Photo: AP retrieved

Venezuelans are amongst the first diasporic groups to emerge in the 21st Century in Latin America. Numbers vary—anywhere between three and five million Venezuelans have migrated in the past two decades. In the midst of a harsh economic and political crisis, the flow does not seem to abate, with almost 40,000 people crossing the border with Colombia each day.  

Once that border is crossed, they are no longer home.   

Venezuelans are amongst the first diasporic groups to emerge in the 21st Century in Latin America.

This is an unprecedented event in the country’s history. We had never moved to another country in big waves; we feel we have shared the same land, political space and socio-cultural references since time immemorial. Thus, we trace our family roots in Venezuela to an unimaginable and distant past. We can trace, perhaps, the sudden move from the Llanos and Andean towns to Caracas and other cities, from the small fishing village of La Rita or La Ceiba, to the then bustling port of Maracaibo, from anywhere countryside to oil campamentos or towns that would eventually become dense, chaotic cities.  

But we lack episodes or instances of migration in our national narrative.

How do Venezuelans go about finding home elsewhere? Depending on many factors (when we left, where we are, what we do, who we’re with), some of us might be able to recreate a sense of continuity, to adopt the local accent or switch languages and cultural references. We might trade our cultural expectations, rituals and desires for those of our local contemporaries, we might adapt or, even more, assimilate the place and people where we’re currently involved with.

As time passes by, we might become familiar with—and embrace—bits and pieces of the place we’re now in, especially where it matters the most: Our friend who, after a few years of moving to San José, becomes a passionate supporter of the Costa Rican soccer team; the other friend of European ancestry who starts discovering her family roots in the Basque Country; the Maracucho who loves the Australian bush and embraces the personal discovery of its rich landscape. We might carry multiple passports with pride and embrace a new sense of nationality, reciting national anthems by heart, feeling pride with other flags.  

As time passes by, we might become familiar with—and embrace—bits and pieces of the place we’re now in.

We can adapt to a new place, time, context and community, and eventually adopt it as a home, like many Europeans embraced Venezuela and carry it in their souls.

Yet, for the vast majority of us, that exercise doesn’t develop a sense of home in the traditional sense—even after decades overseas. Unconsciously, once we move abroad, we engage in a search for that natural connection that our homeland used to provide (and process the emotional baggage that we carry from Venezuela, including traumas of different sorts). We try to recreate our old home in the new place, or engage in a gradual discovery of new elements to anchor our identity.  

Nevertheless, nothing is like the home we left behind. A whole context, people, culture, history and outlook cannot be easily replaced, and all exercises of replicating the homeland overseas will prove futile. In this respect, we’re not different from any other group of migrants, ours is a universal experience. We can feel a connection with others, particularly those who have left their countries against their will. We might feel the loneliness of the exile, but we are not the only ones.

Don’t take me wrong, there is “the Venezuelan migrant experience”—broad, ill defined and complex as it is. It has a core of loss, a shared sense of pain and longing that’s acute in the recent wave of migrants who have left looking to escape a catastrophic crisis. They have witnessed, painfully, the destruction of their livelihoods and communities. Most leave impoverished, without opportunities, hungry and torn. For them, the task of searching a home might feel distant. Before being home anywhere, one needs to survive.

Our past is heavy and we carry it wherever we go.  We bear la herencia de la tribu, and we cannot share it easily wherever we settle.  

Don’t take me wrong, there is “the Venezuelan migrant experience”—broad, ill defined and complex as it is.

Additionally, with the country’s sudden and dramatic collapse, we are deprived from a sense of familiarity with our country of origin, as Venezuela is transformed into an unrecognizable place in meaningful ways. Those who stay are subject to another (arguably more painful) process of displacement, a deconstruction of the reality they used to know.

Everyone engages in different strategies to negotiate the pain, we appeal to useful tokens of nostalgia to digest the indigestible.  Because remembering the present home can be as painful as leaving it, we seek solace in the past.  As time passes by, more Venezuelans circulate pictures of the country that was (or that they imagine it was), and anchor in images of abject beauty of our beaches, plains and mountains.  We also share anachronistic images of our mid to late 20th Century, taking refuge in a past where “our” version of modernity isn’t contested or vanquished.  

We recreate an image of a country that we can feel, in our minds, hopeful and secure, even if it’s a partial or distorted memory.     

Many Venezuelans partake in global cultural discourses wherever they live and develop their personality in directions that transcend time and place. They become renowned athletes, artists, professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders. But the Venezuelan diaspora lives the ambivalence of the modern exile: You can never go away far enough to sever the links with your homeland. Of course, there’s WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, and Venezuelans use these platforms to keep connections alive and preserve the human networks.

