The Venezuelan experience

Venezuelans are finding reflections of their homeland in Minnesota. Sim

The landscape is green, mountainous, and the windy breeze blows over the valley. Everywhere you gaze you see endless beauty. You wake up and hear ceaseless shrieks and roars from Guacharacas, a fruit-eating nocturnal bird. But, unfortunately, the happiness ends here.

Today, the reality is much harsher for Venezuelans seeking stable living, conditions. Under the hand of President Hugo Chávez, in the midst of a social turmoil, the country is latently divided into two groups.

Since his arrival in 1998, Venezuela has experienced protests, strikes and riots. Not because of the political agenda he beset, rather that there was no cohesive plan to unite the Venezuelan citizens. Unfortunately, the country has poverty levels that exceed 80 percent and the remaining is middle- and upper-class. Moreover, the few who have the economic resources leave to seek work or study abroad.

Venezuelans are known to be adventurous and travel to distant faraway places. In this case, Minnesota is home to some, and the surprise is that it is worth noting that the climatic conditions are fairly warm all year back home.

Initially anybody can assert that immigrating to a foreign country will have its challenges. The tradition, culture and customs are likely to be gloomed by the presence of a different culture.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, there were 470 Venezuelans living in the Twin Cities. Perhaps that number might have grown, especially because recent events have altered the harmony of the standard of living.

A Venezuelan student at the University, Daniela Burgos Ojeda, points out, “I was born in Texas but raised in Venezuela. I found it surprising how individualistic the society is in comparison to our own communities. We are filled with warmth and carry an optimistic attitude regardless of any situation.” She added, “The initiative to study at this school had a lot to do with the lack of resources in technology for the field of bioscience. And it is important I emphasize that there should be recognition for Venezuelans. Know from which country and region they come from and not forget other countries as well.”

It seems that Ojeda has set some long-term goals now but hopes that maybe her country will improve its political crisis. Therefore, she might move back eventually to live near her family again.

Beyond this, another citizen of the country may transfer to the University. Peter Sabatini, computer science major, has been in Minnesota for three years now. He feels intrigued, and by the same token, endorsed: “I did not feel Venezuelan completely though I grew up like one. A lot has to do with the reality that my father is from Argentina and my mother from Peru. The traditional setting was heterogeneous. Now that I moved here, I identified more with Venezuelans because I was away from home.”

The dissimilitude in the next example can illustrate differences from Venezuelans outside the capital, Caracas. Ruth Parades, recently having graduated with an associate’s degree, believes “Venezuelans have to be known because it is one of the top oil exporters, is geographically privileged and has a representative president. Unlike some other Venezuelans, I was raised as a Christian. Most of all, what I admire about my country is the richness in its folklore and no matter what class where in I have met knowledgeable people without formal education who knew history like the back of their hand.”

It is a coincidence, but Parades also mentioned that she would like to return home when things settle down. She said at the end of the interview that unfortunately everybody at one point in time has to say there is no place like home.

Finally, another Venezuelan resident Armando Nunez, assistant chef at a local Chipotle, acknowledges, “I really enjoy the different scenery in Minnesota. So many lakes, it is breathtaking. I need to remind everyone that I am a huge baseball fan and that should stand out as one of the qualities about our culture. We can compete. We have a great roster of Venezuelan players that are on the Minnesota Twins team.”

Nunez does come from a less-resourceful environment. But it is worthy to say that this diligent, hardworking individual has a passion for cooking. He hopes that he can one day start his own restaurant and bring his family here; for many years he has not seen his son because of the economic hardship the country is enduring.

Finally, I have to mention that by luck or by nature of serendipity these interviews gave one common, insightful response. The last question of the interview for all of them stated: What would be a good representation that readers should carry in their minds when they think about Venezuelans? Coming from different parts of the country, they said that everyone should know who Simón Bolivar is. He was our liberator that freed us from Spanish control and gave us a rich self-identity.

Anthony Carranza is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]