The Inspirationals #2: Venezuelan Migrant
Welcome to the second installment of BeFreeMySheeple.com’s The Inspirationals where I interview people who inspire me.
This week I had the honor of interviewing one of the most resilient human beings I have ever met. Amidst deteriorating economic and political conditions in Venezuela, Aida was forced to leave her home country. Despite this, she has remained positive and was able to launch a successful career in France as an educator while also pursuing her master’s degree.
How I Met Aida, a Venezuelan Migrant
I met Aida on August 12th, 2017 while I was out with some of my drinking buddies bar-hopping in West Village, New York City. As I was heading into The Fat Black Pussycat (one of my go-to bars since my early 20s) on West 3rd Street, Aida was standing outside the bar talking with a few friends. Being that I already had a few drinks that night, I had the courage to strike up a conversation with Aida. I thought typical New York City nightlife banter would ensue, but this conversation was very different and completely unexpected.
When I met Aida I was living in a bubble generally unaware of what else was happening in the world outside of the US. She quickly explained how Venezuela was dealing with 1,300% inflation, which when compared to the inflation rate today, sounds like a gift (today it’s hovering around 3,000,000%…seriously). It wasn’t just an economic crisis…the country was quickly spiraling into a humanitarian crisis. The middle class was wiped out almost over night. If you were doing OK before, you were almost certainly living in extreme poverty now.
Before you read our interview, this documentary on YouTube provides an overview of what’s happening in Venezuela today. As the video description says, “The downfall of Venezuela serves as a modern-day macro tragedy. Once the richest nation in Latin America, Venezuela is now a broken economy enveloped in crime, corruption and hyperinflation.”
BeFreeMySheeple.com’s Exclusive Interview with Aida
Adam Francisco: Aida – thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me and talk about what life was like in Venezuela. I feel like a lot of people aren’t aware of how serious the Venezuelan crisis is. What was life like for you before?
Aida: Life wasn’t that hard before. We still had shortages of basic things like food and medicine but the inflation rate wasn’t that high and it wasn’t increasing that quickly.
Adam: So what happened?
Aida: Everything got worse because of the sudden drop of oil barrel prices given that everything was subsidized by the government. The government also practiced expropriation which affected productivity. What is important to make clear is that Chavez’s economic system was socialism and that shit doesn’t work! Everything is Chavez’s fault. He also chose the successor before he died.
Adam : So when Maduro took over, how did life change?
Aida: Everything got worse. Working became less and less valuable. Money became worthless. Lots of money was being printed by the central bank which added to the inflation. Prices of things skyrocketed and higher prices combined with less production meant not enough supply for everyone! Everything started deteriorating : streets, cars, home appliances (due to power rationing), water supply (due to water rationing). People from civilized countries like USA can’t even imagine what it’s like to live under those degrading, inhumane conditions. My parents did not work so hard their whole lives to end up living in such misery. You cannot survive in Venezuela unless you work in the black markets “importing” basic products at the frontiers.
Adam: You say importing in quotes because from what I’ve read and watched online, the importers take the items that are meant to go to the people, so they can re-sell it on the black market for financial personal gain, right?
Aida: Exactly. It is more like smuggling. Life during the current regime was so much harder for me. Reality was difficult. Life was reduced to just surviving every day looking for food or trading products. I had 3 jobs while studying at university and still couldn’t even think of moving out of my parents house because paying rent is impossible. Real estate financing started to be in US dollars which we couldn’t and didn’t have access to because the government imposed currency exchange controls. I really felt during those moments that I would never be able to flee this dictatorship. Life was just so miserable in Venezuela.
Adam: This is such heartbreaking stuff. What was the final straw that made you decide to leave Venezuela?
Aida: So I was going to law school for 2 years and I got depressed because I realized it wasn’t worth a thing studying laws that would never be applied. Venezuela is not a state of laws, but a state of legitimacy. The regime just kept creating more laws to legitimize all the crimes and anti-constitutional decisions. I realized I should take advantage of public education to study something that enabled me to go abroad and practice globally so I started to major in Languages (Foreign Language Teaching), specializing in French.
