About Refugees, By Refugees
Pictures taken in:
Photo and interview by:
Belal Darder Mohamed
“Before I came to Europe my dream was to seek stability,” recounts Rafaela Castellanos (pseud, 35), a refugee from Venezuela. Rafaela says that after leaving her country’s “awful” economic problems behind and arriving in Spain with nothing in November 2015, she “broke down.” She remembers thinking to herself, “I can’t stand it anymore. What am I going to do?” But with the help of her boyfriend, Rafaela felt “protected,” and things slowly began to improve for her and she found work cleaning houses. Then, two years ago, she almost died from peritonitis. “If I hadn’t been with him,” she says of her boyfriend, “I wouldn’t be here with you telling you all this.” She has faced other challenges, too: her grandfather died, and her brother, a political prisoner in Venezuela, was killed. Despite what she’s been through, Rafaela says her strongest quality is her ability to “look at the bright side of life… It’s hard,” she says, “but I try to lead my life with joy as much as I can.”
Trigger Warning: Racism, domestic violence, death
Can you tell me where you live now?
And with whom?
Right now, I live with my partner, my boyfriend, of 3 and a half years, uh… Well, before all this, every one of us lived in a room. Then we got this place and we´ve already been there for two years, two or so, two and a half years. We moved together a year after we met.
And can you tell me a little bit about your day-to-day life? What do you do in your daily life? Uh… What activities do you do after you wake up..?
Since I got there or since…?
No. Right now.
Right now. Well, I’ve practically been doing the same thing I’ve been doing since I got there. Uh… I work cleaning houses. So… Well, right now the truth is that I would have liked to have made some decisions when I arrived so I could be a little more stable right now, but I didn’t. So, I’m still unstable in my legal part because I don’t, don’t, I still don’t have my papers. I was offered a contract a year ago… but I didn’t get an appointment with the Foreign Department. At the end of all this and even now you immediately go on the website and you can´t get an appointment, but you immediately have to pay for it, which is something that looks like if we were in Venezuela. So in Venezuela before, well not before, it has almost always been the case, you have to pay in order to get something you should get as a citizen. And now I feel the same thing is happening here. Even to us right now, in theory, there’s no paper to issue passports, uh… since, like…like four years ago. Well, a few years ago something has been placed that is called the extension, which is like an extension of the passport for two years, so every two years. Before a passport should last you five years, five or ten years, I don’t know how much now.
In my country, seven years, but it depends on the country…
Exactly, but right now, this… Well, this extension lasts two years, no more. So every two years you have to make a payment of 180 euros… it depends, because of Venezuela…
To the Venezuelan embassy or what? To Spain? But wait, if…
I mean, here… Spain has its embassy, like its embassy, its… What do you call the other thing? this…
The consulate, that is where you have to do it, the extension even…
But it’s the Venezuelan embassy in Spain, isn’t it? You have to pay the Venezuelan State if I’m not mistaken.
Yes, but in the end, it seems to me that they’re doing something illegal. I don’t know, I don’t know how they’ll take that here, although they say that every consulate and every embassy does what they want because they answer to their own territory, but I don’t know… no, no, I don’t think it’s the best way. This is the second extension I have, uh… I got it…
So, extension… just to understand, sorry… It’s like renewing, isn’t it?
So your passport…
To update the… yeah.
Exactly, at least for us that came because of… to fix our… our… our legality in the country where we are. Well, you know? you try to keep the document fairly legal, and you can do it again, although it’s being said that, I… I don’t really have information about that. Supposedly we, because we were Venezuelans, we had the, what is it called? The advantage to arrange some papers with an expired passport. But I don’t know how true that is. Because of course, it’s just that in the end they tell you one thing and they do another. But yeah, the first extension I paid. I remember that I had to do it because I had to travel from Madrid to Vigo because in Madrid it was impossible to get a passport appointment. They start saying there is no paper for passports and so on. So the appointment is canceled, I mean, well, I canceled it because, in the end, you know? You have to opt for the extension because there is no passport paper. Of course, at that time it was fairly legal because the payment of 80 euros at that time was made in the bank with a transfer, that is, with a payment in the bank. Not anymore. I mean, I went to get my second extension about… a month, a month and a half ago. And they didn´t even give me a receipt, or a voucher. I mean, give me the 80 euros, take your passport…
And they didn’t give you a receipt or anything?
Nothing that tells you “look…
No way to confirm that you paid that money, so they can deny it later. Well, uh…
I mean it’s illegal money.
Yes. And can you tell me a little bit about the things that make you happy? Like the things that… What do you do to feel happy? To have a good time.
It is true that… well, I guess, I´m sure that you’ve heard this from a lot of people, many immigrants who… our life, well. You know it well, as an immigrant…that you don’t… At first, everything is difficult. Because of course, at least when I arrived…and now I´m going a little further back, but I want you to understand the… When I arrived, I came to a cousin’s house. At that time in Venezuela, there was something called Cadivi quotas. It was like a…like a loan from the foreign exchange bank for the credit card so you could take a trip and so. They gave you a thousand five hundred euros… um… A thousand five hundred dollars and at that time the exchange rate was like 1300 euros, yes. Well, my cousin started, started with..how to say… Some Venezuelans do those things, those illegal things that shouldn’t be illegal because that wasn’t illegal at the time. You would issue for Cadivi quotas, you´d travel abroad… It wasn’t really for traveling, it was for what we called “scrape the cards”, that is, to exchange them. I have a friend in Spain and so, he can swipe my card and give me the cash. It was something that was illegal. Uh… my cousin was doing it at the time.
