About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Carlos Damseaux

Carlos Damseaux

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Photo and interview by:




Belal Darder Mohamed

“My dream now is to be an entrepreneur,” says Carlos Damseaux (23), who dreams of owning a restaurant or bar offering Spanish and Venezuelan cuisine, food from his home and host country. Carlos left his home in Venezuela due to its deteriorating economic situation, and currently has humanitarian residence in Spain. Leaving was “really scary” but he feels there is no future for him back home. Being away from his family makes him feel helpless and unprotected, “a bit broken because you’re away from your family and there’s like that emptiness inside.” Carlos also encounters racism in Spain, but faces it with empathy and understanding. His perseverance, stamina and endurance help him cope in a new country away from home, as well as a desire to get ahead and create a new life. “Staying on your feet. Against the wind and tide. Against rain. Against everything. Holding on.” Having patience, willpower and discipline also help. “You have to be very strong everywhere.”

Trigger Warning: Racism

full interview

Perfect, well… em… First, I want to tell you that if you have, if you don’t feel comfortable with a question, you can say so, it’s okay. You don’t have any obligation to say something you do not want to say. Okay? Whatever you want. And so, we begin. Can you describe with whom you live now? And what… What’s your house or how is your house and with whom you live?
I live with my girlfriend, in a single room flat and we are very close-knit there.

Yeah, yeah?
I’ve also got my sister, who lives in an apartment on the neighboring street. And we too are very close.

Yes, and… and what do you do in your day?
In my day-to-day?

Usually, yes.
The main thing is, always, work.

Whether I have to work or not, and then from there, I try to… to enjoy everything, from the simplest of things to the even complex things. I also try to do some sports and things that I couldn’t do in my country, which is as simple as being calm and relaxed.

What are the things that make you feel happy or have fun? Yes. Hum. How is or how do you describe your life in Spain or in Europe?
I describe… I would describe my life as an average life, where my rights as a human and as a citizen are respected. That is in regards to the legality, and in terms of the emotional journey, a bit broken because you’re away from your family and there’s like that emptiness inside. Um, and well, that’s how I’m doing. The part of rights as a person and the emptiness of being away from your family is a constant balance. But, well, it is balanced. It’s like that, I would say my life is balanced.

I’ve lived with people from Latin America, with people from Venezuela, and I know that family is something very important to people from Latin America, right? It’s, I would say it’s more important than any, anything else, or at least that’s what I perceived, right? What does being alone, far away from family, make you feel like?
It makes me feel help helpless, like unprotected. It makes me feel….that’s the feeling that it gives me. It makes me feel unprotected.

And how about your economic situation in regards to job or money issues? All of that.
I think that it’s well, that I do well, I have been in Spain for three years. I started working from day one, and I have achieved the economic stability of an average young adult who has a rented flat, a personal project, who earns money, who can buy clothes, yes, not a lot, but not too little either, honestly. I consider it [my life] like that, eh, stable.

And… Before you… Before you came to Spain before you came to Europe, did you want to come to Spain or Europe, or is it something that happened all of a sudden? Did you have plans to come here or not?
Not really. I never imagined coming to Spain. It never crossed my mind, only three months before coming. It was in two thousand… December… October 2017, about three months before, I got suggested the idea of coming because… Because, well, I had to leave Venezuela. That was clear, that there was no future. And so in those last three months, I was presented with the opportunity to buy a ticket here. And… and that’s how…how I thought about it, three months before coming, I was presented with the opportunity, and yeah…

So this wasn’t something planned, you hadn’t been planning this for a year, or…?
No, I would say it was an escape practically. Yeah, this, I mean, it was a… As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I left Venezuela, regardless of whether it was Spain or Mexico, or Egypt or the United States.

Was it a difficult decision for you to leave Venezuela?
Yes, the truth is that it was. Eh, there was a lot… a lot to think about and to put on a scale. Whether a future as a person with your rights and a good economy or… on the contrary, a bad economy and where rights are not fulfilled. So… There, what played an important role was family, whether leaving it or maintaining it. And, well, it was hard for me to make the decision, but I had to put myself before my family. And that was the hard part because one usually puts family first. And then, well, it was my turn to be first and my family second. And that was the hardest part.