But, every once in a while, someone still asks:  Where are you from? And the first word that comes to mind is “Venezuela.”

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Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Legal Studies at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. I have a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of South Carolina (2010); an LL.M. from Cambridge University (1999), and a Law degree from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (1997).

48 COMMENTS

  1. “Additionally, with the country’s sudden and dramatic collapse”

    Please define “sudden” ? If disaster is looking you right in the face for almost 2 decades. … is that the appropriate way of describing what happened under Chavismo?

    Still no millions upon millions upon millions in the streets all day every day! !! Viva el COBARDE PUEBLO, viva Cubazuela no jodaaaa

    • Venezuela’s crisis has spiraled out of control, our hemisphere is grossly unprepared to deal with the exploding exodus of Venezuelan refugees and the international community’s reaction has been irresponsibly slow and inefficient. The Chavista regime must be forcibly removed from power.

  2. All Venezuelans have lost their homes , not just those who move abroad to start a new life but those that stay to live in the ruins of what used to be their home and which has now become hostile to any natural desire or aspiration they may have……to live normal lifes rather than highly harrased lives. Those who move abroad face many challenges and changes in their lives but ultimately they will gain a new home (while still yearning for the one they lost ) , but those staying no longer have homes , only a desert of ruins where at most they can survive …..

  3. Most of the regulars know that my wife is an expat.

    A house is where you live. A home is where you find tranquility and respite. Growing up in Venezuela, my future wife lived a hard knock life. Her “father” was a Lothario who disappeared as soon as her mother got pregnant. Her “Dad” was a hard drinking womanizer, but at least provided for the family that mostly was not his. By luck of the draw, she was maternal niece to a couple of hard working Spaniards who created their own business from nothing. They saw to it that their favorite niece (very intelligent from a young age) got the education they couldn’t get. They sent her to college in America, where she flourished.

    It was in the US that she found what she wanted. (including a rather ordinary college gringo who could make her laugh, and dance the rumba and salsa.) The point being, to this very day she never liked the culture she grew up in. I don’t necessarily think that is fair, since Venezuela is what Venezuela is. She is a success BECAUSE of her Venezuela experience, not in spite of it.

    Regardless, everyone finds a home. She misses her friends, but not Venezuela. She worried that she couldn’t raise a family in Venezuela and give them the things that she craved as a kid. Every day when she wakes up in the United States is a day that (regardless of how the day goes) she feels safe and comfortable.

    Thats HOME. I hope Venezuelans fleeing find one.

    • I totally understand your wife. I’m in the other side of the world (13 hours ahead of Venezuelan time). And I only miss the people I left behind, not the country or its culture. Luckily I work with a lot expats that can hang out together, and even a few are coming from countries that are also in a bad economical situation, so they can of understand what’s going on. Is hard to explain to them the whole Venezuelan situation and what’s going on, though.

    • I also feel the same way, I left Caracas as a teenager in the late 90s and Venezuela changed while I was away. The aspects that I deeply disliked about Venezuela just exploded with the arrival of Chavismo, and now, after two decades I totally feel it’s another country, a barbaric version of the Venezuela I knew. For me, home is my family and my language, which luckily is spoken in many countries around the world.

  4. That line about the Australian bush gave away your location. Then I confirmed by reading the bio.

    Happy to also call Melbourne home now.

  5. Bill Bass is right. Leaving Venezuela became easier, once we accepted that the Venezuela that was no longer exists and never will again. Eventually, (because nothing lasts forever) the regime will fall and the country will be rebuilt. But, it will be very different afterwards. Venezuela will require a large influx of people with talents and skills that were lost in the diaspora. Those people will come from all parts of the world. The new Venezuela will ultimately be a new cultural milieu. Who knows? The new phoenix that arises from the ashes may even be better than the old one. But, regardless of what happens in the future, we have to accept that the Venezuela we knew and loved is forever dead and gone.

  6. Being a silver-lining-in-the-dark-cloud kinda guy, the one thing that I hope having millions of Venezuelans cast adrift in other countries achieves is that a certain percentage of them will one day return to their homeland after seeing and learning how it’s done properly elsewhere and apply those rules here.

    Because, let’s face it, there’s a full generation now that nows nothing but chavismo-style socialism.

  7. My heart aches for the people of Venezuela. Like the Irish during the famine years, they will leave and makes the countries they arrive in better. For those who stay, I wish peace and better days soon. God bless.