That’s how you could get the cash for yourself, right?
Exactly, you´d take the dollars, so you were returned to Venezuela, you’d take your dollars and nothing happened. That was illegal. I took advantage of it, let´s say that that was like the springboard that allowed me to come. It wasn’t a plan to… A plan to come to Spain, because, obviously, I had a stable job in Venezuela. It is true that things were starting to get complicated, things have been complicated in Venezuela for a long time ago.
But since I have been here almost five years. Since…since last year, everything started to get complicated because I always helped my mom at home and then the salary wasn´t enough. And I said look, this is the opportunity. My dad tells me hey…
You were granted the opportunity to get out and…
I’m going to buy… buy you the quota and such. You come… If you want to try your luck, you can stay here, otherwise, you go back to Venezuela, and that’s it. That’s why I tell you I came… You came with 80 euros let’s say, I came with the quotas, nothing else. I didn’t come with much. I didn’t have anything, no dollars or… I came with nothing. I arrived at my cousin’s house, and thank God and thanks to her…it is the only thing I can thank her for. She was the one who told me look, get on this page, you can work here. I started working with a cleaning company with the provisional NIE number they give you as a tourist for three months. I managed to put it in and worked, worked three months or so. That’s where I got my contacts from cleaning now. I started working there but after three months, weird things always happen, and as I said, that was the only thing I thank her, she asked me to leave the house.
Did she give you the house, or what?
I mean, she kicked me out of the house.
Oh, she kicked you out of the house.
She kicked me out of the house.
Because she told me… I mean, the thing was getting tense, because it’s true that of course, if are welcomed to a home, it’s true that you have to help, collaborate as I’m going to stay there. But she was overdoing it and she was like I want you to clean my house, I want you to take care of my daughter for me. If I didn’t, she would look at me badly, I mean, like everything started to get very tense… It happened overnight. It’s true that we had been starting to look for things, but just as she helped me, she also stopped me from having information about many things that were at the time important, such as that I had to register as soon as I got there. She didn’t register me because she said she couldn’t. I didn’t have a phone line, because she told me I couldn’t have a phone line because I was illegal… you can’t have it, I couldn’t rent a room because I was illegal. I mean, all this…
It all got complicated.
Just to have me in her circle…
In her circle to keep you with her.
Exactly. Anyway, one day she tells me overnight… I remember that I was going to work and I remember that I was commuting to work and I got a message. She says you have to leave the house, I can’t have you in the house anymore. Look after yourself, good luck. I mean, she left me alone in a country where pretty much… It’s true that I had met people from Venezuela, but they weren’t people close enough to me to say “hey, can I stay at your house?” I mean, she left me alone. And at that time, I also worked with a gentleman who lived in the center of Madrid. And this man was the one who gave me shelter for four days in his house because I had nowhere to go. I mean, I grabbed my suitcase and left. He helped me. I mean, I remember when she said I couldn´t stay at her house anymore. Then I worked. Imagine working with such news. What am I going to do? I mean, I’m in a country where I don’t know anyone. I don’t know, I don’t know what I’m going to do. After I finished working, I remember that uh… I was working. For example, I was working here and this gentleman lived her and I remember that in my head I didn´t know what to do. I remember that I was walking around in Madrid, that is, what could have taken me 10 minutes to get to his house, it took me two hours to arrive because I got lost between the streets. I mean, I just had that feeling like you don’t know what you’re going to do like you can’t. Anyway, I arrived crying very badly because I kept on asking myself “what am I going to do? I have nowhere to go, I have nowhere to sleep. I mean, what am I going to do?” I didn’t even have any coats. I mean, I didn’t have because…
No, she had lent me three or so, three, four things. Anyway, this gentleman says: “Do you want me to take you home and look for everything and stay here for a few days whilst…?” Obviously, my desperation made me say yes, and there we went. At that time we lived in the south of Madrid and there I went. I remember, like, 10 o’clock at night, I mean, just like she didn’t even tell me you have to… Say goodbye. I mean, say goodbye to my husband and go… She even blamed me for not having been grateful to her for the days I stayed with her, she had to pay me a percentage, because of course, with the quota she bought me at that time, I paid for my ticket, well… It was a round-trip because they asked for both ways. She actually had to give me like 300 euros back and she never gave them back to me. I mean, she didn’t give me anything. I was lucky to have saved money, during the days I stayed at her place, so I could rent something. And after all, this happens, she told me that I had to go and so I left and stayed at the gentleman´s house. It was very awkward because, even though he was a client, I didn´t know him. I mean, I had known him for only three months so I didn´t know…you know? I was taking a risk by living there… So, like always, later well you can’t stay here, and of course, during the time I lived there, I kept looking for a place, I kept looking until I got… Well, anyway, then I contacted a man who helped many Venezuelans that… I remember I even went to a center he had opened and it was he who helped me get the room from where I got started.
