How Venezuelan Children Migrate, Arrive and Integrate in Argentina.
To Claudia, who spent almost a year in Venezuela while her parents were in Buenos Aires, arriving meant seeing her family again. When after a long journey she could finally sit down and have dinner with her family, she saw from a distance that her mother was cooking and could only think: “I can’t believe I’m seeing her, that I’m here with her.”
Arriving in Argentina also meant being impressed by simple things. “There was a car at an outside bus station and I only thought, aren’t they going to steal it?” says Samuel. Having lived in Venezuela, they were impressed by the most simple things, like clean streets or seeing people walking in the middle of the night in Buenos Aires.
In June 2018, Venezuela was named the most dangerous country to live in, for the second year in a row, according to the Global Law and Order Survey from Gallup. The year closed with a homicide rate of 81.4 for every 100,000 which came up to a total of 23.047 homicides, according to data from the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia.
To Cecilia Castro, Dylan’s mother, arriving meant finding peace. She will always be thankful to Argentina because the country opened its doors and gave them an opportunity to start again, she says.
While many adults find it difficult to adapt to a place different to the one they have spent their whole lives in, for children, the doors to a new life are only a “hello” away.
“Obviously there are particular cases, but they generally adapt and have a different attitude towards these sudden changes. There are even cases where it is the children who can support the adults,” explains Kim.
For the children and young people although integrating was hard at the beginning, eventually, it became easier. “At first you feel that you have to start from zero. Make new friends start a new school, and I thought that was going to be very hard for me. Doing all of that was difficult to me,” says Claudia. “During my first day of school I thought no one was going to speak to me but a girl approached me and I started talking. That’s how I made friends.”
The interviewees all agree that their Argentinian classmates were very supportive from the begging, however, it was inevitable to perceive a cultural clash. They agree alongside their mothers that this is because, in Venezuela, children tend to be more sociable and extroverted that their Argentinian classmates,
Sara is a smart and talkative girl. She is not afraid to speak her mind. Her restless feet are the only trait that evidences her nervousness, but she hides that behind a charming, almost theatrical, personality that gives you the feeling that she could be friends with anyone. She, was scared on her first day like everyone else, but a short while later she began making friends.
Her brother Samuel, who from first impressions seems quiet, has no social difficulties. Studious and perfectionist, he is also noble when it comes to helping others. His mother says that although he seems quiet he is actually just very observant: he thinks his questions through and answers them like an adult. It is due to this personality that not only was he recognized as the best student once, and twice, as the best classmate.
“The teachers always asked me what textbooks they used in Venezuela because they were impressed about how much math he knew,” says María Teresa Narano, Samuel’s mother. “Many moms would text me so that Samuel would study with his classmates, I think this is why he was chosen best classmate.”
Language is also an opportunity to learn from others in the classroom: Venezuelan children learn how to say the famous “che” while Argentinian children learn how to say “cónchale.” Although they speak the same language, words and meanings vary from country to country. Language also moves with immigration. The interviewees share how at first they couldn’t understand anything and how their classmates couldn’t understand them. Now, they have even incorporated Venezuelan words. “If they don’t understand me I have to explain it. Or they try to imitate me. The good thing is here you feel included, they don’t push you aside,” says Claudia.
Children also find ways to deal with immigration. After arriving to Argentina, Dylan, talkative and energetic, found in art his hobby and passion. He enthusiastically speaks about his drawings, showing each of them proudly and telling the stories they represent. Many of them deal with games and characters, although some are about the toys he had to leave behind in Venezuela. The colorful world of this artist in progress leaves no room for the sadness of nostalgia.
Micaela Farfan, an Argentinian babysitter who has been taking care of Dylan since he arrived in the country, admits that at first, it was difficult to understand each other. As a result, she began writing down the words they didn’t know in a notebook. Now, two years later, Dylan and Micaela understand each other perfectly and she reminisces this episode as an adventure in the process of mutual adaptation.
“As Argentinians, we tend to be more distant. From Venezuelans, I learned more than new words, I also learned new ways to get along as people,” she explains. In regards to people who complain about the arrival of immigrants, she says: “Some people aren’t willing to flow, they are not open to get to know others. We are very different cultures, but we are still people, with different ways of speaking or interacting. I’ve learned a lot from them.”
Dylan arrived in Buenos Aires when he was only three. His mother, Cecilia, has said it would only be for a vacation. Although she thought that the new memories would quickly replace the old, Dylan still remembers his blue bedroom in Caracas with Spiderman sheets.
