Texte par Tom Chaix
Photos par Wilfried Kareb
‘‘When I was a little girl I always put my hair in a bun. A friend told me, ‘You look like Tinkerbell!’. And Tinkerbell in Spanish is called Campanita.’’
CHAPTER 1: IT STOPPED MY LIFE
Adriana Martinez welcomes me in her apartment in Nice, where she has just settled. Speaking good French, with a singing Latin accent with some words quickly adapted from Spanish, she tells little by little her story. This is the story of a Venezuelan warrior, whose journey is strewn with daunting trials. The emotional story of a long road full of adventures, highlighted with joys and despairs that began when she was 15 years old.
Adriana’s family situation has never been simple or stable. She rarely lives with her parents. Born in 1995 with a complicated and violent father, as she describes him, and a mother with a serious drug addiction, she frequently changes homes to live with relatives who take care of her. At the age of 15, she leaves to live with her sister in Guarenas, a city 150 km from Caracas. It is 2010, in Chavez’s Venezuela. Chavez is popular, « He did many things for those who had few opportunities. But under Chavez, Venezuela was a bit like a beautiful gift box, with nothing inside, » Adriana points out: superb hospitals, but without doctors, without medicine; many popular supermarkets, the « Mercal », but empty or with spoiled food… The only purpose is to make the people, mostly poor and ignorant, believe that everything was fine.
Chavez died in 2013, after eight years as president. He left his place to President Maduro, who is still in power today.
Tensions with her sister lead Adriana to quickly leave Guarenas: in 2010, she moves to Caracas to live with her father and grandmother, in the eastern part of the city. Unfortunately, her daily life quickly becomes hell with her father who « makes her live the worst moments of her life ». In search of an outlet, she frequently roams the streets of Caracas until she comes across a group of Bboys/Bgirls training. This discovery immediately resonates with her: « I went to train with them because there was a bboy who was really handsome, and he would never look at me if I didn’t make any moves! « she laughs. The atmosphere appeals to her: this energy that is different from what she has known in her life, the joy around the exercise, the laughter, something that could give rhythm to her daily life. It is from this desire to leave her reality, coupled with the need to prove something to herself, to put herself in difficulty, that she joins the Bboys and Bgirls of Caracas.
In 2011, Adriana starts her last year of high school to get a degree in science and technology in Caracas. Her father leaves home, leaving her with her grandmother. Her grandmother gives her total autonomy and freedom. Driven by this desire to be accepted by the Bboys/Bgirls of Caracas, she adopts a rather casual social character, inviting many people to her house to party, and lets herself be influenced quite quickly by her surroundings. This attitude betrays her rather quickly, and there are rumors on her behavior with the Bboys. In this very tight knitted dance community, these rumors turn into verbal and sometimes sexual harassment which underminds her self-confidence. « By being told false things about yourself with no one backing you up you end up believing what you are told » she says. Alone, despite her efforts and hopes, suffering from violent remarks during training, Adriana leaves the scene after a year and a half of Breakdancing, around 2012. According to her, in the long term, it was not going to take her anywhere.
At the age of 16, in December 2011, she finishes high school to go to university. The government of Chavez is the first to create a free public university in Caracas, the « Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela ». Adriana, happy and full of hope to be able to study for free, enrolls to study architecture.
Unfortunately, the university resembles Venezuela: « a beautiful gift box with nothing inside ». The teaching is disastrous, mostly focused on military education and the life of Chavez. « Half of the grade in the second semester consisted of going to a protest march to show your support for the government, it was nonsense. Fortunately, there was the internet to realize that it was nonsense, » she says, still astonished. Adriana refuses to go to this march, explaining that she was physically too small and not comfortable in such large gatherings. She pays for this decision as soon as classes resume on the following Monday. Her teacher invites her to the front of the class, « Adriana, si tu no pones tu rotilla al suelo para sustener tu govierno, no puedes estudiar aqui. Debes agradecer el que construyo este universidad »* she says aggressively as the teacher tears up Campanita’s registration papers. Campanita leaves the public university and joins a private institute in September 2012 to resume her studies. With no financial support from her family, she works several jobs: in the morning she works as a medical assistant, and at night she works at the reception of a hotel. In the afternoons, she devotes her time to her studies. Her energy allows her to pay for her training, at the expense of her health and sleep. In January 2014, after finishing the school year, she decides to put aside the institute, the time to earn enough money to return and study serenely.