To settle more or less.
And well, that’s where I started cleaning houses. It is true that I had been told about the subject of… What is it called the subject of… um… political asylum. That I could opt for political asylum since I had been through a situation where my brother had been a political prisoner. I even got an appointment. But out of fear, of bad information, of not knowing what to do, because I was told not to go, at the end…
You didn’t go.
I didn’t go, I didn’t go. I was scared and even today I regret it: I would have preferred to have made that decision to say look, I’m going to opt for political asylum because then I would now be fairly legal… but I didn’t. So, for now, I keep cleaning houses, it’s my day-to-day. As I told you a while ago, with this issue of the pandemic, there are obviously people who have stayed out of Madrid because they don’t want to take their children to school and want to stay out. I’ve obviously lost homes and… There are people who offer me to register, but I… I can’t, because I am not legal.
Then, of course, this year was going to be that year when I was going to sort the papers out.
Oh my…It’s the worst year to deal with anything.
Yes, this year has been horrible for everything.
But it is good that right now I can say that I feel…I can say that I feel happy in quotation marks because one is never happy until you… remember that our people stayed in the country where we are from. In my case, my whole family is in Venezuela, all of them. I can now say that my family here is my boyfriend, who’s been with me. I’ve been here… I had an operation two years ago with almost peritonitis and I almost died. If I hadn’t been with him, I wouldn’t be here with you telling you all this. But I can say I’m happy because I have a person who cares for me, who is, you know? I feel protected. Unlike other people who don’t have, they don’t have anyone who… they don´t have anyone, no one, no one. And you say… God. And of course, I say it’s half happiness because of course, I’d like to be there or I would like my family to come here, that was another plan, that maybe my mom could come to visit. Because, of course, many things have happened since I came here. My grandfather died, one of my dogs, which I loved and adored died. My brother was killed and, of course, it is complicated. It’s hard when you think and says like…You know? I don’t know. I’d like to do a lot more. But fair enough, I try to be happy, as happy as life allows you to. And I really try. Although sometimes, as a human being, I have to say I broke down and say: I can’t anymore. I can’t stand it anymore. What am I going to do? But there is always someone, at least in my case, my boyfriend, who is there. I mean, he says: I am here, you are not alone, things are going to improve. And here I am. It’s hard, but well, I try to lead my life with joy as much as I can.
What do you do to feel happy?
I try to disconnect a little from the world. Sometimes I feel like… I don’t know. What we are saying… I don’t know, I think reading helps you a lot. Right now you see the topic of technology a lot. You know? You see a lot of bad things are going on in the world and you say like, you know? Like you’re not… you don´t feel in the place you should. Because, maybe you’re not the best person in the world, but you try to do good things for it. So, of course, you see so many things that are going on right now and you say… You know? You don’t feel well and then you try to disconnect. Then I at least feel happy at that moment, when I drop the phone and say I’m gonna stay here quiet, I’m not going to think about anything, or I go to see a movie and say look… I think, look, things are going to be fine, you have a house, you have food. I can not say that I have friends because friends… you can count them with the fingers of one hand. And I realized that, and I have learned that a friend is the one who is with you through thick and thin, not the one who is only in the good times, and unfortunately, this is not, it’s not my… not my case. I can’t say “I have thousands of friends”. No…acquaintances. I mean, my only friend right now is my boyfriend. And even if people say no, but it’s because … You can’t only take refuge in… No, but it’s true. I mean, he’s the only person who’s been with me in good and bad times. I mean, he’s the only person who, when I didn’t have food to eat, shared his. And I can tell you, he can take his plate from the table to give it to me, you know? Then I can just like… he’s my only friend and he’s the only person who’s been looking after me all this time.
Mmm. And what else do you do more to feel better?
What else? I ride my bike when the weather is good. [Laughter] What else can I do? I talk to my cat, even if people say that’s nonsense. But well, talking to pets also helps you a lot, it helps you a lot. But it is true that animals are like… I don’t know, I really like it… I don’t know, I take refuge in animals, I think, I start to see things like animals and so, and I say: “Look, there are things that are still worth fighting for, you know?” Not everything is bad, there are things, there are good things.
I was talking like a parakeet and… [laughs].
What? No, no, no, no, no. It’s very good! [laughs] That’s fine. I love to hear you, don’t worry.
It’s very good.
When I get started… I’m like a machine: Ta-ta-ta-ta and I explode.
It’s very good. I am looking at the questions because I think you’ve already… you’ve already answered some of the questions.
Bring them on, ask away, now you.
Can you describe your life in Europe? How can you describe it?
Let’s see, uh… First, I love Europe, really. I mean, I mainly like it, because here you can be what you are not in your country. And I mean, at least in Venezuela, it is true that people discriminate against you very much, because at least what I was saying to you, I come from a humble part of Venezuela, Caracas, the capital as such. And I remember that I mean, just because I have a different way of thinking or you know? Suddenly…
Or because you belong to some party or something?