  8. This is the problem with all migration today:

    If you don’t want to adapt to your new home, stay where you are. You’re screwing up the countries you move to.

    Fortunately, this generation eventually drops dead, and their kids become loyal citizens of the countries they’re born/grow up in.

      • It is kind of funny as a thought experiment to imagine a country that was actually the extreme right wing ethno nationalist version (Fox news version) of immigrant reality: a country populated by large influxes of criminals and the underemployed, unskilled and indigent.

        What would that look like? As it turns out, that country would be one of the most peaceful, prosperous, well educated and productive places on earth. Australia.

        Dr. Urribarri: if you’re going to miss home, Australia is a great place to miss it from. I know. I think you will soon love two homes, and remain faithful to the first.

      • This from a guy, probably Canada, who demands that his part of the country only uses French. Even passing laws about it.

        And you missed the entire point.

    • Excuse me?
      I am an immigrant myself, and making the choice of moving out of necessity has made me grow to adapt – just like any other person – in new environments. The only “screwing up” of the countries we move to happens because of petty theft or crime, usually preventable with the right management of migration influxes and an environment that welcomes and encourages its people to self-develop and self-sustain.
      “This generation eventually drops dead and their kids become loyal citizens of the countries they’re born/grow up in”?
      If they felt aware of their differences and their treatment as immigrants, and know of how difficult it was for their parents to live in a country where people like you think that they will “drop dead” and be gone, trust me, loyalty can be found elsewhere.
      Up your ass.

      • You’re ass is obviously empty, because all of your shit flowed to your brain.

        Just look at how the Cubans assimilated in the U.S., and how the Muslims didn’t in Europe, and are destroying those countries.

        You’re an asshole wrapped up in a moron.

    • You can shove your “loyalty” deep right your last 90 degrees.

      Being a law abiding citizen who integrates its new society doesn’t require such a thing as “loyalty”. I owe my new country nothing short of that i already pay in taxes and hard work.

      The day this place serves no purpose in my life goals, i’ll grab a plane ticket and go elsewhere. No remorse and no hard feelings also.

      I don’t give a damn about its history, its people or its happenings other than these which affect me directly. And even considering that, i’m a functional part of this society with no desire to attach to it to fulfill some gregarious need.

      Moreover, i’m not going to hustle for new idols wherever i go. That is called “chavismo” just in case you forgot that.

      • When you take the oath of citizenship, you pledge loyalty to your new country.

        Of course, scumbags like you just say the words but don’t mean it. Just a lie for you, nothing important.

    • Typical angry gringo.

      Respecting the laws of a country and it’s people should be enough. Paying taxes and contributing to society to should be enough. Speaking the local language should be enough.

      You’re crazy if you want everyone to assume one universal identity.

      • This is where you have it so wrong.

        Yes, there is such a thing as an American identity, and if you don’t want to be identified as such, why move here?

        Move to Iran, where you HAVE to assume THEIR identity, with no trace of your old.

        • No there isn’t. We have values that we share. That’s the basis of American Exceptionalism.

          You clearly don’t know shit about Iran either.

          People in Kermanshah speak Southern Kurdish while people in Tehran speak Persian.

  9. I understand those who leave now. I left earlier.
    At the same time I wonder whether we are going to just give up Venezuela for good.
    The ditctatorship is happy millions are leaving.
    Wilo these millions just be like the Florida Cubans?
    Will we let Chavista honchos rule for a generation?
    Is there something we can do to support resistance in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and yes, Russia?

    • I see only two practical options for external intervention that would actually work, at this point:

      1. Invasion by a coalition of LatAm neighbors and the imposition of a government for twenty years or until deemed fit for self-governance.

      2. Total quarantine. Nothing and no one in or out, until such time as the country has dealt with the parties responsible and is ready to join civilization once again.

      In both scenarios, a lot of people have to die, but it sets the stage for a long-term improvement. However, the international community doesnt have the stomach for either of these.

      So, is there something we can do? It appears not.

      • I think there are more things. There will never be a simple,
        straightforward solution, so we might as well try some
        things as long as they do not contradict each other.
        We should avoid half baked plans.