Nostalgia takes the shape of dolls, toys, board games. Picking objects that could go with them on the journey was a letting go exercise for the people we interviewed. Although missing their own space in a new context may be temporary, the absence of familiar faces is permanent. “Every time we video called the family he asked, why are we here if everyone else is there?” says Cecilia.
It is also hard to see how those who stayed now suffer the consequences of the crisis in the South American country. “It’s very sad to see what is happening and what will continue to happen in Venezuela when your family is there and you can’t do anything about it,” says Claudia.
Both children and adults sometimes find it difficult to get used to a new home and new socioeconomic bearings in the midst of uncertain circumstances. Many of them went from private to public schools, from traveling by car to using public transport, from having their own room to sharing a modest apartment with other three of four people, at least until the family’s economic circumstances improve. As Nadiezka López, Claudia’s mother, explains: “fortunately children are able not to get too attached to material things.”
Upon arrival, the mothers and fathers, who have the economic pressure on their shoulders, must take any job in order to support their children. 45,26% of Venezuelan migrants have a university degree or technical diploma, but only 12,24% of them work in their profession, according to a survey by Adecco.
To some Venezuelan migrants, their new country isn’t home but exile. They anxiously wait in silence for their country’s conditions to improve. However, if there’s something the mothers interviewed agree with is that they don’t look back when it comes to their children. “I am more afraid of something happening to them than my own wellbeing” explains Nadiezka.
Although she knows that life is not the same, Nadiezka affirms with conviction that she will not return to Venezuela: she is not willing to go through the same uprooting. “It’s very hard to listen to a nine-year-old say ‘we don’t want a party, we just want to go. Let’s go, there’s no future here’,” she remembers with a trembling voice.
Maria Teresa feels fractured; she never imagined herself living outside her country. It was the desperation of not being able to satisfy her children’s most basic needs that brought her to move miles away from home. “I had to stand in line for hours to buy bread. I don’t want them to have that childhood of deprivation, not being able to get them ice cream if they wanted one.”
María Teresa's family left behind a scenario of cumulative inflation of 1,579.2%, in July, according to the Finance Commission of the National Assembly, in which basic food is scarce or resold at absurdly high prices because the minimum wage is around five dollars a month and at least 328 dollars are needed to buy the products of the basic basket, according to the Documentation and Analysis Center for Workers.
Now, the children are growing and making a life in Argentina, which is why returning becomes all the more complicated, the mothers say. “The tranquility of knowing that if my children get sick I’ll know where to take them and have medicine to cure him, that I can go out on the street by myself, is priceless,” adds Cecilia. For her, returning is not an option for now, either. She is afraid of knowing that the life of her son could be at risk for something as simple as tonsillitis. Over 20,000 Venezuelan doctors have left the country, according to the last National Hospital Survey, and the shortage of medicines, health supplies and shortage of basic services in the centers, The later has even caused the Ministry of Health to stop publishing official figures since 2016.
“Perhaps he’ll decide to return later, but it has to be another Venezuela. For now, that idea scares me much more than him being here. He misses our country, I miss it, but it’s all for his well being. I’ll always be grateful to this country,” adds Cecilia.
Argentina has always opened its doors to immigrants. However, like many Venezuelans, Nadiezka fears that the migration policies will become more strict. This happened in Panama in October 2017 and Chile, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Aruba, in 2019 when they began requesting entry visas from Venezuelans. Given these measures, in May UNHCR reiterated its call to the states to allow Venezuelans access to their territory.
Migration presents opportunities and challenges for societies and people, including children and adolescents. Although they immigrate with their family, children must face an uncertain economic future, possible discrimination, and social and cultural dislocation, according to a UNICEF report. However, they emphasize that this should not necessarily be this way, although the process of migrating is a challenge, it is also an opportunity to grow, prosper and contribute positively to the places where they arrive.
The stories from the children and their mothers reflect a part of the enormous contradiction that comes with the complexity of immigration. Challenges, opportunities, excitement for the new, and the longing for what has been left behind.
In spite of the fact Samuel and Claudia feel nostalgia, they know the city that they miss no longer exists. “When things get better I would love to return and see all of my friends. Although it will obviously not be the same because many of my friends will have left or I will have broken ties with them, it is very difficult,” admits Claudia with sadness. Samuel agrees: “Returning would be complicated. I feel happy here, even if I miss everything. ”
Este reportaje fue realizado durante el Mediatón #EnResistencia que Chicas Poderosas hizo en Argentina en julio de 2019. Más de 100 mujeres que trabajan en medios se reunieron para crear proyectos colaborativos multimedia, con el apoyo de Google News Initiative. Para ver los otros 12 proyectos creados en la Mediatón #EnResistencia, visita bit.ly/historiasenresistencia