Yeah, and also remember that it’s true that when you come from a very poor part you have that poor mentality, you know? Like… like not, like, if he behaves badly, I’m going to be equal or worse. I’m going to have bad habits and not. I mean, at least, it’s true that of course, I don’t, I don´t have any studies. I’m not going to say why, because I can’t, because yes. I was irresponsible, it was my total responsibility, 100 percent. For not wanting to improve in that way. But, but it’s always true that, since I was very young I had a lot of need with my mom. My dad left when I was 3 years old because my dad abused my mom. He left my mom, myself, and my brothers… One went with my grandmother, another went with my dad and I went with my mom and so everyone had their life. And I suffered a lot of necessity with my mom. A lot. Then, of course, it kind of taught me to see life differently and to get by from very, very young. I started working at… not at 12, because I heard of people that started working at 12, but since I was 15 I started working, helping my mom. Then it’s like you know? I kind of had another mentality, I didn’t spend my time in the neighborhood. It is true that until I was 14 years old I spent time in the neighborhood risking it because even my mom… They came to tell her that if we didn’t stay at home, they would hurt us. Because I used to spend time with another friend and…
They were going to rape us. We were going to do…
Why? Because they always saw us out there partying in the neighborhood. You know, typical girls during puberty at 12 or 13 who want to go out. It was a risk for us as women. Because I think that’s not only… right now there is a little more voice being given to the issue of abuse, violence, and such, but that has always existed. And to us, I remember that they always told me that if we didn’t stay home they were going to do something bad to us, they were going to rape us. Something bad was going to happen to us because we were girls because we were alone and men saw that we were easy prey. I think that was what helped me say like look, apart from the experience I had with my mom, I could say “look, I’m going to start working”. I also liked it, I mean, I liked helping my mom more than anything because we suffered so much need that I couldn’t leave her alone, it was time to move on. Then I started to go out, I started to go out and such. And your mind changes because you start getting along with other types of people, to have other customs, to improve a little the way you speak, to…I don’t know, to change you or your environment as such. And those kinds of things, you know? Like you… Get a little away from people, like you start to dress differently, not because you want to be a little more, but because you can afford it because you work. You see other, other… other examples and they criticize you. They criticize you because they say no… in Venezuela, we use a lot the word “sifrino” which is like what they say here “el pijo”, what is here, a posh person. Ah! This one wants to be posher than others and they live in a neighborhood and they can’t. Then, of course, you kind of feel a little…
Exactly, then I kind of didn’t feel like myself anymore.
I mean, so I didn´t feel like I belonged anymore. I can say that I love Venezuela very much, it is my country and I love it for all the things it has, but it is a country that I would not return to, because after you see Europe…although it´s not all as easy…
Right, it’s not life… It is not a utopia, it is not paradise.
Exactly, but you see that you can be a bit freer than what you’re used to. I mean here… speaking of security, or at least in Venezuela. I really tell you that, thank God I don’t, I never went through… Even when I was walking from a station to the stop, I had to ride a Jeep, what they call here SUVs, you know? I had to get into my house in that kind of vehicle because otherwise, I would have to climb up the stairs, I mean… it was a neighborhood and…it was like…
Yes, here, aside from the park next door, here you can go out to the… I see people walking dogs at one o’clock in the morning.
And you can even talk on the phone… in Venezuela, you can’t…I mean…
There is a certain level of security.
Even during the day, you can use it…
Even we who live in neighborhoods where there are more immigrants than the rest. Even there, there is still a high level of security. And yeah, when I walk out at night, it´s normally because I´m coming back from work. When I was working in the office, I’d be back from work at 12 o’clock, right? , I worked at night and didn´t have any problems. No, no…
Even my sister two years ago, two years ago, they pointed a gun at her head, so that…
Your sister is still…
My sister is. My sister… my sister is a nurse. She graduated in the middle of so much chaos in Venezuela, graduated as a nurse, and right now she works looking after old people in Venezuela, in Caracas and… but yes…two years ago I remember that she was pointed with a gun. That’s why I live every day thinking: Don’t take out the phone, keep the phone in a safe place because…
You still have this habit, you have this…
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, you’re like with… you have the heart in your mouth, as we say. look please take care of yourself and all that. But yeah… I see that one of the things I liked about living in Europe is that it’s very safe. People ask me but why don´t you… Why don’t you go to another city other than Madrid? Because Madrid is always expensive… I love Madrid, from the first moment I arrived in Madrid, I said: “Wow! What a beautiful city”. Because of course, you come from a place where, in the 1950s the structure was not all, but it was similar. You could have, some structures you found like… they look like Europe.
Do you mean the architecture?
Some architecture. But obviously, over the years, people’s mindset has changed, the governments that have been going on during all these almost 50 years… Well, things have changed a lot and…And then of course, maybe I see, I see Spain, I see Madrid and other places – I even told my boyfriend-, there are people who don’t, there are people who leave. People who say “oh! I’m going to travel to Cuba, no, I’m going to the United States! “Because of course, they want to learn about other cultures, but Spain has very beautiful things. As soon as I´m allowed to move around freely I want to discover everything. I’m going to do it because it seems to me that Spain is not just Madrid. Madrid has beautiful things, but Spain, in general, has very nice things…
Yes. There are places…
It has magical places, where you say: “wow!” If we have the “Gran Sabana”, the famous Great Savanna, “the lungs of the planet”…Well, what’s left of it. Spain also has its things
It has a lot, yeah.
