Venezuelans in Queens: Lives Upended

Mariana Romero Toledo at the Arepas Café restaurant in Astoria. (Photo by Danny Mendoza via Queens Latino)

Danny Mendoza of Queens Latino interviewed a number of Venezuelans in New York. In one article, he checks in with a number of different immigrants who fled troubles in the South American nation: 

“In 2015 I saw myself languishing in Venezuela. I could not fulfill my goals because of inflation,” said Teresa García, 27, who has been working for a year as a waitress at Arepas Grill restaurant in Astoria, Queens. García is from San Cristóbal, Táchira, across the border from the Colombian city of Cúcuta, and moved to New York three years ago. (…)

García, who back in Venezuela used to buy a new car every year, said that her parents returned there a month ago but she has “not been able to talk to them because of the blackouts.” The energy shortage reflects the South American nation’s crisis, where 1,300,000 percent inflation, lack of food and medicine, and bouts of street violence have led three million Venezuelans to abandon their country.

According to the 2010 census, there are 13,910 Venezuelans in New York, but the numbers are growing and their presence is felt in restaurants, beauty salons and bars.

(…) “I am grateful to all the humanitarian aid, but disappointed with those ignorant [people] who support [President] Maduro,” said Isabel Cheng, sales representative at Cricket Wireless in Corona. Cheng, 29, arrived in New York three years ago.

(…) At the 82 Street station, Venezuelan journalist Ángel Rangel, 26, who moved to New York two months ago, said he would support a U.S. military intervention to bring down Maduro. “It is one of the best options, since a crooked government will never give away power in any way,” said Rangel, echoing an opinion shared by most of the Venezuelan diaspora (…).

In another article, Mendoza focused on the experiences of Mariana Romero Toledo:

“One night in Venezuela I was chased by the colectivos when I was driving my car. They threatened me with a gun. They accused me of being part of the opposition and they yelled at me: ‘You’re stateless!’” said Mariana Romero Toledo, 38, an oil engineer. (…)

The colectivos are civil groups aligned with the Venezuelan government who work in the education and production sectors, and they often wear hoods while chasing opposition figures.

“In June 2017 I moved to New York with my mom and my daughter, who depend on my income,” said Romero, who is divorced. In spite of the fear of migrating, “I have always been a determined woman,” she said. She first visited her uncle in New York, who welcomed her to his home and offered her a job in his restaurant Arepas Café.

She had to leave Venezuela for economic and political reasons. “I worked for 10 years at Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) pursuing my career, but I was targeted from the start because my name appeared on the Tascón list,” said Romero.

PDVSA is the government-run oil company, and Toledo was highly qualified.  “I started being politically persecuted within the company because Hugo Chavez supporters considered me ‘stateless’ for having signed a document critical of the government.”

The Tascón list appeared in 2003 after several political organizations gathered signatures in support of a referendum to recall then-president Hugo Chávez. Pro-Chavez lawmaker Luis Tascón made the names public when he published all the signatures on a website.

Like many compatriots, Romero contributes by sending food and medicines to her country. “I hope that Venezuela is going to recover,” said Romero, who is grateful to the U.S. for having welcomed her at such a critical moment.

“My daughter already learned English, she speaks and writes really well,” said Romero. Her daughter’s future is her priority. “I ache for my daughter and mom because it’s not easy for them,” Toledo added with tears in her eyes.

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