Tales of a Displaced Youth: Malú

When Malú Vera left Venezuela for Argentina, she never imagined she’d have to struggle not just with being an immigrant; she’d have to face—and defeat—sexism

María Lucía Vera, better known as Malú, had been working as a mechanical engineer in Caracas for about a year. She was comfortable, with other female engineers as part of her team, despite it being a male-dominated field. All seemed to be going well despite the constant turmoil in Venezuela, when her whole life and sense of safety were forever changed. After her boyfriend dropped her home one night, she got a dreaded call.

Her boyfriend had been kidnapped on his way back home, a victim of an “express kidnapping”. His life truly hanged on the balance and the criminals wanted a ransom.

But would they set him free?

Things ended as well as possible in these circumstances. He was released and able to go back to his family. However, the psychological trauma for him and his loved ones was undeniable and about three months after the nightmare, he left for Argentina.

For Malú, this started a period in her life of constant fear. The threat of an express kidnapping had never been more real and, as an example of how common this had become in Caracas, her uncle was kidnapped shortly after. This is what made her realize it was time to leave.

Her boyfriend and many of her friends from college had left for Argentina, where they all quickly found jobs in the engineering field. Things looked extremely promising, and although the interview processes were notoriously long, she knew she had a very good chance of getting a job quickly.

So imagine her surprise when she saw that many online job offerings in her field included the phrase “only men can apply.”

Six months after the kidnapping, Malú packed her bags, left her family, and arrived in Argentina, doing all the paperwork to become a temporary resident as soon as she arrived. In the meantime, she started looking for engineering positions.

So imagine her surprise when she saw that many online job offerings in her field included the phrase “only men can apply.”

As a mechanical engineer, she was aware that females were the minority. Back in her school, they comprised 20% of the total population in her major. But she hadn’t encountered any issues in the workfield because of it.

Turns out, Malú’s engineer friends who found jobs fairly quick were all men. No one could’ve warned her about the apparent disadvantage that being a female mechanical engineer meant, an incredibly rare occurrence in the country. In more than one interview she was met with surprised versions of “Oh, you’re a woman and you’re an engineer?” 

It was as if Malú were an exotic animal.

This led to four long months of unfruitful search. In comparison, when her boyfriend arrived, it took him two weeks to find a job, and none of their friends had spent more than a month looking. However, Malú persevered and focused her time and energy on finding a job in her area. Nothing else would do.

Eventually, her determination paid off. She got an offer from a multinational company that would send her to Brazil for her initial training. Right after that, she got a second offer to work with another transnational company in the design of a nuclear plant prototype in Argentina. This second opportunity was incredibly exciting and she took it without hesitation.

Malú has excelled at her job. So much so that she’s been selected as a promising talent. During her time in this project, she had to live outside of Buenos Aires, as she was needed on-site; she goes back to the city during the weekends, when she gets to spend time with her boyfriend and all of their friends.

Although things are going great at work, the fact that she’s a female comes up in a dozen different ways. At times, she’s ignored at meetings, or coworkers who are her same age and have the same seniority are called engineers when they are addressed while she is always addressed as Malú.

And she’ll always remember that time when, on Secretary Day, she received four gifts, not because she’s a secretary, just because she’s a woman.

Malú doesn’t let this deter her. The issue came up once again during her presentation as part of her graduation from the “new talent” program. They asked her if she thought nuclear plants were ready for more female engineers.

“Female engineers are more than ready to work at nuclear plants,” she snapped back.