        One thing is to keep periodic vigils in front of the two embassies of countries that are using Venezuela as puppet.Of course they will send “journalists” to try to catch
        the silly racist protester or the like and they will send provocateurs. We need to be very prepared for that.
        We need new forms to produce a solid demand
        that Chavismo will only reject but which will discredit its
        supporters even more (I mean countries).
        One way could be a platform where anyone can send conditions for the demand, a max of ten clusters are made,
        people with Venezuelan id can vote on each cluster to refine them and then on the resulting consolidated ideas.
        And we present that idea of a demand, which should basically guarantee multiparty elections organised by civil
        society with international observers etc.
        We should organise regular demos stating we won’t become
        another Syria or Cuba.
        We should think further little measures we each need to take
        targetting Venezuelans in Venezuela and citizens of
        those countries that support the dictatorship.
        We should study the propaganda Cuba’s regime is currently regurgitating on its citizensabout why they do not need a
        multiparty system so that we prepare for that in Venezuela.

        And we should stop writing posts about how we miss this or
        that about Venezuela, particularly from the perspective
        of one belonging to the top 5% of the socioeconomic pyramid.

        I do not want to use the expletives
        Mr Tonas used below but I very much agree with him.

  10. While pining for a lost utopia (home) is a cruel part of being displaced, at some time there’s the hard task of coming to grips with the cultural factors that made Chavismo possible, if not inevitable. And most of all, the shadow of those factors that follow you no matter where you go.

  11. Most Venezuelan emigrants go to places where the culture is not all that different from their original one , people who migrate to spain and other latin countries speak the same language and have the same religion , those who go to the US are for the most part americanized middle class Venezuelans who may have already spent part of their life in the US, a great many of them already speak english . its tough but not as though as it is for people who speak a totally different language and come from a totally different culture . Also important Venezuelan has been for decades a haven for people migrating from argentina, peru, chile , colombia , ecuador , spain …..they mingled and mixed quite well with Venezuelans and often made friendships that allowed them a feel of what people from those countries were like ….so even if the migration is a horrible experience , in some ways its less traumatizing that those going from africa to europe or for those moving from the middle east to europe or the US. thank God for small mercies…!

  12. Venezuela has never felt like home to me.

    This is the place where I grew up being bullied for daring to follow the rules and “ser un chamito pendejo”. A place where i cannot hold my boyfriend’s hand in public without fear of being threatened or assaulted (you’d think millennials and Z’s would be less homophobic but no). A place where the State sees me, an entrepreneur, as a threat. A place where my brother in law gets tossed in prison over an Instagram photo.

    The only places where I feel at home is at my mom’s, and with my boyfriend. The latter is leaving with me as soon as we make the money and I get my passport, the former is adamant about staying.

    • GC –
      If I may ask, what was in the picture that got your BIL tossed in prison? How long was in in prison (assuming he is out now)? And, how much did he and/or his family have to pay in bribes to get him released? I think that’s how it works – but you can correct me if I am mistaken.

      • You’re right. It was a Crónica Uno repost with a snide comment that made someone angry. The picture in question was if someone pointing a gun at the TV while a mandatory cadena was being broadcast. He spent two weeks in jail and his family (mostly my boyfriend) had to bribe absolutely anyone to get anything done. It costed us more than 100$ to get him out, which was a lot. Lucky we had money saved for our emigration. We managed to work our way up again but those two weeks were hell.

    • I have a relative who didn’t feel comfortable with the protestant work ethic that is expected here in the states, so he moved with his wife to Norway where they reward the indolent with living wages.

      There is a home somewhere for everyone.

      • Ha ha. Prejudices and generalisations abound. However, it is true that, if you find someone working in Norway after 4:30 in the afternoon, there is a fair probability that it is an ex-pat or immigrant rather than a Norwegian. The Norwegians argue that this is because of their more intelligent prioritisation of family life over work.

        A Frenchman, a Dane and a Norwegian were discussing their favourite subject one day. The Frenchman declared:
        “I adore French women. When I place my hands around my wife’s waist, I can touch my fingers and thumbs. You understand that this is not because I have big hands, but because my wife has such a small waist.”

        The Dane responded:
        “I adore Danish women. When my wife sits on a horse, her feet touch the ground. You understand that this is not because we have small horses in Denmark, but because Danish women have such long legs.”

        The Norwegian thought for a moment and responded:
        “Well, I love Norwegian women. When I leave the house in the morning, I always slap my wife on the ass. When I return from work, her ass is still shaking. You understand that this is not because my wife has a big ass, but because in Norway we have such a short working day!”

    • Nah:

      Gay entrepreneurs aren’t a threat in the states, although I get your point.

      They get a pass in most urban areas here, even among many Republicans.’

      • GC – For example, the CEO (Tim Cook) of one of the largest and wealthiest US corporations is a gay man, as is the more conservative and therefor hated venture capitalists (Peter Thiel).

