To my pueblo

I love you, costeños.

I’ve known it for a while now, and as our second year together draws to a close, it’s truer than ever. I need it to be known.

I love your happiness. You are so happy and cheerful and optimistic, even if it’s not always evident because it’s so hot that it can be hard to exhibit emotions sometimes. When you do though, you emote those emotions until the range from devastation to ecstasy is exhausted, and that may be a matter of minutes. I hate it but then I love that everything is sentimental and has to have feelings, I hate but love that you have to watch your words and your tone to avoid (or inflict) insult, but the tiniest change can fix (or break) everything. A well-timed “que pena” cures all and a cautiously toned “bueno” can be the end of the world. I love that you do that.

I love that you make a party out of anything and everything. No hay plata – there’s never money – but somehow we can dig up a bottle of Old Parr or Antioqueño and someone has music and suddenly it’s a party. I love how good you are at parties and how you make us gringos look supremely boring for it.

You dance. I love, love, love your dancing. I love that it’s more natural than walking for tiny children and that it’s a given at any social event. I love that you all know every type of music and you shamelessly break into the appropriate dance as soon as it starts. I love that passionate look you get on your faces when you sing along, whether it’s vallenato, salsa, champeta, cumbia, reggaeton, bachata or a hundred other genres. I love that you know all the words even though all the vallenato songs still sound the same to me.

I love that you’re loud. I love it but I hate it, because my culture believes in inside voices and noise ordinances while yours is constantly at a shocking volume. I love that shouting is normal and joyous and usually not angry. I love the feeling when I finally get sick of being unheard and I shout right along with you and you hear me and it’s normal.

I love your terrible, undecipherable accent. I love costeñol. It’s creative and funny and forthright and offensive and beautiful. I love that your intonation is backwards and you sound like you’re arguing when you’re asking a question. I love your words that don’t exist in the dictionary but once they are learned the conversation flows so uniquely that it’s entertainment just to follow along. I love how many ways you have to say anything and I love how it’s not the academics but the Average Joes who come forth with the most original, honest and hilarious metaphors. I love how you’re vulgar but it isn’t really vulgar because it’s just the norm. I love that you always tutear and talk too fast. I love that even the paisas and the cachacos can’t understand you – but I can, costeños. I can. Unless you’re a taxi driver…or from Cartagena.

I love how you put so much effort into your appearance – hair and nails and makeup and everything must match and no wrinkles or stains. I love it because you know that everyone is going to be looking at you and you want them to see how good you look. It’s not about caring what everyone thinks, it’s that you are 99% certain to be shouting or dancing in public and you want to look good when that happens. I love your confidence in putting on six inch heels and too-tight jeans that I wouldn’t dare squeeze into but you do and you win at it.

And you do look good and I love you for it. I love how everyone is good-looking, I love your perfect hair anywhere on the curlycue to shiny straight range, I love your flawless skin in every shade of brown to café con leche, I love your bone structures and your body shapes.

Costeños, I don’t want to love you but I do. I love your charm and your boyish good looks and your flowery, comically exaggerated come-ons. I hate how you objectify women and catcall but sometimes those catcalls are so over-the-top that all I can do is laugh and you win the game and it’s ok, I love you anyway (“Good morning my precious queen of the heavens!” as I jog past at 5:30am.) I hate your womanizing and I hate that I try not to fall for your sweet smiles and hypnotic natural rhythm because I know you’re deceitful and weak…but I love you, costeños. I hate that I should be talking about books and current events with respectful, open-minded academic boys from Bogotá but I love the sabor and I can’t.

I love you, costeños and I love that you know your faults and you are the first to make fun of them. You know you talk funny and you cut corners and cheat on tests and significant others. You know you err on uncouth but you don’t care because you also know that everyone loves you and with reason. You know the rest of your countrymen board their planes for vacation with their white linen outfits and vueltiao hats and they awkwardly serve their Old Parr and string together nonsensical things like “echenojoda!” and try to be costeño for a few days but they can’t.

I love you, costeños. Thank you for letting me in.