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“Orphaned Parents”: Emigration in Venezuela from the View of Those Who Stay Behind

Photo from Only J. under Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

International Terminal of Maiquetia International Airport, Venezuela. Photo from Only J. under Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, unless otherwise noted.]

For the first time in Venezuela's history, it is undeniable that an important diaspora of Venezuelans is being formed. Even though there aren't precise or current figures of that diaspora, it is estimated that in 2010 more than a million Venezuelan citizens were living abroad.

Saying goodbye to family and friends has become common, and on social networks there had been little debate around the situation until the controversial video “Caracas, City of Goodbyes” [en] was released. The video generated a heated conversation on social networks about the migrant movement that started in the country in 2000.

The majority of texts that have been generated about the topic, as much by the media as by citizens on the Internet, talk about the reasons for which a Venezuelan decides to abandon his or her daily life and family. The Venezuelan doctor Samir Kabbabe wrote in his post “What do you say to those who leave?” posted on Prodavinci :

Sea por expulsión, persecución, fracaso, inseguridad, imposibilidad para la satisfacción económica o por desarrollar un proyecto de vida, todo exilio es político. Y el exilio va en aumento.

It could be due to expulsion, persecution, failure, insecurity, the impossibility of economic satisfaction, or to develop a life project–all exile is political. And exile continues to increase.

However, journalist Elizabeth Fuentes (@fuenteseliz) recently wrote a post that has been shared by many on social networks and which has once more generated debate about emigration in Venezuela, this time from the perspective of the family that stays behind.

Posted on the blog Jokeslab under the title “Orphaned Parents”, the journalist tells, from her experience, what the moment of separation and then the brief reunion means for the parents of young Venezuelans who left the country.

‘Madre muerta caminando’ es como lo describo, mala traducción de ‘dead men walking', que es como rotulan a los condenados a muerte mientras atraviesan el pasillo que los llevara a la silla eléctrica. Exagerada la comparación, por supuesto, pero igual lo repito mentalmente cada vez que me despido de mi hija y comienzo a atravesar ese trocito de aeropuerto donde ya no hay regreso.

‘Dead Mother Walking’ is how I describe it, a terrible translation of ‘dead men walking', which is what they call those sentenced to death as they cross the corridor that takes them to the electric chair. The comparison is exaggerated, of course, but all the same I mentally repeat it each time I say goodbye to my daughter and start to cross that small section of the airport, from which there is no return.

Fuentes suggests that an Orphaned Parents Day could be invented, in which they take plazas in silence, and a mourning flag is flown on balconies, in cars, on motorcycles, and on ranches. “How about December 6? When the gem of Hugo Chávez won?, she suggests with irony.

Elizabeth Fuentes comments that there are no longer young people at family reunions, only parents talking about their absent children and about the hoops they will have to jump to organize their next trip. But in her post, the journalist doesn't only tell the story of the Venezuelan middle and upper classes, she also refers to what happens in the lower classes:

Pero no solo se van por razones “mercantilistas”, como metió la pata una de las tantas ministras de salud que tampoco sirve para nada: la señora que gerencia nuestra casa me dice quiere mandar su muchacho de vuelta a Colombia ­ un jovencito buena conducta – porque en su barrio todo es drogas, asesinatos y ajuste de cuentas.

Cada día me llega con un cuento más espantoso que el anterior. Que si a la clase media se le van los hijos, a los humildes se los asesinan, un dolor incomparable a nuestro rito de aeropuerto. Una nadería nuestra despedida frente a una espera a las puertas de la morgue.

But they don't only leave for “mercantilist” reasons, like one of the many ministers of health who made a mistake said which didn't help at all: the woman who manages our home tells me she wants to send her boy back to Colombia–a well-behaved young man–-because in her neighborhood it's all drugs, murders, and settling scores.

She comes to me each day with a story more frightening than the last. When the middle class children leave, the poorer ones are being murdered, an incomparable pain to our airport ritual. Our goodbye is nothing compared to waiting in front of the morgue doors.

Comments and debate have gone around the web for several days as a result of this post.

Maritza González commented that she never thought that she would go through a similar situation to that of a friend who moved to Venezuela to flea from Francisco Franco's regime in Spain:

En una oportunidad, una amiga que llego a Vzla huyendo del Franquismo, me dijo cuando decides irte los dolores son muchos, las familias se dividen y ve tu a saber cuando se pueden volver a reunir.. Me dijo soy Huérfana de Familia, mi hermano murió en Argentina y ni sé donde llevarle unas flores… Jamás pensé que eso, me llegara a pasar a mi, en ese momento, mi País era el refugio de muchos, hoy mis dos hijos ya están fuera… aunque lucho con todos los organismos del estado para visitarlos, no hay consuelo cuando regreso, el momento más duro no es ir a visitarlos, sino ese mismo pasillo pero en Barajas…

Once, a friend who came to Venezuela fleeing from Franquismo told me that when you decide to leave there are many things that cause pain,  families are divided and who knows when they can be reunited again. She told me, I am a family orphan; my brother died in Argentina and I don't even know where to bring him flowers… I never thought that that would happen to me, and in that moment, my country was many people's refuge, and today my two children are away… Even though I fight with all the state agencies to visit them, that is no consolation when I come back. The hardest moment isn't when I'm going to visit them; instead it's that same hallway but in Barajas [Madrid, Spain airport]…

For her part, Alejandra Lopez in her intervention names the reasons that caused her to leave the country, and she considers that society is responsible for the country's situation:

Esa es la realidad por la que me fui hace 6 meses me cansé de luchar por hacer las cosas bien y ayudar a generar justicia en un sitio donde mucha gente, se queja y echa culpas, pero siguen actuando de manera deshonesta e irrespetuosa con los derechos de los otros. Me duele mucho porque sí existen venezolanos honestos, pero la vida se le hace 10 veces más difícil. Y amo a mi país, y lo siento pero esto es una consecuencia histórica que merecemos como sociedad por haber permitido que las diferencias sociales fueran tan grandes y la gran mayoría de nuestra población viviera en carencia.