And you came alone, didn’t you?
I came with my sister. Eh… and well, we’re… Even though she’s my sister, well we don’t have any more family; uncles, parents, friends… And well…  I came with her and we were here, we arrived together, on the same day.

You and your sister?
Me and my sister.

Yes? At least you have, you had your sister, right?
Yes, yes. It’s not the whole family but it’s, it’s someone to lean on.

And to come here alone with your sister…That made you closer to your sister, I imagine, right? Being closer to your sister, right?
Yes, totally. She becomes a life companion, more than before.

Yes, of course. And I don’t have to talk to you about whether you’ve had problems with the language because you already speak Spanish, so not in this case, but what would you say your biggest challenge in Spain was?
My biggest challenge in Spain has been. Emm… the… How do I tell you?
Wait, I’m a little… a little… I’m thinking a bit…

No, no, no, it’s alright, it’s okay. Think. Yes, yes, yes. No, no, think about it, no, you have all the time!
Mmmmm… Do you mean what I’ve lived here in the country?

Yes, it can be an emotional challenge, it may be an economic challenge, for example, it can be… For me it was the challenge of the language, right?
Of course, that’s not the same.
For me, I think the biggest challenge has been dealing and coping with racism, which I did not know because I’ve only been in Venezuela and here, and here you understand that… that there are different races and that some races don’t like other races and they discriminate against you because of that. And that makes me feel bad when it happens to me, because I say, well, I’m not at fault. I am like this and I was born with this race, in this country, and that is not my fault.

Have you had racist encounters?
es, I’ve had racist encounters here, in Spain. I’ve been told a lot the phrase “I shit on your race,” that “Indians”… I don’t know what else, I don’t know what else. And… and well.

How do you take it?
That touches, it touches your heart, it hurts, because you say it’s just that it is not my fault, it’s different if you don’t have manners, you’re rude, you insult and such. But not just for, for having, just for having another race, you shouldn’t be discriminated against by anyone because you’re not to blame for belonging to that race. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad race, but it’s your race and you have to respect and that’s it. You are not less because of that. Neither are you more. Not less, not more, not less.

And how… and how do you deal with this?
I try facing it in the best way, in the best way, always, trying to put myself in the shoes of the other person. A little empathy and understanding why they think that way, and well, “why do you think like this?”
And I try to deal with it that way, being empathetic, empathetic towards others.  I mean if you insult me, I’m not going to insult you back, but I’m going to think, why are you insulting? Why are you like that? I face it that way.

What a good way, isn’t it?
Yes, most of the time I think he is a jerk, that he is, I mean, ignorant, so he doesn’t know that there are other races and that they must be respected, that no race is more than another, and that all races are equal. They are different, but at the level of respect, they are equal. And if you don’t know that, uh… What do you want me to say? I mean, you have yet lots to learn, you have yet to see the world.
And then I don’t, I don’t, I don’t judge him, I don’t judge him, I say come on, read a book, watch the news, go around the world or something. Learn a little and see if you change your way of thinking. That’s what I think, I think the problem is not mine, but with the other. Because come on, there are like 60 countries in the world. You can’t be with that problem with every nationality, you know?

I am personally amazed or I… I can’t understand, that the Spaniards are racist against people from Latin America, for historical reasons, for linguistic reasons, for genetic reasons, right? Many people in Latin America have more or less Spanish blood. Then, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…. can´t understand it. Why…? Why…? um, why be racist with people who are the closest people to you? Even closer to you or closer to you than people in Europe, right?
Yeah, it’s just that they’re not all, but there’s always one… There’s always a fool, who doesn’t know… And well, that is true in Spain and Venezuela, or in Egypt, there will be some ignorants who do not know. And the truth is that it’s a minority, it’s a minority, nothing more.

And in order to quote can you say this sentence: “My dream before coming to Spain was:” and then you tell your dream before you came to Spain
My dream before coming to Spain was to study at university and work using my university degree. That was my dream before coming to Spain.

