By ROBERTO ROJAS
Out of the 12 countries that are in South America, some people may find it hard to unravel the country of Paraguay. In spite of it being a generally un-newsworthy nation compared to some of its neighbors (such as Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, as well as Uruguay, which people often confuse with Paraguay because of the similarity in their names). Nevertheless, the country is important, as its nickname will tell you.
Located in the middle of the continent, this country of nearly 7 million people is known as the “Heart of South America.” With roughly the same land mass as California, the population is roughly the same as that of Massachusetts. This tiny nation holds a special place in my heart as my family story has brought me to learn more about the country and about my roots in it.
My parents were both born and raised in Paraguay, but they came to the United States nearly 30 years ago in search of upward mobility and the national ethos of the country of the American Dream. Being born and raised in the United States has always made me identify more with American culture, but it was clear to my parents from the moment their child was born 21 years ago that they had to inject that Paraguayan culture into him at an early age, so that he could be familiar with those values that would become mainstays of his personality.
Having traveled to Paraguay more than once in the last 20 years has taught me more about the country. Even after going there numerous times with my parents, I still get excited, as if I’m going there for the first time to see all my family members and friends from my childhood. So now I’m going to tell you about the country itself.
My two-decade odyssey of repeatedly traveling nearly 12 hours from Connecticut to South America and back has made me more familiar with and more understanding of what it means to enjoy drinking terere, the national drink, on a hot day in December. Eating empanadas with my family members have also fueled my energy for advocating what this tiny nation is to my friends back home who aren’t familiar with it.
You might be wondering what there is to do in Paraguay, as it’s not a country known for its landmarks or recognizable symbols that identify the country to the entire world – to that extent, the Spanish dialect that the nation has isn’t even recognizable to its other Latin American neighbors.
However, that’s the secret as to why the nation is. What makes the country underrated more than anything is the people. A population that is cool, welcoming, generous, positive and tranquil represent the country to anyone who visits, be it compatriots from other countries or foreigners, and they are there to give you a helping hand whenever it’s needed.
Whether you’re in the capital of Asuncion or any nearby cities or towns, the lack of tourists really allows you to experience the real Paraguay with its open spaces and its amazing, beautiful landscape, as well as its wonderful climate. The appreciation you will have for this country is simple enough if you only get yourself exposed to it.
Walk around the streets, go to the local shopping areas, enjoy yourself and experience the real Paraguay for what it is. While Paraguay might not be the flashiest, most exuberant nation in Latin America, it’s always those little-known countries that become the ones that give you the best trip of your life. To finish off, I invite anyone who comes to visit the nation to keep in mind this travel slogan: “You have to feel it!”