One month later, Campanita’s destiny takes a decisive turn, on February 12, 2014, on the Youth and Student Day. The political climate is still tense in Venezuela. Indeed, when Chavez dies in 2013, he leaves a highly indebted country, with a drifting economy, galloping inflation dramatic food shortages, and an increasing crime rate. It is in this social climate, violent and dismayed, that Chavez’ vice-president Nicolas Maduro takes power in 2013.
The opposition to the Maduro government, led by Leopoldo Lopez, is calling on all students to demonstrate against the government responsible for hyperinflation and its consequences. The protests spread like a fireball to 38 cities throughout the country.
In Caracas, a peaceful march is organized with a rallying-point being the Public Prosecutor’s Office so that everyone could go to the polls to file a complaint. Campanita, marked with white on her face and hands as a sign of peace, like most of the participants in the march, joins the movement to file a complaint against her exclusion from the university. Waiting for a general response from the Minister the demonstrators sat singing in front of the government building. This is where it all got out of hand. The government decides to respond to a peaceful protest with a raid by civilian militias (the colectivos – local civilian mafias from the favelas, managed and armed by the government for this occasion), and police. The hunt for the demonstrators begins. Campanita, accompanied by some protestors who were close to her during the demonstration, flees. It is at the beginning of the sprint that, what she imagines of life and her country, is torn apart, « I heard a boom, huge, very close to me, really as if it was just to my left, a few centimeters away.’’. Masked with a sad smile, illustrating the scene with a lot of gestures and difficulty finding her words, she explains that her fellow protestor who was running next to her was shot in the head. « It stopped my life, what to do?’’. She continues her run all the way home. Her hate and disgust for the government fuels her revolutionary determination and motivation to embark on an endless fight for freedom. Another person is shot and killed that night. Leopoldo Lopez’s opposition movement and the protesters are charged for the bloodshed. Leopoldo Lopez resigns from the opposition and is jailed. Maduro’s message is clear: You see what happens if you protest.
‘‘People are too ignorant. There are young people who are killing themselves in the street, and 80% of the population watching’’
>> Campanita pendant une session de danse suite a nos entretiens.
>> Campanita et sa grand-mère avant son départ en Colombie.
CHAPTER 2: WAR
« It doesn’t matter if I die. I just need this guy (Maduro) to get out of my country. There is no point in living in this country” says Adriana, upset. To tell the truth, everything pisses her off, her family, her country, her government, her friends, herself. Determined, she participates as a local leader, for months, to maintain the demonstrations.
The city is on fire, at each large gathering there is considerable violence committed by the military. The demonstrations are organized differently, locally, by neighborhood. Campanita calls on the people of her neighborhood to create a squad of about 30 people: she studies the neighborhood to stake out the streets through which to flee in case of an emergency, the places to hide, or to set traps for the police. « I went up to every floor of my building to tell all my neighbors that if they don’t want to go out on the street, they can still help us escape. I told them to put the water bottles in the freezer so that when they throw them at the police it will have the effect of a rock, it will slow them down and we’ll have more time to get away.’’.
In March 2014, Venezuela celebrates the anniversary of Chavez’s death, a very important day. The entire city is dominated by the military to prevent demonstrations against the government. Faces masked to protect their identity, Campanita and her squad go to protest in their neighborhood, quickly running into police roadblocks. Campanita describes the most violent 40 minutes of her life, « it was war, it was really war.” The police forbids them to protest. Reluctantly, the young leader asserts her constitutional right, and faces the first threats of a military squad: « If you don’t leave on your own, we’ll use violence to make you move.” A policeman at the roadblock grabs the ponytail of one of Campanita’s compatriots and pulls it towards him. Adriana struggles against the policeman to get the girl back to her side, until another policeman strikes the girl’s head with the edge of his sword. « I felt that what had just happened was my fault, » she relates. The violence intensifies, the demonstrators turn on the police, the battle takes a catastrophic turn. « I grabbed a policeman, we hit him, disarmed and stripped naked, right downstairs from my house. I felt so much hatred, I was uncontrollable. It was my friends who shouted to calm me down. The policeman was begging because he had two children… But why are you doing this then?! I don’t understand anything! ». That day, in the aftermath of the altercation, Campanita appears in full view of the police, without a mask to hide her face. Two comrades of her squad disappear the same day. The government threats increase, Adriana explains: « It was complicated, it was always complicated. Everything was done to scare people. It went on like that until I said to myself that it would be useless, because people are too ignorant. There are young people who are killing themselves in the street, and 80% of the population watching. »
Following the numerous demonstrations, the police are looking for Adriana for political opposition: she risks capital punishment or imprisonment. Abandoning all hope for this country she loves so much: « You can be killed for a pair of shoes. How will I live here? What dream will I wake up with tomorrow?’’.