And your dream now, can you say, “my dream now is”.
And my dream now is: to be an entrepreneur. 

Yes, having a restaurant. I like that. 

Would you like to have your own restaurant?
Yes, my restaurant or my bar, my… something that has to do with food and attention.

You like this, don’t you? 
Yes, yes, I do like it. In fact, I studied haute cuisine techniques, but this is not a university study, but I studied it because I liked it. I found out quickly. I knew the kitchen was fun and yes, we’ll try to… that’s why I always look for work in the kitchen because it’s fun for me.

What kind of food are you going to offer in your restaurant?

Spanish? Not Venezuelan.
A little bit of Venezuelan, I will including it in little by little.

Yes. Normally it would a fusion, actually, a fusion of Spanish and Venezuelan.

That’s interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about why you left Venezuela? If you don’t mind.
Yes, Venezuela I left it, I left Venezuela because… because of the economy, because of the food crisis, as there was no food, the health crisis, as there were no medicines… The economic crisis… I think we have the highest inflation rate in the world or something, or… Or if not then, we have a very high inflation rate. And I was very young. Well, I am very young, I’m 23 and I feel like I have a long way ahead of me. And in Venezuela, there was no future.

The situation in your country, what does it make you feel that your country is like this?
It made me feel really bad, really bad.
I felt like… I feel like we don’t deserve it. And when you start to see how the crisis comes, you try to, you wonder why? I mean, why? Why is this happening to us? And it’s a little unfair, you know? If you are a normal person of your home and work, you pay your taxes, you are a good citizen and the country falls apart, you, individually, feel that you are not, you are not at fault.

Yes, And… So when you were presented with the opportunity to leave, you left, didn’t you?
Yes, yes.

Was it something clear to you, that you wanted out?
Yes, yes, it was, it was very clear to me since 2016 or so it was already clear that if I wanted a future, I had to leave Venezuela.

And why Spain?
Spain. Eh, because, because it is Europe. I really like the continent. And well, here, here I have a friend, a great friend, he was… He could host me in his house for the first few days, which was very important. Because it’s really scary to leave, to leave like that.. Alone like that, it’s really scary. So, that… and Spain seems to me like a good, a good place to live. So many reasons came together, the…

The language too?
The friend, the language… The good country, so to speak.

Being in Europe…
Yes, and the… well the ticket, the money to buy the ticket was also presented and well, everything was lined up to come here.

Do you often think about the decision of leaving Venezuela? Or is it something that, that you don’t think about?
Often, yes.

Often yes, I question it a little bit, not because of, not because it’s… not because the country is Venezuela, but because of the family… Like, you see when you leave and leave your people there and you can’t go back.
You start to see how you, your people who are there start to grow old or die or things like that. You think that, that well, that it is perhaps better to be there with them and in their last moments, to be together with the family, which is what matters the most. Sometimes you question that a little.

And… Then did you come with a tourist visa or what?
I came as a tourist.

Yes, and when I was here I started to process a political asylum, as soon as I arrived. I got the paperwork, I had… I was involved in the protests of 2014, 2013 of 2012 and well, I had, I put together a file and presented it at the Immigration’s Office and in the police station.
And well, the process started. Little by little, they gave me an identification, then a work permit, then I was denied asylum, but they gave me a residence permit for humanitarian reasons, and well, that’s what I have today.

But do you know why they denied your asylum? Because I think it’s strange, right?

The situation in Venezuela is very clear, isn’t it? Everyone knows what’s going on there.
Yes, they denied it, because there are too many, too many asylum applications, from too many Venezuelans who have arrived here in Spain. So we have like vetoed it a little. It’s full. So, for example, someone comes, like a journalist who is persecuted in his country and he, well wants to… he wants to apply for it, and of course, he has an intense line of Venezuelans ahead who also have the same right. Of course, some more serious than others, um… but in order to decongest they opened that way, which was humanitarian reasons. Residence for, not for asylum, but for humanitarian reasons, and let those, those who need asylum, those who aren’t Venezuelans, obtain it…

This way…
This, this way, yes, just as it should be. It’s just that Venezuelans, of course, it gets full. For example, someone like Julian Assange and wants to ask and that’s fine, but there is a very long line, so to decongest. They passed the Venezuelans to one side.