Because it has things I say from pictures. I mean, I want to go to this place. Exciting things. I mean…one of the things I like is that every place you see is like, wow! And with him, obviously, I´ve seen a lot more. I mean, he has taken me and shown me many things. Even many things in Madrid that I know of…it´s all thanks to him.
Yes. But it is true that I like it…
You like life in Europe.
I like it very much.
Yes, yes, I like it very much.
I’m glad. I like it too… I like it too… Um… Your decision to come to Europe was not planned, it wasn’t something you’ve planned all your life. Then you wouldn’t have imagined your life in Europe, would you? Or in Spain.
No. I even remember that… Typical when you’re a child you say… like what I told you about wanting to go to Egypt. In the future, whenever I can… Hopefully, all the structure I want to see will still be there when I go. But yes, it was always more like, for traveling, not for living.
It wasn’t something I had …
Settling in another country.
No. It is true that in one of the last jobs I had in Venezuela, a friend gave me, gave me this idea to say: hey, What do you think if we go to Chile? I mean, the primary idea before all this was to go, go to Chile. To go there…
Santiago, or what?
I don’t know. No, in the end, it wasn´t a well-thought plan, It was more like if I go… Will you come with me? Anyway, this whole plan never happened. This whole plan fell down and that was like a year before all this came out. I mean, it was like the right time to…
It was more like a spontaneous decision, wasn’t it? That you were presented with the opportunity and you took it.
Exactly. I said look, it’s time and also it´s Spain, Madrid. When I first arrived I lived on the outskirts outside Aranjuez. Aranjuez is very nice. I lived very close to Aranjuez and of course, it´s nice… But after you come downtown, you see everything, you start to walk around and say… Come on, yes, I like it. And of course, there are many people who say no, they can’t cope. At first, the first few months were horrible for me. I cried with my mom on the phone, both of us like “ahhhh”. I cried a lot until one day I told her: “look, mom, either we find a solution or we tie our feelings”. Because of course, it’s hard when you say goodbye to your mom and I at least when I came, I gave her a half hug because I thought I was going to come back anytime. I also did to…you know? But when I got on the plane… I mean, as it took off I was crying…crying an ocean. But. But once here, more than going back for feelings or whatever, I think here I have many more opportunities than in my country, even if here in Europe things are not rosed-tinted.
It´s not a paradise.
It´s not a paradise. But at least you can say that you have a little. It’s that… I don’t know, I don’t know how many Venezuelans you have interviewed, how many people are left, but at least in my case… I am not rich, but what I have is enough. But after having lived all that experience, going back to the neighborhood, going back to all that…no, no. I feel like it’s like a step back…
You’ve already changed yourself. So no, you can’t go back.
There are people who even say, oh no, but it’s just that… Why are you kind of like… What’s the word? You’re kind of denying your origin, like, aren’t you? And it’s not that, it’s just that, as I told you a while ago.
You’ve changed, you’ve changed. You are not the same person as the person who came here four years ago.
Of course not! And the fact that I don’t want to return to live there, for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean you’re not from Venezuela or China.
And it doesn’t say that you hate your country or anything. But you have changed your perspective.
You´ve changed, you´ve seen new things. Then you can’t go back to the starting point anymore, can you?
And right now, it´s not… I mean, now…
And also because the situation in Venezuela is getting worse, isn’t it?
In Venezuela things are dollarized, so no way. And considering the fact that Venezuela is such a rich country in theory, because right now with the number of things that are going on I think… They’re taking away the little we have. But Venezuela is a country that has the potential to be much better than any other country because as you well know, gold is exploited there.
Yes, yes, yes, you have the best oil in the world…the largest quantity.
Of course. So, and right now with all this, I’m telling you. I mean, for 22 years, almost 22 years I think it’s been 22 years of this government. It was the Holocaust. I mean, the people that could have, let’s say, a future don’t have it. For example, my boyfriend is there. My boyfriend starts thinking, and he says: Damn! I’ve studied for so much time… So many years…
To throw everything away.
Of course, because you see a lot of stories about people, doctors, people… We even once, walking before all, days before we were terribly locked for the lockdown, we met a lady…54 years old and I saw that lady as my mom, a lady selling lottery downtown, a Venezuelan selling lottery downtown at 12 o’clock at night. No, it’s like sh… A lady who I think was a lawyer… something like that, so I said, really? So that kind of thing I’m talking about makes me think there’s no point. Even if I didn’t have a profession, going back to all this is not… I don’t know, I can´t imagine it. And, of course, there are people who want to go back to Venezuela… but I’m not one of them. And it’s not because I don’t want it, but because I don’t see a future.
But for what you’re telling me you’ve… you’ve been through very difficult times, haven’t you? And most of the people in our situation have been through times that difficult, haven’t they? I want to ask you what are your personal qualities helped you face and overcome these difficult times.