She returned to Venezuela only once during the next 3 years, for the funeral of her beloved grandmother.
CHAPTER 3: BREAKING GAVE ME EVERYTHING
The departure is difficult, she leaves alone, at the age of 18, to Colombia where she does not know anybodyt. She arrives in the small town of Cucuta, near the border. Upon her arrival, she dances in a park in Cucuta to contain her emotions, and finds sensations abandoned since 2012. Luck begins to smile on her, the benefits of the Breakdance and Hip-hop community become apparent. Campanita meets Bboy Mago, a dancer from Cucuta who observes her in the park that day. He offers her to stay at his place and makes her meet the actors of the local Hip Hop scene, as well as several people who help Campanita a lot. These encounters will be decisive for her future. She practices « dance therapy », learning several dances such as Zumba, and she also learns sewing. She is the only Bgirl of Cucuta and brings movements that the Bgirls of the region don’t know how to do (2000, headspins etc.). Her passion for Bboying asserts itself, she learns more about the culture and the fundamentals, her entourage encourages her, the atmosphere is healthier than what she had known.
Sometime later, eager to evolve, to perhaps resume studies, to do something else than dancing to earn a living, Adriana leaves Cucuta for Cali, capital town of Salsa. She meets there an exceptional Bgirl scene. As soon as she arrives, she is offered to leave the same weekend to participate in an international battle in Ecuador, Mortal Kombat 2 in Cuenca. She is also offered to perform street shows at traffic lights (semaforo) to finance the trip and the expenses. Campanita wins the battle – Bgirls category – and realizes how easy it is to travel with Breaking « Why not live from it a little? I want to discover all of Latin America like this, I want to be the best in the world! » she exalts herself, her passion for the discipline becoming addictive. Shortly after, during a trip to Medellin to participate in the biggest hip-hop event in Colombia, « Hip4 », Campanita was able to put into words what breakdancing brings to her. Invited to this event, Afrika Bambaataa made a long speech about the origin and fundamentals of the culture and said: « Bboying teaches you to fall, to get up, and to do it again, until you succeed ». Adriana elaborates, « He changed something in my head, I thank him, he changed my life as a Bgirl. I identify with that thought. I said to myself that I do something wonderful! It’s magical to be in this culture. I want to experience that everywhere. » She immediately decides travel and perform street shows in Latin America. Her boyfriend, also a dancer, agrees to follow her.
In 2015, their journey takes them to all the countries of Latin America, from Colombia to Argentina. Financed by their street shows, they meet a lot of people, dance everywhere, live very beautiful and difficult adventures. The couple of dancers eventually separate at their arrival in Argentina.
Adriana decides to settle in Argentina. At the beginning, one of her cousins take her in, she quickly finds work and obtains residency papers. She continues to practice and wins several battles. She falls in love with an Argentinean, who is not a dancer, and moves in with him. She describes a very complicated period. Tired of running, being a political emigrant, not having time to grieve over those she left behind: « I left my country at 18, I experienced things I never thought I would, and when I arrived in Argentina I had so much information to digest that I needed someone to tell me ‘take your time’. He picked me up in that moment of vulnerability. It’s hard for me to talk about that time because I don’t recognize myself.” Despite the manipulative and perverse character of her companion, Adriana clings above all to the boy’s family, who she describes as wonderful: « It is the first time that I had a dad and a mom, why not be part of this family?’’. Influenced, she stops dancing and has several very difficult experiences. Her relationship brings her into a state of mental and physical distress. She realizes her poor situation and decides to leave Argentina for a while to find herself. She takes a bus and goes to Brazil.
Love at first sight with Brazil: ‘‘Brazil is a crazy thing, it’s really the real Hip Hop. Crazy cyphers, super strong Bgirls! ». The feeling of being really in the original culture of Hip Hop, performing street shows all day long in the subways, exchanging her coins against meals in the shopping malls. She spends these few weeks with a local crew, the KillaRockers. She lives so many experiences that lead her, sometime later, to participate in the great battle NOTORIOUS IBE – Brazilian qualifications. » We got to IBE, we had nothing to eat, no money. I just had an apple . The DJ was Nobunaga, I had butterflies in my stomach when I saw him, I was training to his music! I said to myself, « I have to dance like it’s the last day of my life.” So I danced like that and I won IBE Brazil. The prize was to go to the Netherlands the following year to attend the original IBE festival. It was beautiful. I thought, this is it or nothing. Breaking gave me everything, all the good things in my life, sewing, meeting people, confidence, everything.’’.
