Exploring Venezuela’s African History with Evelyne Laurent-Perrault
by Nicolle Morales Kern
Evelyne Laurent-Perrault was born to Haitian and Venezuelan parents in Caracas, Venezuela, a city she loves for its beauty and the warmth of its people. Evelyne’s father was an engineer and her stepmother was a pharmacist. She grew up in an area of Caracas where few people looked like her family, and her peers perceived her as a minority. Evelyne described the experience as “a double-edged sword, an illusion of inclusion, but the inclusion had its limits.”
While growing up, she didn’t have the language to describe her situation nor was she able to express the range of emotions she felt in a world where being black was not appreciated. Yet, something changed when her Licenciatura degree in Biology, from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, led her to an internship at the New York Zoological Society. As part of the internship, she lived in South West Cameroon working in wild life conservation. During her African sojourn Evelyne witnessed many cultural similarities between Africans and Venezuelans.
For example, in Venezuela, when someone asks you where something is, you don’t point with your finger to show them, you signal with your lips; a custom also common in some parts of Africa. Another example can be found in expressions used. While engaged in conversation with a friend from Angola, Evelyne used the phrase en fua, describing when something comes to an end. Her African friend understood the term, defining it in his language, Kikongo, as meaning dead.
It was this and other experiences that helped her realize that African contributions in Venezuela were deeper than she initially thought. These contributions aren’t taught in Venezuelan schools. For instance Venezuelan schools recognize September as the month devoted to celebrating both Columbus Day and Spain as Venezuela’s mother country.
With the weight of those experiences, Evelyne hasn’t stopped questioning what and how the story of Africa is told. Her dissertation, as a PhD candidate at New York University’s History Department- African Diaspora program, explores the intellectual contribution of Afro-descendants in Caracas-Venezuela, during the end of the colonial period, 1770-1810. A topic she chose “because this was the last stretch of the colonial period, a lot of changes took place at that time, but I thought that this moment represented also the zenith of people of African descent’s demands.” Read more