I think it’s my… my way I don’t know…like to look at the bright side of life. I can say it like that because just like every human being, we always have moments when we think… I don’t want to carry on. You know, don’t you? And I’m telling you because it’s crossed my mind the thought of… I’m sick of all this. I want a bomb to drop and end everything, even if it sounds very cruel. But I think that one of the things that helped me… Are my qualities. After all, I face life. I mean, in the middle of chaos. Well, I try to… “hello!” and I’m telling you because there are people who suddenly…
You try to smile because…
Sure, it’s just that there are people that say… Oh, what a nice person! And maybe you are feeling… I can’t say the word, like the worst. I’m not going to say the word, I’d better skip it.
No, no, say it.
You feel like… No, I’m not going to say it, I don’t like to express myself that way.
And well… you feel very bad…
Very bad. You feel down, beaten, or what?
Very bad inside, well.
Exactly. And people are like… also related to your thing, as I was telling you. The subject of social networks, which sometimes have a lot of influence in these times, a lot. You see things on the internet or you see people and you say, but this person, I mean… They always look… and it’s not like that, their lives aren’t as perfect as they pretend them to be.
You know? So you say…
But that’s social media, because you… Social networks allow you, allow you to show a part of your life and it is normal, as human beings, to show the good part of your life. You’re not going to take a picture of you crying and put it on Instagram…
No, but of course, the worst thing about this is that you also realize that now…
It´s important to understand that.
Sure. But also there are these people who say…I don’t know if you’ve heard. I don’t know if maybe you know about that group… please don’t kill me for this, the so-called crystal generation.
I mean. To all these people who… well you’re 26.
Yes. Younger people, right? People of twenty…
Yes, it’s just this generation, that… at least what happened not long ago to Christopher Columbus. I mean Christopher Columbus’s story. I mean, if you’ve noticed all the chaos that happened on Columbus Day or the National Spanish Day, we call it Day of the Race in Venezuela. You know that history…Christopher Columbus’s story… You know? So these people are like, aren’t they? But… at least in Venezuela…You are very white, but…
Hahaha. Thank you. Yes, people. People are… When I say I’m from Africa they say “Africa?” How?
But at least there are people… I… I am…
I am dark-skinned. People call me “negra” but for us the word black, for us in Venezuela, which here is an insult to many. There, it’s like my “negro”, how beautiful my “negro”!
You know? It’s like simply referring to a person…
It’s like a “tío” here, mate. How are you, mate?
Yes… it’s a kind way.
Or… What is it called? Here people say “tronco”. That seems very… very funny to call me a trunk.
Of course. So here’s the crystal generation say like, hey my “negro”! Why do you call him that?
Yes… political correctness. Isn´t it?
Let’s say we take it as an insult, there are certain things that… We were talking my boo and I, I don’t know if you heard, I don’t know if in Egypt, in your childhood, you got to see it. I don’t know what the Warner siblings would be called there. There was this cartoon that was like three puppies with a white face and that was very… I mean, they made very black humor. Black… You know? This kind of comments the crystal generation wouldn’t get them. They made jokes very … as a background… very subtly, sort of speak. They’re intentionally made to be misunderstood. So we talked about that. What will it be like now that they showing it again after “X” time? And obviously, of course, there are a lot of things that will affect the crystal generation, because some are really wrong. For example, there’s this thing that happened to the guy from the USA, the black guy who died, that was wrong.
Let’s see, these are…That’s a tragedy.
It was wrong.
It’s a tragedy. A person dying this way. It’s a total tragedy.
But right now it is true that the issue of racism…
Me, for example, I’m going to tell you something. Well, some relatives of mine… There was a funny video of a man who was carrying a girl, right? He’s carrying a girl and then he goes through a wall and he does like this and the girl starts crying, you know?
Ah… he “hits” her… Oh… yes…
But he hadn’t hit the girl. He only touched her with his hand.
So someone… shared this video and said, “Look, girls always, always exaggerate.” She said something like that. Then there were comments calling him sexist and he said… man.
Man, you have to take it, you have to take…
That’s what I’m telling you.
You have to take a joke as a joke and that’s it, right?
But this generation…
See if you’re calling them or if you’re saying girls have to be home or something. Or girls can’t do this profession, it’s not… They can’t do… That is sexist, okay, but not everything is. And that was just a joke.
But that’s what I mean, that’s the crystal generation and because of this kind of thing… Sexist!
Relax, relax, relax.
No… that’s a joke and that’s it.
Certain things are sexists. Yes, yes, yes, yes.
es, yes, that’s true.
Certain things are racist. Yes, yes, yes. But a joke should be taken as a joke and that’s it.
And as I was saying that, in the end, it was a tragedy what happened to that man, because no one should take anyone’s life.
No, no, and especially when he was saying I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
Exactly. But it is also true that the issue of racism has not only been seen from a few years until now. I mean, racism has always existed, xenophobia has always existed. Right now more attention is being drawn to it. Because of course, it is true that we have to raise awareness of these things, but I also feel that this has done a lot of harm to society…
Also. Yes… certain things you have to take them easily.
Easy, easy and take a joke as a joke. If there is someone who is hitting his wife, yes, this is wrong, this is domestic violence.