The reward includes the plane ticket to Holland, the hotel for the three days of the IBE and the meals. The year passes, she returns to Argentina to her boyfriend, works to earn enough money for her trip to Europe, trains, etc.
‘‘I thought, this is it or nothing. Breaking gave me everything, all the good things in my life, meeting people, confidence, everything.’’
>> Campanita compte l’argent gagné après les street shows au «semaforo» – feux rouges.
>> Victoire du battle Notorious IBE – qualification Brésil en 2016.
CHAPTER 4: THE HARDEST STEP.
She flies alone from Argentina to Europe in June 2016. Everything seems to be going well for her, yet « it’s the hardest step of my life » Campanita says.
Her initial plan is to make this trip to Europe, discover the European Hip Hop, the iconic Breaking festivals and go see the Eiffel Tower. Then she wants to return to join her boyfriend in Argentina to settle down permanently. Contemplating about their relationship Campanita adds: « but that’s when the universe said no, that won’t be your life ».
The IBE experience is great, she learns English very quickly. « I want to talk to people, this is the first time I’m going to meet everyone I watch on YouTube!’’. Marked by beautiful encounters and beautiful energies, she shares in all environments, gives her best dance. After the IBE she goes to Outbreak in Slovakia, and then decides to go and see her friend Bboy Stuart (also Venezuelan) who lives in Clermont Ferrand.
After some street shows in Clermont Ferrand, Campanita, Stuart and some other friends go to Lyon to visit the city, to drop her off, at the train station to go to Paris. All her belongings are in the car. Filled with emotions, Campanita describes, « We got out of the car just around the corner to visit something that was in Lyon. I didn’t want to go; I remember that moment. Stuart insisted. We went out for five minutes. When we came back, the windows of the car were broken, and everything, absolutely everything had been stolen. They left me with my dirty street show shirt and shorts. In my wallet I had 1700€, my Venezuelan passport, my Argentina residency card. That moment was the end of the world for me.” At that time, it was very complicated to get a new passport: the government did not want residents to leave the country, so obtaining identity papers could take years. Adriana urgently goes to the Venezuelan consulate in Paris to ask for help. As corrupt as the administrative institutions in Caracas, the consulate refuses, without concession and with contempt, to grant her any protection.
Having no proof of her identity, she is unable to renew her Venezuelan passport in France. The consulate tells her that the only way to renew her papers is to return to Venezuela. She tries her luck at the Argentinean consulate to see if she could return to Argentina without her residency papers. The consulate tells her: « Yes, it is possible, you just need proof that you live in Argentina, and the Venezuelan consulate must authorize you to leave France for Argentina. »
The consulate refuses Adriana’s authorization to regain Argentina and invites her to handle the situation alone. Although overwhelmed, Campanita regains her fighting spirit, and decides to return to Venezuela to have a chance to renew her passport.
She works for three months to buy a plane ticket to Venezuela. The victory of another battle, BGIRL France, allows her to extend her stay in Europe. Campanita returns to the consulate to ask for a a pass, allowing her to take the plane. After a new altercation with the consulate, Campanita manages to get the document she needs. She takes her plane to Venezuela.
CHAPTER 5: THE UNIVERS
In 2017, she arrives in Venezuela, reluctantly, three years after her departure, wounded and exhausted. She finds herself facing a destroyed Venezuela, her family, weakened, has just enough to survive. It is shocking. She rushes to finalize all the paperwork for her passport. Luckily, she gets the appointment very quickly. It is after the appointment that she counts the months to receive her passport. She spends her time at home, she explains: »I didn’t go out for a month and a half because I was afraid. Of everything, of the violence… I put myself in a bubble. ». Each outing was traumatic, she is assulted for a sweater she is wearing, or even less. ‘‘I used to go out for a walk in the city center where usually there are lots of stores, , people were fighting over a pair of shoes. There was an endless line to buy a loaf of bread. Yes, only one because it was the law, you can’t take more than one.”.
Tired of waiting for her passport, she decides after five months to leave her country for good and goes to Colombia. However, the situation for Venezuelan emigrants had also changed. In three years, more than 1,000,000 Venezuelans had moved to Colombia. The reception was very badly organized by the Colombian authorities. The refugees invaded the parks, the streets, slept outside. An anti-Venezuelan racism was created. And this throughout Latin America.
