, who was a gifted woodworker, to make her a wooden frame of a life-sized Christmas tree. And so our tradition began. Every December, we would return to Hidalgaard as the sun was setting. Armed with some scissors and protected by near darkness, we’d go up to the now tall pine trees she had planted as a young bride. She’d clip small branches and I would collect them in a plastic tub. Minutes later, we’d run to the car giggling, and she’d remind me that it wasn’t really stealing because she’d planted those trees long ago. At home, we would tie the branches to the wooden frame with red ribbons and the house would be perfumed all of December—with pine trees and with the early days of the love from which I’d emerged. People found our tree curious, but as far as I was concerned, we had the most spectacular tree in town. I still think so.

My Edited Collection Pixelating the Self: Digital Feminist Memoirs is Published

In the fall of 2015, I was invited to design a special topics class for graduate students at Michigan State, and I came up with a course that looked at how to blend memoir and digital scholarship. Eight of the students’ final projects from the class were so strong that I decided to turn them into an edited collection. Pixelating the Self: Digital Feminist Memoirs features powerful personal stories told through webtexts, video, podcast, collage, and recipes. It was published by the open-source peer-reviewed series Intermezzo. Even if you’re not an academic, the stories featured in the collection will speak to you with their heart and nuance.

My Video About Argentinian Artist David Lamelas is Presented at the Broad Art Museum

This summer, I was contacted by the Broad Art Museum at MSU to create a short video about the making of their exhibit “David Lamelas: Fiction of a Production.” Check it out for a rarely seen look at the creative process behind setting up a museum exhibit and to learn more about David’s fantastic work.

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