A year or so ago Luis… I can’t remember. We were… you know you can hear everything here and I remember there was a car. I mean, we heard some screaming, screaming… And we looked out at the window and it was a guy and a girl fighting and the boy was shaking her. Of course, our reaction was to call the police.
Yes, yes, yes.
Because, of course, that kind of thing… If you see physical abuse in front of you, there are people who stay quiet and don´t look.
No, no, no.
I go out and report it because they’re causing her…
And if I can do something, I do it, right?
Of course. But you can’t exaggerate something that is not…
Like that joke…
I mean, taking that seriously… that is. I haven’t seen it, but it’s silly to me. Why would you call him sexist!. I mean, he´s playing with the girl, try to understand the point of view. He’s not grabbing her…
Yes. Now buying a doll for a girl is called sexism. Like you’re instilling…
To buy a kitchen for a girl… It’s not, of course, because now…
Because the girl wants to play and that’s it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I remember that I used to love kitchen games. I mean, I remember that my aunt, an aunt who is right now in the United States, I remember that she liked them too and I was happy with my kitchen and at that time nobody said anything.
Yes, yes, yes. Now you don’t…
Now it’s like now you’re going to give a cup to a girl, what are you talking about?… By the way, I´m out of coffee. Why do you have to give her…?
Shall I make you another one? One more? One more? You want another one, wait. Let’s pause this.
Don´t worry, let´s continue.
I’m going to ask you something so I can quote you, okay? You have to complete the sentence: My dream before coming to Europe was… and my dream now was… is. And you say it.
Let´s see. Well, my dream of coming here, even though I knew it was going to happen. Well, and it’s still going to happen after some time…
But your dream before coming. Before you came.
My dream before?
Like… On the journey or before your journey. Your dream was to come to Europe and…
Seek stability. You see, stability, I mean having that degree I couldn’t get, for being irresponsible or whatever, you know? kind of having, having the possibility to be someone, in a way. Because I already know I’m someone, you know? I think that in the end, as long as you have the ability to communicate, to have, to communicate with your environment, I think already, that already makes you someone. But before…
So, can you tell me? Before I came to Europe, my dream was to seek stability.
Yes. And when you arrived in Spain, which month, what year?
I arrived … um… At the end of November.
November 26, 2015.
Of 2015. A year before me, I arrived in December 2016.
No… yeah, exactly a year… yeah.
A year, well, a year, and a month or so.
Yeah, that´s it.
And can you tell me a little bit about the situation in Venezuela? What´s it like?
When you left Venezuela or how the situation worsened, but briefly.
Okay. When I decided to come when I decided to get out. It’s true that, of course, I also made that decision to leave because it wasn´t right. The economic situation was already starting to get bad, things were already starting to be scarce in supermarkets… sorry.
Things were starting to be scarce in a supermarket, and a salary was not enough, your minimum wage wasn´t nearly enough.
It wasn´t enough to…
Nothing. And of course, you know? No, no, It was already getting a little scary and that’s why, you know? I made the decision. Right now… well, let’s say it. About two years ago my boyfriend had the chance.. let’s say it. Sadly he had the opportunity to go to Venezuela because he went to the… his grandmother was dying and unfortunately, she died and he had to go to Venezuela and he said, babe, you know? It’s complicated…
Things have changed a lot, haven’t they?
You know that more or less still… Still two and a half years ago, although everything was already the same. Because after I came, a year after there was nothing anymore. I mean, you didn’t get anything in supermarkets anymore, you had to be going from one supermarket to another to buy because you couldn´t find things. Prices were going up, the dollar was rising little by little, and then all this time passed. My boyfriend goes to Venezuela and tells me: babe, things are quite…quite complicated. Everything was already starting to dollarize slowly, not as much as now, but the Bolivar was not worth much anymore. Immediately. Now it’s not worth anything. I don’t even know what coin or currency people use anymore. I think it’s the so-called “Soberanos”. I don’t know because I try not to have much information about Venezuela, because it’s something that affects me. I mean, it’s something I said. Well, it’s not that…that I’m trying to get rid of Venezuela’s responsibility, but just to keep my mental health…
Because imagine being so far away and also being here a little unstable legally speaking. Obviously, it affects you. You try to maintain a balance.
Exactly. And to keep a balance, but right now it´s immediately impossible. Right now, in the middle of the pandemic, people are locked up, sort of say, because after all, people do the same things even when locked up for a week. The following week they go out. Before in Venezuela, we had, apart from the bus, had the subway. Now there´s only a subway and no longer train. There is only one train that takes you from one city to another, but that’s it. For the rest, you have to take the subway. Then, of course, before the Caracas subway, what was a super project, come one, enormous. Well now it’s horrible because now it doesn’t have, it doesn’t have air conditioning. It is true that when I came here everything was, at least, kept clean. They didn’t allow you… it’s not like in here where you were allowed to eat on the trains before the pandemic. No, no. There if they saw you with an apple or whatever, you were kicked out because of course, to keep…
Well, to eat.. Eat on the subway, maybe an apple but…
Well… before… before you could. I saw people eating on the train, what happens is that now with the pandemic, to prevent people from removing the mask. They have already banned it, but here you can be on the subway and you can eat.