She stays in Colombia for three months, just long enough to earn enough money to return to Argentina and get her political refugee card. Life is hard there, but she fights hard and takes on odd jobs (washing car windows at stoplights, making small deliveries…). She earns money, enough to live on and to be able to go to Argentina. But once again, her belongings are stolen, a Venezuelan Bboy steals her money.
Once again left to her own devices, she bounces back. She goes to Cali to compete in the battle ‘‘Express Your Skill’’ in February 2018, which brings together the best Bboys and Bgirls of Latin America, the reward for the winner is to go to Puerto Rico for the international final. She wins the battle: ‘‘How can the universe speak to me more clearly? I’m falling and the universe comes to me and says, «no it’s okay don’t worry, it’s going to be okay!’’. This battle makes her reconsider all her plans: she now has a way to return to Europe to make a life for herself. The organizer agrees to give her the reward in the form of money to be able to purchase a ticket Colombia- Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico – Europe. Her passport is still in the hands of the Venezuelan administration, so she goes back there to get it and to obtain a US VISA, necessary for Puerto Rico.
She uses her victory in the battle to justify the need to get her passport back quickly. She first presents herself to the Ministry of Sports and Culture: ‘‘I am an athlete, I represent the country, I have won competitions, it is my job. I need my passport to compete in an international final in Puerto Rico.’’. The Minister of Culture receives her, reassures her, and helps her to write a letter that she hands in the same day to the prefecture (SAIME), so that she could be given priority. The letter has no effect. The next day she goes back to the minister: ‘‘They did nothing with your letter. Is the minister of culture something in this country?’’. Annoyed, he accompanies Adriana to the SAIME. They ask to see the director. After waiting for five hours, the director shows up, ignoring the minister of culture, and declares, looking at Campanita: ‘‘Well, you are the problem, aren’t you?’’. The altercation begins, Campanita retorts: ‘‘No, you are the problem, you do not manage this place. It is not possible that I have to wait more than eight months for my passport.’’. The director replies with absolute calm: ‘’Oh yes, they’ve already told me about your character… In five minutes, you’ll be in my office’’.
Anxious, knowing the risks that ‘‘opponents’’ run in her country, Campanita enters the office. The director closes the door, sits down, and says with contempt: ‘‘Chiquita pero peligrossa *’’. Campanita once again plays on her audacity: ‘‘You mustn’t test the danger that I can represent. I need my passport. I came with the Minister of Culture who is waiting for me downstairs, he knows who I am.’’. The director takes Campanita’s passport out of one of his drawers, puts it on the table and retorts: ‘‘I know also who you are, what are we going to do now?’’. Shocked, Campanita understands that her passport has been ready for a long time. But she and the director know that they have no interest in getting into a conflict. He signs the passport, gives it to Adriana, adding: ‘‘I respect your character’’.
The next day, she makes her one-week visa for the USA, direction Puerto Rico. After Puerto Rico she goes to Germany.
>> Campanita après sa victoire au battle «Express your skills».
>> Campanita avec son nouveau passeport.
CHAPTER 6: PASS
« Where is your return ticket? » asks the customs officer in Germany to Campanita. If she laughs about it now, she was still in a panic when she landed in Germany. She has no money, and doesn’t speak English well, but her plan is well thought out once again. She presents to the customs officer all the flyers of the different battles: Outbreak, IBE, Legit’s Blast… » In fact, I do not have a return ticket yet. I am a professional dancer; I will do all these battles. My return date will depend on the victories » she explains. The customs officer asks her about her financial means to stay several months in Europe. « I’ve been to Europe before, and they stole my money and all my things. So now I want to arrive safely where I will be housed and then they will send me my money via Western Union. » Adds Campanita politely. « And then they let me in.”
She has successfully completed the bumpiest part of the road of her journey to freedom. As an asylum seeker, she counts the hours of waiting along with the stream of Syrian, Sudanese and Afghan immigrants, each with their own misery and miserable life paths. She obtains a 10-year residence permit in December 2020 and moves to Nice where she can finally settle down, breathe life, and call it home » I hate the politics of my country, not my country. It’s my country anyway. But I’m tired of starting my life over again, I don’t know if I’d go back if it got better. Not for now anyway. » ends Campanita.
Today, Campanita has created a name for herself in the European Bgirling scene. Through many ambitious projects, she is listened to on the international scene, and claims the same recognition for the Bgirls as for the Bboys. We can mention among others her project EntreBgirls – which aims to bring together the Latin American Bgirl scene to help them assert and structure themselves.