Mélida Jiménez heads the Democracy Assessment and Political Analysis Programme at International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) in Stockholm. Before taking part in a Zócalo/KCRW Berlin panel discussion titled “What Does Democracy Mean in the 21st Century?” held in partnership with the Villa Aurora/Thomas Mann House and the Daniel K. Inouye Institute, at the CIEE Global Institute in Berlin, she spoke in the green room about her Salvadoran background, letting her daughters vote in family matters, and being an “Instagram addict.”
You live in Stockholm, but where are you from originally?
San Salvador, El Salvador. I came to Sweden when I was three years old. I can’t tell you what the coolest things are in El Salvador.
If you could time-travel to any place, in any era, past or future, where would you go?
That’s a difficult one. On the one hand, I wouldn’t want to time-travel. I really find the current time interesting, and I also find in today’s world there are so many places where the past meets the future. So it’s interesting enough. But I’m also into science fiction, so I would like to travel to a time when we have explored what’s out there in space. But that’s the geeky answer! And then the more rational answer is: I’ll just stay in 2018. I’m quite content with that.
Which are some of your favorite sci-fi or speculative fiction authors?
I’m really into parallel universes and traveling in time. I actually just started to have this interest, so now I’m reading everything and looking at everything. It began when I had the flu a couple years ago and I just started to read all of these other science fiction things, instead of reading about politics.
Was there a teacher who really influenced you?
My first-grade teacher, Brigetta Gustavsson. I was seven years old, so I already had lived in Sweden for four years. But I think I was being seen by my teacher as an individual who had potential. Also she had the ability to see my past—to see that I had come from another country, and to highlight the richness of that, rather than to diminish it, or see it as something that could exclude me from the group. She strengthened me and empowered me to be proud. She said, ‘You speak two languages—that’s great.’ At that time, it was still a little bit new to have that approach. And she also encouraged me to write.
What was it like to grow up as an immigrant in Sweden?
There is a part of Sweden where there are kids like me who only know Sweden. Our parents are from other countries, but we basically grew up there, or we were born there. In the ’90s, when I was a teenager, it was difficult because then we had a bit of a neo-Nazi wave, which was very outspoken. But I think that by overcoming that period, me and my friends (who also had parents from other countries), were able to say, ‘Let’s broaden the Swedish identity to include more kids, to include us.’ I think in general Sweden is a much more diverse country than one envisions.
Which social media do you use, and are there any that you deliberately don’t use?
I’m an Instagram addict! Not so much because I post a lot, but because I have a part of me that’s like a shopaholic. I follow all the brands, I follow all these things. I’m fully aware that it’s the consumption part of me that loves Instagram—all the nice things like beaches and travel. That’s something I actually use more than I should, which is embarrassing. But I’m not very active on Facebook.
We’re living in a time with a lot of fear and anger, and we’re here tonight to talk about democracy. Are there any ways in which you’ve been changing or modifying your own behavior, or your way of interacting with other people, in response to this atmosphere?
In my day-to-day life, I’m more explicit about saying, “Well, this is a democratic value, this is something that is important if you want to move toward a democracy.” But that’s not only for politics—I do it especially in the decision-making at home.
Within your family?
Yes. It’s an important value to be accountable or transparent—to show that it’s not just something that politicians do. For example, I say to my eight-year-old, ‘Let’s vote,’ or ‘Who wants what? You might not be able to get exactly what you want, but let’s find a compromise.’ And what I’ve been trying to say is, ‘The value of voting is that I know you want this, and your sister wants that, and this other person wants something else, so let’s see what we can do.’ And someone will be unhappy, but there’s another day when they will be happy! So I think I’ve changed a little bit in trying to be more explicit.
How old are your children?
Five and eight. Two girls.
And do they both get an equal vote?
Not a completely equal vote, but they do have equal voice. But the eight-year-old always thinks that she has more power, just because of her age. And I tell her that is not enough criteria to gain more power. So it depends on the situation, of course, but I try to find a way where either they’re both happy or both unhappy.
And mom always has veto power?
Exactly. But I’m always very aware that if I’m too authoritarian, they’re going to become teenagers and are going to learn all my tricks, right? So I have to be a little bit careful with the veto.