Adam: That’s a really smart move.
Aida: I had already taught myself English, Italian and French from watching TV and listening to music. I made this decision in 2012, the year that Chavez died. I hoped things could get better so I could stay and contribute to the redevelopment of Venezuela through education but that clearly wasn’t happening so I had my plan B which was applying to job offers reserved for excellent students. Ultimately I ended up getting a job: teaching Spanish language in France. There wasn’t a final straw that made me think of leaving Venezuela, but an accumulation of things that would make anyone want to flee their country.
Adam: It’s amazing that you were able to come up with a plan for yourself post-Venezuela.
Aida: Yes, I had a plan. This is essential for people who plan to prosper and making a living abroad just like a citizen of that country. I always hated the idea of arriving to country and being unable to have economic rights and freedom. My plan was to have a guaranteed job waiting for me after I left Venezuela which is very hard to get.
Adam: So why France?
Aida: I chose France because I already spoke the language and because they have an amazing social system of healthcare and education, which was especially important for me as I still wanted to get my Master’s degree. Fleeing Venezuela and getting to France wasn’t easy. I had to pass through very tough situations for a young woman all alone.
Adam: On the way to France, you had to stop through the US and you chose New York City as your layover which is when we met. In your short time there, what did you think about New York?
Aida: My experience in New York City was full of contrasts but what I liked most about USA was the freedom. I was able to walk alone at night and not be worried about being murdered or raped. It was such an incredible feeling to have that freedom that I was no longer able to have in my own country.
Adam: Things we take for granted in America. It’s refreshing and sobering to hear your perspective. So how is your job going in France?
Aida: I love it. I’m working part-time as a teacher while I finish my 2nd major this year in Business Administration. Then I can finally get my Master’s in International Trade. I believe what keeps nations from having wars is cooperation by finding common economic interests. To do this, we need freedom. We need guaranteed liberties.
Adam: Are you happy?
Aida: I’m happy because I always wanted to live abroad and learn from other cultures. It’s just that I never thought I would do so without being able to go back home and without knowing when I’m going to see my family again. This is very hard, but I’m the owner of my happiness and responsible for it. I have to think this way because I can’t change the way things are right now. I am living in the moment.
Adam: Are you still in contact with your family?
Aida: Yes, I speak with my family everyday! Fortunately they are fine. My parent are still in Venezuela as well as some of my aunts and uncles but most of my cousins and friends are abroad. Even if I wanted to go back to Venezuela, it is no longer the country I grew up in. There are no longer people there I can relate my social life to. It doesn’t exist and it breaks my heart. My friends and family are all around the world now. Venezuelan exiles will reach 5 million this year! This is such an incredible migration phenomenon. Most of the Venezuelans on Instagram are creating their stories from all around the world.
Adam: What changes do you think need to happen in Venezuela?
Aida: People need legal security. This means we need real institutions that guarantee the rule of law! We need economic freedom, less dependence on natural resources and less dependence on the government to subsidize basic needs. Venezuelan citizens need emancipation from the government. These principles are essential to motivate productive and economic growth. Also, social and cultural aspects need to change because the Venezuelan people depend on and therefore love welfare. This is a problem that needs to be fixed with education and critical thinking for choosing a better type of government. And I’m sorry if my English was poor. It’s been awhile since I last spoke English!
Adam: Your English was better than many native speakers! I’ve always been absolutely amazed by your story and how you were able to overcome such an awful situation that you had no control over. I hope this interview can help raise awareness of the Venezuelan crisis as well as act as an inspiration for people that find themselves in a bad situation. You are proof that it’s possible to overcome tremendous odds and find happiness.
You can follow Aida on Instagram, @aidastereo.
Have another person that you’d like me to consider for next month’s The Inspirationals? Leave a comment or you can e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed reading/watching this, you can follow me on Instagram, @adamfrancisco & @befreemysheeple.
Be Free My Sheeple!