        Ira – try to have a thicker skin. You get triggered more easily than Cnuckles.

      • I think I didn’t make myself clear, I can see how my post lends itself to misinterpretation. I meant the Venezuelan State, which today is no different from the chavista party.

        I know most republicans don’t see sexuality as a threat, or even a real issue. But things are way different here.

  13. I am surprised for the level of “shallow egotistical sorrow” expressed in this article. Not because the experience itself but because the author seem to be abroad for the best part of the last 20 years, and writes like a memory that has been long faded. In CC there are articles about the immigration experience ad infinitum but this is perhaps the worst.
    Not only the focus is on someone that immigrated with little trouble or found instant success (daddy paid post education anyone?) but goes into the very shallow assessment of the “we appeal to useful tokens of nostalgia to digest the indigestible”. Fuck you dude, when you do not have anything to eat or don’t know if you are going to sleep on the street or in a hotel for homeless (that if your are lucky enough to reach 1st world countries) the very less you are looking is for the “natural connection to the homeland”. I wonder if when someone that had to give up their engineering title or a post-grade in medicine to drive a taxi or clean a shitfull toilet at night, they will see your nostalgia the same way or with the same pinky glasses.
    Of fucking course you will remember, think, suffer and seek things about the country you grew up, and the older you get out the more you will feel that emptiness. It does not take a post grade in psychiatry to know that those belongings will never be broken and adaptation to the new country will follow until enough time has passed when you will realize that you wont be able to go back again. And less not even talk of the people you leave behind or seeing your kids growing without uncles, grampas or cousins; the weddings and funerals missed, and the ever ending worry for those in your family that cannot leave.
    I now CC has degraded somehow (well a lot) since Toro is now milking the paid part of this blog but this is a horrible piece of oligarch immigration shit.

    • Alberto,

      You’re the typical commie poster who assumes anyone well educated from Venezuela is some sort of oligarch. It’s class discrimination at best and straight up retarded at worst.

      I don’t know the author and I don’t speak for him. Loss is something that every human being experiences in different forms.

      It could be the pensioner who can’t eat today because his pension is worth the equivalent of 1 US dollar a month.

      It could be the business owner who spent two decades expanding his business only to have it crumble when the GNB raided the last of your inventory.

      Almost everyone involved in the Venezuelan crisis has lost something. I’m gonna nit pick who got the worst end of the stick of because someone always does. Usually the poor. It’s the nature of the world and that’s not changing.

      • Oh yeah? an oligarch (ok, let’s call it a 1%) kid will have n-times more chances than a blue collar family kid coming out a public university in Venezuela to go straight to an international, first world country university for a post grade study. Just wondering, between us, how many kids from Carapita (in front of the UCAB) do study in that university

        I am not saying that a well educated person in Venezuela must be wealthy, you must have gotten into you own bias.

        • You did write “oligarch immigration shit”.

          Regarding your second comment, you aren’t saying anything that’s wrong or that I disagree with.

          My problem with your comment regarding how claim the author’s pain isn’t worthy because he’s not starving or homeless. Everything is relative and you can’t quantify it.

          You can be the richest man in the world, but if “la hampa” kills or severely hurts your mother, you will suffer regardless. No Venezuelan is insulated from the crisis, even the ones responsible for it.

  14. Raul,

    I don’t doubt your profound sense of “loss of home”, but your article fails to distinguish between such loss, which is real, and a sort of sifrino nostalgia. You lost your birthday cake on the plane that crashed. You are understandably upset, yes. But you should not be surprised if the relatives of the dead passengers don’t want to hear you going on about it. Count your blessings, and note the fact that the good parts of nostalgic memories improve with age. Just like memories of one’s youthful prowess – the older I get, the better I used to be.

  15. The same old bunch. Hello all

    I took a break for the sake of my soul. Today I feel lost than ever.

    I left 40 years ago and I remained Venezuelan until Chavez took my children passports. When I related to my friends and relatives that our only guilt was not to pay someone to get the damned proof of citizenship (I had been an expat for the first 20 years), nobody had any empathy and you know, why did you take that job? It’s entirely your fault! all that kind of garbage. That was it: our children don’t have the right to get passports, we legally threw away our cherished Venezuela citizenship. Socialism made us pay the prize. I also closed our Venezuela office around 2004.

    All these years later I reflect and want to go back home. But that home was wiped out of the face of the earth.

    Home is the great USA, we became Republican, purchased our guns and practice religiously as I’m certain Socialists will take over the great USA. And we’ll fight. Too late now.

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