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  • Zechariah 9:12 – Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
  • Jeremiah 33:6 – Behold I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security
  • Romans 15:13 – Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

In just two weeks of moving into La Unión (one of the barrios in the Aguablanca district), neighbours and street vendors greeted me as though I had lived there for years. Total strangers would share stories and jokes almost anywhere, including in the public buses and restaurants, which prompted me to learn more Spanish. I had the fear of not being able to join the spirit of sharing happiness and compassion. I was certain that this had to be one of the happiest cultures and people. This was hard to confirm until I saw an article about the happiest cultures.

Oscar Cardozo, a resident of Aguablanca

Oscar Cardozo, resident of Aguablanca

In 2012 various surveys were taken around the world so as to determine the Happiest Nation in the world. Colombia happened to be in the top 3 nations according to the HPI (Happy Planet Index).The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was introduced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in July 2006. I decided to investigate why. During the process I had to reflect upon a lot of realities that I encounter in my day-to-day life in Cali, Colombia. These are the observations I made based on the word that the Valle citizens chose to describe themselves as “Caleño.”

Tere, an MCC service worker, told me that to be caleño means that you are servicial, amable” (helpful, kind). Some of the church members said that the word also means “respetuoso, tranquilo” (respectful, tranquil). I then realized that maybe this is the reason why a community would always be happy. A culture that is built on such basic principles of selflessness would certainly be happy. My favorite definition was given by Mr. Sigifredo Godoy when he stated that Caleño is the identity of happiness that is derived from peace in oneself and confidence in ones’ community.

As my research proceeded, many rhetorical questions popped up in my mind: Why then is there such urban violence? How can there be happiness when justice is delayed, especially in a district like Aguablanca, where gangs often engage in violent warfare? This is a population of displaced people, but they are also Caleño. How can they be respectuos, tranquilos, and be peaceful, when they have been born into a present that has a lot of hurt and injustice?

I respect this community. Most are still able to be Caleño despite their history and present tribulations. They are full of love, compassion and respect. Prayer is essential so that such culture prevails. We are to pray for peace in Colombia. Peace amongst the people, a spirit of  tranquility, and ideal governance that will restore the humanity of the victims and displaced populations.

This is the brief summary, in the form of a poem, of the stories I have heard from Cali (Aguablanca) -stories of how they are able to be hospitable and happy.


Aguablanca streets

Aguablanca streets

I inherited an identity,

One that was lost,

In the epitaph of my siblings

Whose souls are displaced,

Wandering in the barrios of my

family’s memories.

And never got a chance

To a decent burial


I dare to deny the depth

Of the dagger, though some

Use it to stab their way out of poverty

I chose to let it be.


I sober my days with a smile

To every passerby

Let them know

That  though I am physically displaced,

My family,

Victims of a coveted conquest, of the poor and voiceless.

I can be happy, for it is in the present that we can ferment future hope

Of  justice and freedom from fear.

I will not shed a tear,

But only share laughter, to all who are near.

Until…Until…Until my home is Just,

and my memories of home

are lost in my sorrowful bliss.


One thought on ““Caleño”

  1. Your poems are beautiful. Thank you for exploring displaced communities as they resettle elsewhere- I´ve wondered what this means for heritage and group identity and your poems reveal answers in the stories.

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