Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Charles Maldonado, writer for Nashville Scene and City Paper, talks Venezuela roots

Charles Maldonado, standing across the Detroit River from the GM Renaissance Center.  Photo provided by Charles Maldonado.
Charles Maldonado (Twitter: @chmaldonado) freelances for the Nashville Scene and the Nashville City Paper. When he first came to town in January 2010, he wrote a number of stories at Prior to Nashville, Maldonado was working for Knoxville's Metro Pulse, where a story he co-wrote on the TVA Ash Spill won a Public Service award in the 2010 AltWeekly Awards.  Prior to the Knoxville gig, Maldonado did six-month stints at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Detroit Metro Times.

Maldonado has written a slew of good, solid, local stories for the CP and the Scene. He also conducts what is called "participatory journalism," which means to immerse yourself - the journalist - as a participant in the subject of the story.  The Metro Pulse listed some of Maldonado's participatory stories when they pointed out his naked torso illustrating the Scene's April 2010 cover story on mixed martial arts.  A month after that story ran, Maldonado was striking a more somber note as he immersed the Scene's readers in a post-flood search and rescue operation.

Maldonado is from Detroit and attended Wayne State University in that same city.  Maldonado's mother is from Detroit, and his father is from Venezuela.

I asked Maldonado a few questions about his Hispanic family background.  Here are my questions, and his answers.

What was your exposure growing up to your father's Venezuelan roots?
Do you mean "what do I know about my father's Venezuelan roots" or "how did Venezuelan culture figure into my childhood?" I'll just answer both.

1. My father (Jesus Enrique Maldonado, who goes by Henry) was born in Caracas in 1949, son of Benjamin Maldonado (a lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan army, died 1982) and Cecilia Cisneros de Maldonado.

I don't know much about my father's early childhood in Venezuela beyond a few disconnected, floating bits of stories that feel very romantic in my head but look like abandoned story notes when verbalized. ("Grandparents were amateur race car drivers. Major accident in late 40s (?)" "Neighbors had a tiger," and the like.)

They (full family: Ben and Cecilia, my dad, my uncle Francisco "Paco" Maldonado, and my aunts Maria Andreina and Maria Eugenia) left in 1958, moving first to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

The Maldonados exited Venezuela under some circumstances, I guess, because they did a quick job of it. My father was actually pulled out of school in the middle of the day. I have not been told, per se, why they left, but I've been given enough clues to deduce a bit on my own. (Again, grandfather: high-ranking military official plus Venezuela 1958.)

They returned to Caracas, briefly, in 1960, and then moved to Scarsdale, NY, where my father went to high school. My grandparents, uncle and aunts left in 1966-67, but my father stayed to study film at Boston University.

Father's professional career, btw: 1970s, produced documentaries for PBS; mid-to-late 1970s producer/director for WGBH Boston, where he met my Detroit-born mother; late-1970s to very early 80s, producer director for WNBC and WCBS New York; 1981-2001, VP of Programming WDIV Detroit; Charles Benjamin Maldonado born June 1982; 2001-2009, General Manager WKMG Orlando; Currently retired from television/president of the Enzian Theater--or Theatre--a nonprofit arthouse in Orlando [editor's note: see "Henry Maldonado's American Journey" in the May 2009 issue of Orlando Magazine, and the September 2009 Executive Profile of Henry Maldonado in the Orlando Business Journal].

2. In the usual ways: Food—I grew up all over the Detroit area, city and suburbs, but never lived in a Hispanic neighborhood. So I can say with confidence that, in Saint Clair Shores Michigan in the early 1990s, or Grosse Pointe and Detroit's east side in the 80s, we were the only house on the block that ever smelled like arepas or ropa vieja. (We also ate a lot of hamburgers and dry Northern chicken, to be completely fair.)

Music—Not so much Venezuelan but definitely a lot of Latin music in my childhood. Bossanova, yes, but so what? As soon as Frank Sinatra did an album with AC Jobim—which happened before I was born—I could no longer claim that genre as having anything to say about me or my heritage. I don't mean that in a bad way. A lot of tango, too. That was huge in my house. When my grandmother would visit, Gardel. Piazzolla when it was just my father.

And, obviously, some degree of Catholicism—I was more or less raised a lapsed Catholic. Did Catholic school, did the sacraments that came with the Catholic school package (Confirmation name Maximilian Kolbe), never went to mass.
Do you keep any current connection to Venezuela or to Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. now?
My grandmother and my aunt Andreina still live in Caracas. And I try to follow Venezuelan news more closely than, like, Peruvian news, I suppose. Family in the US: Other than my father, my aunt Jenny (Maria Eugenia) lives in New Jersey. I try to see her and her family as often as I can. Other connections to Hispanics/Latinos: Informal/non-hostile.
Do you speak Spanish?
Regrettably no. I blame this country's chronically underperforming private school system.
Did your family ever tell you what their immigration paperwork/process was like for either of the two entries?
I'm pretty sure, in my family's case, it was an intergovernmental-intermilitary, extenuating circumstance type of deal. Pretty low on the red tape scale. From what I know, the relationship between the Jimenez government and the US was quite close. Everybody pretty much had a green card right off the bat.
This profile of Maldonado is the second in what will be a series of eight media profiles here on  Chris Echegaray of the Tennessean was featured yesterday, and others profiled will include Christine Maddela of WKRN/News2, Ray Ponce de Leon of The Contributor, and Eric Alvarez of Fox17.


  1. I'm proud to call Charles a friend - and in my mind's ear, I can hear him telling this story. Great job.

  2. I would also like to thank JR, and John.


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