The following article has been published anonymously at the request of the author as a safety precaution.
When I turned 40 years old, I was still living in Venezuela. Truth is, the country was already sunk in political turmoil, suffering a severe scarcity of basic needs and experiencing the highest inflation in the world, but I was still reluctant to leave. Why, after being so happy in my home country, did I have to go? I thought moving was granting a victory to the ongoing dictatorship and I didn’t want to give them that.
However, by 2017, the situation started to change. I participated in every single protest that took place from April to July. Normalcy was completely disrupted. Kids were allowed to be taken earlier from school so citizens could join the protests, there were barricades here and there, street blockages… dead people, most of them young students, started piling up, as well as political prisoners.
Those four months of daily protests were actually life changing. I’ll never forget the panic I felt when military forces surrounded us – thousands of people – so they could just throw tons of tear gas at us. I felt my face burning alive; I was sure I had my flesh torn open. Then I exhaled with relief when I could see my reflection in a car’s window and realized my skin was still there, my eyes all red and swollen, but everything still there. I hope all the gas I swallowed during those months won’t take a toll in years to come. But this was just the beginning.
I lived in an area that was sort of a “bastion of the resistance,” so many times I ended up being trapped at home, while more active protesters than myself took part in confrontations with the military forces. The day I had to lock my ten-year-old son with my two-year-old daughter in the bathroom to prevent them from inhaling tear gas, I began to reconsider my stubborn decision to stay no matter what. It was one thing for me to take part in a street protest, but another when there was gas entering through my home windows.
Everything started to take a different perspective. Why should I have to struggle so hard to get diapers? Why did I have to stand in a line for hours to get milk (just one bottle) or take part in a WhatsApp group of mothers called “barter swaps”? Was this acceptable? Should I have to settle for this kind of living, like Cubans did? Why is it so hard to get anything done here? Why do I have to fear every time I drive? Will I get robbed at a traffic light? Why can’t we have a night out with the certainty we’ll get home safe and sound? That year, around 25,000 people were murdered in my country, and we were not (still aren’t) a war zone, at least not officially, at least not yet.
Then the final straw came. My husband, along with his brother, my sister and a few others, had funded an independent news portal, in an attempt to bring information to a country submerged in censorship. During a holiday weekend, we received a message alerting us that the political police could probably come after us, detain us, interrogate us, and who knows what else? We had to leave home right away and hide for a few days in the countryside.
That weekend, I told my husband I feared for my children if anything happened to us. I told him I wanted to leave. Fortunately, he had been working for a few months in a new entrepreneurship with a guy based in Chapel Hill, NC. My husband was working from Venezuela, with one of the poorest internet connections in the world, and his partner was already wondering if perhaps we could move somewhere with more connectivity (he was actually rooting for Chapel Hill!). So, it didn’t take us too long to make the decision, and three months later, we packed everything we could and fled.
My first arrival in Chapel Hill was pretty shocking. I cried in the car and blamed my husband for choosing this place. The only things I saw were forests and signs warning about deer. I thought I was going to go crazy in such an isolated-looking place. Now, after two-and-a-half years, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I actually had no adaptation issues, it was pretty smooth to get used to a place so clean, orderly and filled with kindness. The neighborhood where we live is full of immigrants from everywhere, Asia, the Middle East, Europe… I realized that America is truly a land of immigrants.
I’m aware we were lucky with our immigration process and managed to get our green cards in a year thanks to my husband’s extraordinary abilities. I know this is not what happens in most cases, and I wish the system could help many more decent immigrants who every year try to start new lives in America. I also understand this is a complex issue that can’t be solved in a day or two.
For now, I just know that every day, when I wake up and look at the forest through my window, my heart jumps with joy, as I’m grateful my son can ride his bike to school with no fear of anything happening to him and I’m grateful that both my kids have bright futures ahead of them.
This article has been published anonymously at the request of the author as a safety precaution.