Ana Valeria González Lazo escaped Venezuela, the third most dangerous country in the world, seven years ago. Escaping the violence and ongoing political turmoil has left Ana feeling uprooted and longing for the country of her childhood; a beautiful, diverse and communal Venezuela that has vanished.
I couldn’t feel the loss, because no one told me that I was losing something. It just happened, slowly, without knowing it suddenly I didn’t have it anymore. I lost my country.
I feel that part of me is still there, with my family friends, and all the memories. But that place doesn’t exist anymore. So how do you feel when you lose your home? If someone takes away everything you knew, how can you not lose your identity?
My name is Ana Valeria, I’m 27 years old from Venezuela currently living in New York. Seven years ago I left my country and have since been living in many different countries: Buenos Aires in Argentina, New York in the U.S.A and Barcelona in Spain. For most people it must be exciting to live in such wonderful capitols of the world, but I feel like I am running away all the time. What am I running away from? Easy, in one word Hugo Chávez. The man that changed the world as I knew it.
I grew up in a privileged family of Venezuela. I went to a private school, I had everything that I needed and so much more. The love of my parents, a couple who have been married for 30 years, worked hard to give us everything. They taught my sister and I the value of working to earn your own things; I have always appreciated that.
I grew up in a house full of love; I studied in a place where women’s education was valued; I lived where humanitarianism was a priority. I come from a country where the summer never ends and you have beaches, snow and the jungle in the same place. The women who clean your house, or the guy from the bakery was not just an employee, but someone that you cared about and know their sons’ names. We got involved with everyone around us. In this place where I grew up, my personal piece of paradise, I was happy, surrounded by love, and most importantly I was safe. That is, until 1998 when we went from being a country in democracy to one in a covert dictatorship.
Now Venezuela is a place of Goodbyes. Young people go anywhere looking for opportunities because in our country you can be killed for a car, a cell phone or even just for food because your life is worthless. You can’t go out in the night with your friends because it is “at your own risk.” You don’t need to have money to be kidnapped, everyone is a target. People are dying because we don’t have medicine and it´s difficult to buy food. Now we need to put our fingerprint in a machine, because you can only buy certain amounts of things per month.
Right now, Venezuela is the third most dangerous country in the world after Nigeria and Iraq. We have a lot of political prisoners, such as activist Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez spoke out against the dictatorship, saying we want to live in peace again. In a country with democracy you are free to think and speak in a different way than the government… not in Venezuela.. That is the message we send our youngest children: If you say what you think or ask about your rights you will be punished. You are going to lose your job, your house, or even your freedom.
When I graduated high school I dreamed of attending The Metropolitan University. I got in! I couldn't decide on one career because I like so many things. I wanted to be a teacher, a lawyer, a journalist, a fashion producer…So, I started a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts, which is kind of a little bit of everything.
After my first year in university in Venezuela the country wasn’t the same. Every week someone called me to tell me about a kidnapped friend, family member, or neighbor.Every time it was closer and closer. Thank God it was just a kidnapping, at least they didn't kill them (well... not all of them).
My mom and dad told my sister and I that we needed to go to Argentina to be safer. We fled the country, leaving behind all my family and friends. I went to Buenos Aires to start again at the University of Palermo. I lived there for five years, and am truly thankful for the opportunity to study in another country…a safer one.
Argentinean people were warm with me and my sister, but it was never home. I decided to leave, and search another place to land. Over the past two years I’ve been living between New York and Barcelona. Most people would think “what are you doing?”
Honestly, I don't want to settle in one place because that would mean saying goodbye to ever living in Venezuela again. That breaks my heart. I know that I don't want to live in fear of being kidnapped or murdered, or I can’t find food or medicine for me and my family. But that awful place is my home. It is the place where I had the most amazing childhood and some of my happiest memories. It is the place where my family still lives.
7 years ago when my parents send me to study in Argentina, I never imagined that I was saying goodbye to the place where I grew up. I had the perfect life in the perfect family in the most amazing country. And now I cannot even go for Christmas – it’s too dangerous. That pull of home and the knowledge that I can’t go back is a deep sadness.
I am grateful for all the places I’ve lived, for all the people that made me feel comfortable and for my parents to give me and my sister the opportunity to live in a safer place. But it’s difficult going to sleep knowing that my family and friends are living a nightmare there as the quality of life gets worse every day. While I am here with everything, complaining about the only thing that I can't have back: my home.