They opened this legal path for Venezuelans, right? So they give you a residency every year and you have to renew it every year.
Yes, I have to renew it every year.

Is the process of renewing it difficult?
It’s hard, yes. Because of previous appointments. The page doesn’t work well, it’s always down, it always takes you a lot of time. For example, you have to, you have to renew it before it expires, so you don’t have any problems with your home or work. And many times, for example, if it expires in June, you ask for it in May and you end up getting it in September. So, that’s basically it.

Have you ever thought about applying for social roots?
Yes, yes, at some point I plan to ask for it to be another kind of procedure, which is a little more, as I say, loose.

I think it… it must be easier.

Yes. And I also think that with social roots they give you a residency for longer. So you don’t have to do it every year. Yes, and you, well, from what you tell me, you’ve been through difficult times. Moments I say, most people have not gone through this moment, which is exile, right? Leaving the country, being exiled, being in a new country, and all this.

Yes, exile, yes. And can you tell me a little bit about your qualities? What do you think these qualities helped you cope with this situation?

Yes, staying on your feet. Against the wind and tide. Against rain. Against everything. Holding on. Holding on.

A lot of stamina.
A lot of stamina, yes, that and a lot of endurance. To, to emigrate you need to have a lot of endurance of everything, physically and psychologically as well.

Yes, and what else?
Also, a lot, a lot of desire to, to get ahead. A lot of desire to… Having a lot of desire to, to make a life. I would also say…. Lots of patience and willpower, lots of discipline, and a lot of empathy to adapt to the new culture.
You have to open, open your mind to, to know, to connect to the new culture, the one you come to. You have to… You have to be very strong everywhere.

Yes, yes, you told me you live with your girlfriend. Did you meet your girlfriend here in Spain or did you know her before?
No, I met her in Venezuela. Yes, we were… In Venezuela we were friends. Then here in Spain, because one, as you know, when you are alone and such, you look for like a… Friend, support, someone to talk to and we got together as friends and then we ended up dating. Here yes.

And did she come alone too? Or…
Yes, she came alone. She came alone and then she managed to buy a ticket for her sister. And now her sister lives here in Madrid, also in Carabanchel.

Nice, I used to live in Carabanchel. Well yes, the last… Well, I’ve still got a few questions, well, but the last one, one of the last is, how were you affected by the COVID situation?

Uff. Very hard, very hard. Economically speaking it affected me a lot.

Working in the catering industry, of course, affected you, didn’t it?
The restaurant where I worked closed. It closed for a while. Then it opened and, well, they took me out of the furlough scheme called ERTE, but they took me out of it for a small number of hours. So for example, if I used to earn the salary of a person working full-time, now I earn the salary of a part-time job. And… and well, that’s how I’m doing. I’ve spent a lot of my savings too.
Exactly, in terms of academics, so to speak, I was getting my driver’s license. And well, that was paralyzed too. And then to restart it, well, you lose the experience with the car and it’s.. and it takes more effort and you have to pay for more classes because you have forgotten a little. Eh…What else? For example, my brother, I have a brother in Argentina, he was going to come to here and well, the flight was canceled and this has a very hard blow.
Thanks to… there are people who have been hit worse, but, but I have also been hit hard. I think we all have.
Yes, in fact, I got COVID, I was also quarantined at home. It was not serious, thank God, it was not necessary to go to the hospital. I only did quarantine here at home. But then, of course, fifteen days in your house starts to damage one a bit. Psychologically you start to feel anxiety, stress because no, you cannot manipulate this COVID situation… No you cannot manipulate it, only the doctors can. So it affects me economically, and psychologically it affected me a lot.

Yes, yes. Well lots of encouragement, friend. Lots of encouragement.

Well that, that is it. I think it’s been very well the interview. 30 minutes.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.