Your lunchbox or something…
I saw people having lunch on the trains. Because of course, because they allowed you to, there it was not allowed. So, of course, right now I hear my sister talking, the poor woman has to move from the neighborhood to a city, because we…at least the ones that live in the neighborhood, well, my mom who is there right now, she has… I mean the jobs are about an hour, an hour and a half away from your house. Then, of course, the safest and quickest transport is the Metro de Caracas. But right now it is not even that, because apart from it being crowded with so many people, it has no… even more so in the middle of the pandemic…there is no air conditioning. I mean, it’s not…
How does the situation in your country make you feel? because to me, personally…
Yes. Personally, I am not from Latin America nor am I, I am from a very different part of the world. But I’m sorry for the situation in Venezuela, you know? A country that has all the resources for being a rich country and even better than most European countries. And still, it’s really struggling. And the people…
What happens is that… I say this wherever I can because it is real. It is true that everything, everything has a… You know? everything has a consequence. And it’s true that at the time the people who had to choose the government to rule chose wrong because they believed in a project that, in the end, like all governments… they promise, promise and in the end, they stay in the promises and do nothing. So what happens? Not just… right now… it is that the government… In a way, out of 100 percent, 80 percent of them are to blame, because they’ve been stealing everything and taking it out.
Money’s been mismanaged too, hasn´t it? According to me, this is what happened in Venezuela, right?
But it’s also true that since… since this government came as such…The mentality of many Venezuelans has changed altogether. What´s wrong?
Nothing. I´m just looking where is…
It has changed. Has changed a lot. Not just…and now it is not only about the government. It is also the subject of how Venezuelans think right now. That the ones that stay there, what I was telling you a while ago. We are a group. I’m not going to get everyone in the same boat because we’re not all the same. But we, instead of helping each other, screw the other person. I don’t know if I made myself clear.
Yes, yes, yes.
So we hurt… not hurt each other, but yeah, like… I have this mouse for the computer. But well, since it´s impossible to find it in the market, I can give it to you for 30 dollars. But it’s something that costs you 5 dollars. Do you know what I mean? So people take advantage of it, they take advantage of the other. Even this morning we saw by chance. We were talking about the dollar, in Venezuela dollars were used like, to travel or whatever, but now it is practically a currency.
It’s the official currency, isn’t it?
Let’s say in a way because it’s not official yet, but everything is being handled with dollars. So, let’s see, we saw a travel package to the… you know we have a lot of beaches and all that, now traveling is paid in dollars. Let´s say there is a trip to one of the cays. Cay is like a… Like a cluster of super beautiful islands, super crystal clear pool water, and such. Typical tropical beaches. And you see it´s 350 dollars and you… Okay. So you think if, if they are promoting these trips for 350 dollars, it’s because there are people who can still pay that much for it. But what´s the thing?, those people who can still afford it’s because they are…this word, I think it already exists. Yeah, this word is already used… Slotted in… Mafia. I mean, now there´s no…now in Venezuela, you know that it existed before, I don’t know if you had it in your country or have heard of the lower, middle, or upper class. Before in Venezuela, there was a lower, middle, and upper class. Not anymore, now either you are very very very poor or you have a lot, a lot, a lot of money.
And there is no class… What is it called?
Yes. There is no middle class.
You say, I can indulge myself…but not. I left immediately. There are people who will be able to pay that 350 dollars, but at least my mom can´t. I mean, my mom is a person I know she works every day.
How is your family?
Well, my family in general, and considering what happened with my brother, the way he died. Well, let’s say they’re okay. Of course, I say, I say it so doubtfully, because of course… In the same way, we try not to tell them 100 percent of the truth so that they don’t worry they do the same. I know that a lot happens to my mom, but she doesn’t tell me. Thank God, my sister, as I told you, already graduated as a nurse, she’s working, she’s helping my mom right now. My mom works cleaning a maternity hospital and well, my mom is always very hard working. My mom is very very “currito” as they say around here and it’s like she’s always walking and doing a lot. No… She was offered -because she´s one of the hardest working ones-, it seems they were going to make a bonus payment in dollars. I think she was in there because it looks like the superiors love her very much. I mean, my mom is very hard working.
You haven’t seen her for 5 years, have you?
Yes, for five years.
How does this make you feel?
It´s hard. What happens is, of course, I try, as I tell you, I try to think about other things, but there are days, it’s like it affects me because of course, you know? It´s 5 years being lost, it’s 5 years you’re not there. I mean, you’re not watching your mom grow old, you’re not watching your sister grow up. You know? I would have liked when they send you the photos of the graduation or… You know? I would have liked to be there. At least when my brother died, I would have liked to be there. I mean, I couldn’t say goodbye to my brother. Then you say yes, like, you know? , I try… This year I said … not so long ago I had a crisis and my boyfriend was telling me “you have to relax..”. You get pessimistic, you get pessimistic and it’s like…, but then you say, hey, wait. Calm down a little. Think, that is, relax your thoughts, clarify yourself, like you…
He tries to… But it’s hard, it’s hard because of course, it’s five years when a thousand things can happen to you. I mean, if you… life can change you in a second. And you know, after so long I think: will I see them again? Or maybe not? So it’s a constant question. And it is complicated. But…
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.