“Did you hear about the hippopotamuses in Colombia?”
I love people’s random comments when something happens in Colombia. Because I’m Colombian, they immediately want to share the news with me or see if I have some insider track on what happened.
At first, I thought this was a commentary on my weight. It is hard not to when you grow up where fat-shaming is still alive and kicking. I’m not sure if this applies to all Colombians but my family’s love language was and is fat-shaming.
Whenever I call my grandfather he asks me my current weight and then my height; and quickly calculates my BMI before telling me whether or not I need to start exercising more.
Of course, Botero came out of Colombia. He would’ve never been able to come out of the United States. He became famous for painting scenes of obese people in different settings — his paintings almost always criticizing or mocking some aspect of society.
He has also repainted famous pieces of art in his style, Boterismo, replacing the people in the classics with large people as you could only find in society now — his representation of the Mona Lisa I love more than the Mona Lisa itself.
That style would’ve been quickly shut down in the United States. It would’ve been misclassified as fat-shaming.
In Colombia, it didn’t matter because, even if it was fat-shaming, we are so used to our moms squeezing our fat between their index and thumb when we are gaining weight and then making the sound of a balloon losing its air that it doesn’t seem too far from the norm. Or did that happen only to me?
Those paintings also represent how we feel inside or how our family makes us feel inside.
Those people misclassifying Botero’s efforts would’ve missed a poignant observation. That paintings depict beautiful people and there is no room to be represented in them if you are not that. Botero highlights this hypocritical practice and makes us question, “were these people really beautiful? Can we trust these depictions?”
Especially when all the starving artists (and let’s face almost all of them were starving) were looking for patronage from people richer and more powerful than them, people regarded by historians as immature, capricious and pity and with the connections to eliminate anyone that looked at them the wrong way.
Why would you paint people and show posterity what ugly assholes they really were? Of course, they didn’t! They painted them beautiful and thank their stars that the suckers lapped that shit up hook, line, and sinker.
Until photography was invented.
You can’t shoot a photographer because you are ugly. You just can’t. The camera is just portraying reality. Shoot your parents for your ugly genes. I guess you will have to work on your humor and work on a few stories and pick-up lines or, god forbids, learn a skill that makes a meaningful contribution to society.
I don’t mind it when people ask me if I’ve heard the latest news happening in Colombia. It is almost the only lifeline I have to my country’s news and it is better than talking about cocaine of which I know very little except for the fact that once to get cocaine into the United States they dried into the jeans, get it to the customs then soak the jeans in water to release all the cocaine.
Leave it to Colombians to concoct imaginative criminal endeavors.
Or when I’m asked about Escobar.
It’s not like I’m snub about Escobar. I get it. The Colombian Robinhood sold drugs to the rich to feed the poor. Of course, only the poor in his neighborhood if they pledge fealty. He terrorized the rest of the country and ruthlessly killed cops, politicians, judges, and innocent bystanders.
No other drug lord captured everyone’s attention the way that the lore of Pablo Escobar did.
Now, to the hippopotamus in the room.
That hippopotamus story still goes back to Escobar as almost all Colombian stories do.
Pablo Escobar was an industrious psychopath with an imaginative ambition always looking for a new adventure like when he became a Senator, when he put together the best soccer team for Medellín, when he buried hundreds of sacks of dollars in the jungle, when he opened a museum with exotic animals.
What’s an exotic animal museum without hippopotamuses? Nothing, that’s what. So this one had them and the four original hippos turned into more than 70 ‘hungry hungry’ hippos.
But moving hippopotamuses is no easy task and they might need to kill all of them.
This is why our mothers fat-shamed us growing up because on the rare chance we might end up stranded in a narco’s exotic zoo, we don’t want to be so heavy that our only way out is to be shot in the head.