That's the reality and the reason I left six months ago–I got tired of doing things well and helping to see justice done in a place where many people complain and blame others, but they keep acting dishonestly and disrespectfully with other people's rights. It really hurts because honest Venezuelans do exist, but life is ten times harder for them. And I love my country, and I am sorry but this is a historic consequence that we deserve as a society for having allowed such big social differences and that the great majority of our population live in poverty.

Vane commented that even if she feels like she has a lot to do for her country, she wants to leave because she doesn't want to keep living in fear.

Siempre pensé que enterraría primero a mis padres y luego me marcharía, pero vivir en Venezuela, y más aún en Caracas, ya es insoportable. Tengo el trabajo de mis sueños, vivo en un lugar propio y en una de las mejores zonas de CCS, y de qué me sirve si a las 10 de la noche me despierto por tres tiros que suenan casi en mi oreja porque estaban tratando de secuestrar a alguien que salía de un restaurant [...]

Lo peor de todo es que siento que profesionalmente todavía puedo hacer muchas cosas aquí, pero valdrá la pena quedarse? O repetiré la historia de mis padres que abandonaron sus países de origen para buscar un futuro mejor (que hace 50 años era en Venezuela).

I always thought I would bury my parents first and then I would leave, but living in Venezuela, even more in Caracas, has become unbearable. I have my dream job, I live in my own place, and in one of the best areas in Caracas, and what good does it do me if at ten o'clock at night I wake up to three gunshots that nearly sound in my ear because they were trying to kidnap someone who was leaving from a restaurant [...]

The worst thing of all is that I feel that professionally I can still do a lot of things here, but is staying worth it? Or will I repeat the story of my parents who abandoned their countries of origin in search for a better future (which 50 years ago was in Venezuela).

Maiquetia Airport, Venezuela- LuisCarlos Díaz photo under Creative Commons license

Maiquetia Airport, Venezuela- LuisCarlos Díaz photo under Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Beatriz Rezzin explains that in her family they take advantage of Skype to stay close to family:

Me gusta la idea del día del luto migratorio. Mi esposo y yo somos padres y abuelos huerfanos pegados al Skype para sentirlos cercanos.

I like the idea of the migration mourning day. My husband and I are orphaned parents and grandparents who are stuck to Skype to feel close to our family.

Although some use technology as a way of lessening the emptiness, for Alberto it is increasingly hard to face the idea that someone else may leave. He only hopes that the country's condition will improve so that his family can return, for that reason he writes:

Pensé que iba a acostumbrarme a la idea de escuchar que alguien más se va el próximo mes… Pero es al revés, cada vez me duele más cada conocido y cada amigo que se va… Mi familia casi por completo se fue solo tengo a 4 familiares aquí en Venezuela, el resto fue a más de un país, imposible y doloroso pensar que jamás volveremos a estar juntos…

Amigos como 10 que se han ido… Solo me pregunto si yo también me iré… No sé por que todo esto? (bueno si sé, pero que duro ya resignarse a esto ¿no?).

No me quiero ir en verdad… Mas bien quiero que esto cambie y que los míos regresen… En verdad ese es mi sueño.

Mientras me encuentro extranjero en mi propio país porque desconozco tanta violencia, tanta cochinada, tanta miseria, tanta ignorancia y sobretodo tanta falta de valores.

¿Esto ha de cambiar???

I thought I was going to get used to the idea that somebody else was leaving the next month… But it's the opposite–it hurts more each time an acquaintance or friend leaves… Almost my whole family has left so I only have four family members here in Venezuela; the rest went to more than one country, and it is impossible and painful to think that we will never go live together again…

About 10 friends have left… I only wonder if I will also leave… I don't know why? (okay, yes I do know, but it's so hard to resign yourself to this, isn't it?).

I don't really want to leave… What I really want is for this to change and for my family and friends to come back… That is truly my dream.

Meanwhile I am a stranger in my own country because I am unfamiliar with such violence, such filth, such misery, such ignorance, and above all, such a lack of values.

Will this ever change???

But Luis Díaz determines that not all of those who have stayed behind in Venezuela have done so due to a lack of a chance to emmigrate, but rather because some of them dont’ want to be foreigners:

No todos los que nos hemos quedado es porque no hemos tenido la oportunidad de irnos, yo la he tenido y aquí sigo, no sé si es un error, pero no tengo intención de vivir como extranjero pase lo que pase.

Not all of us who have stayed behind are here because we have not had a chance to leave; I've had the chance and here I am. I don't know if it's a mistake, but I don't intend to live like a foreigner because what will happen will happen.

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