Leonardo Interview

A: Hi Leonardo, please tell our readers a little about yourself and how life is for Venezuelans?

L: Hi, I’m 28 years old, Venezuelan and I graduated from University in 2016 in Social Communication (Journalism) but I was never able to work in that area. I currently live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve been living here for seven months. Life for Venezuelan people back home is hard.  I have relatives and acquaintances with whom I talk to daily and they tell me how difficult the situation is. There’s a lot of suffering; serious problems to get cash, the high cost of living, public insecurity, to get medical treatments – from minor illnesses to the more serious conditions that require immediate medical attention. I must add that there is a mental battle for most Venezuelans not knowing what to do and the thought of facing each day with a positive attitude when surrounded by chaos, repression, injustice, and depression.

Although it’s hard to believe there still exists a Venezuela divided between pro-government supporters and those who a long time ago stopped believing in false promises.  I always maintained one position as did the majority of those closest to me: to be against the system in place. We felt completely deceived, mocked and injured in many ways because being young we had opportunities taken away from us, opportunities we deserved to have had in our country robbed by the current regime.  They took away the opportunity of living a dignified and happy life as we were part of the thousands of tortures and threats to young people like us, we just wanted to have a secure future. A full and normal life.

A: At what point did you decide to leave Venezuela and why did you choose Argentina?

L: To leave Venezuela had crossed my mind a long time ago as I’ve always been interested in seeing the world and everything that is out there.  After I graduated I still had very limited opportunities, I didn’t feel safe in my own house, being afraid of going out in the evening, worrying all the time by the cost of living. It was then that I took the decision to emigrate as staying in Venezuela would turn into a permanent regret. I believe life is also about discovering yourself and although on our journey through life our dreams change, to get out of my ‘comfort’ zone only would have positive results at the end of the day.

Argentina was not my first-choice destination to emigrate to, it happened by chance. Initially I left Venezuela for Ecuador hoping to find work but after three months of unemployment and trying to pay for rent, food and transportation costs searching for work, I decided to try Columbia but faced a similar scenario and stayed just one month. I ended up in Buenos Aires thanks to a relative, an aunt who lives in England, who bought me an air ticket to come here and I was reunited with another of my aunts. Three countries in under six months and the best experiences have been both good and bad. That’s what life is about, and I feel very lucky to have lived all of it.

A: How would you describe life as an immigrant?

L: In my case, having been to three different countries and experienced three different societies, I have to say that life for an immigrant, especially an economic migrant, is not exactly rose-coloured. You will always find people (thankfully a minority) who look at you as the foreigner who shouldn’t stay for over 90 days in their country. If you add to that the rollercoaster of emotions you’re going through: missing your loved ones, missing familiar surroundings, not having enough money, being confused by how things work in this new country; it’s even more difficult.

If you’re going through all of that at the same time, it’s very easy to feel vulnerable and even sometimes to think about going back to Venezuela. The good thing is that it will not always be like that and life eventually changes. You meet new people and get used to how things work there, and life starts giving you back because of that effort you’ve put in going out there with a smile and trying to get a better quality of life.

The experience of being an immigrant teaches you to grow (sometimes it forces you), to value the little that you have and, I believe, in most cases it makes you very sensitive to society. It’s a sort of metamorphosis in which you evolve into a better version of yourself as a person. It also makes you richer culturally speaking.  Argentina particularly is a wonderful country and most people here feel empathy for Venezuelans; they’re pleasantly surprised when they realise how well educated, prepared and happy we are.

A: Has it been easy to find accommodation in a new country?

L: When I left Colombia, one of my aunts was already living in Buenos Aires so I had a place to stay on arrival; It was just a bedsit and only for a short while but at least we were able to share it. I currently rent a modest flat with three other friends.  Although it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve also shared a bedsit with other young men, in total there were twenty-one of us from different countries living in a ‘Pension.’ My friends and I are very happy to have been able to find the current accommodation, it was a huge financial commitment and effort, but it meant a lot to all of us to be able to do it.  I believe this is the case for most people whichever country they emigrate to; you will always start with very little space and probably not very comfortable but it’s about saving and wanting to have a better life.

A: Where are you working now?

L: I currently work shifts in a bakery and every day I talk to customers (I’m very sociable by nature), especially when they ask me where I am from. We end up talking about the situation in my country and to all of them I say the same: “It’s very sad what’s happening to us, but I have faith that God, life, the universe, or whatever each of us Venezuelans believe in, will help us to come forward as a nation. If Venezuela has anything especial, it’s its people. We thrive for improvement, doesn’t matter what, we look out for each other, we prepare ourselves and fight hard to reach our goals in life. The world and ourselves have hope that we will celebrate freedom very soon.”

A: What action you like to see?

L: First, I’d like to see that all of those who damaged and killed Venezuela are brought to justice. From there, I would like to see politicians and a society committed to wanting to do things right. I want to see the needy and poorest people getting help but not in a populist fashion just being kept. In this life everything is earned with effort and work. That is the most important thing. I want to see investment in our country’s universities because they are the places of origin for new talent and eventually the future of the country. I want safety and social security to really exist. Make it real for everyone and citizens can do something as simple as going out at night to walk if they want to without fear of not returning home. That is basic life and every human being deserves to live that way.

I have no doubts there is hope for my country. I’m not sure whether to say that we must be patient is the right thing to say (very difficult to swallow for the ones who remain there) but it’s just a question of time for the light to shine again for Venezuela. It will be like a new nation with the opportunity to grown again.

A: Leonardo, thank you for contributing your thoughts on life as a Venezuelan citizen living abroad, all the best.

L: It was a pleasure to participate, reflect and talk about it, thank you for the opportunity.

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