Carlos Hernández left Venezuela in 2008 after earning a scholarship covering two years of high school in Hong Kong. This was a great time for self-discovery, as Carlos had never felt comfortable in Venezuela, where he felt discriminated against for being gay.
In Hong Kong, Carlos discovered his passion for art, which led him to apply to colleges in the United States. He was accepted on a partial scholarship at Vassar College, in New York, and his family used the preferential exchange rate for tuition, provided by the now bitter legend that was CADIVI.
As Carlos took his courses at Vassar, his view of the world expanded. He decided to become an architect, planning projects with a focus on lower-income communities. He’d quickly learn how truly elitist the architecture field can be, and that the system didn’t always support these projects.
Getting approved for CADIVI also became increasingly difficult, until becoming an actual hurdle during his last semester, when Vassar informed him he wouldn’t be able to graduate if the money didn’t come through. Only at the very last minute CADIVI sent the payment. Before graduation, Carlos had applied for a Master’s degree at Harvard, not thinking he had a chance; in 2015, he was admitted into one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Getting approved for CADIVI also became increasingly difficult, until becoming an actual hurdle during his last semester.
While he had a partial scholarship for Harvard, Carlos had to get an American credit to pay for part of the remaining amount. The rest of that first year tuition would be paid by his family, once again relying on the CADIVI system.
Although Carlos loved his time at Harvard, he was slightly disappointed about the limitations and micro-aggressions that came with being gay and Latino. Even in an institution that encourages diversity and equality, being an immigrant without a rich family wasn’t easy.
But he did thrive. He enjoyed a loving relationship and bright prospects for the future, but the CADIVI dollars vanished and the oil prices dropped in 2015. Out of options, and with thousands of dollars in debt, Carlos had to make the gut-wrenching decision to quit Harvard. He also had to leave the country immediately.
Carlos and his boyfriend went to Mexico for a short project. It was there where they said goodbye for good, as Carlos went back to Caracas and his boyfriend returned to the States. In Caracas, brokenhearted and adrift, Carlos found that a great number of his friends had left the country, and he still had a huge debt to pay, something impossible with Venezuelan salaries.
Out of options, and with thousands of dollars in debt, Carlos had to make the gut-wrenching decision to quit Harvard.
After sending his resume to hundreds of places, he finally got an offer from a company in Berlin, which he took. Although he didn’t speak the language and his Latino identity separated him from the culture, he had friends in the city and its underground artsy culture was exactly what he needed. Carlos realized that he wanted to be in a place where being Latino wouldn’t be a disadvantage; it was time to leave architecture behind and focus on the area he had worked in while in Mexico, user-centered design.
Carlos started to teach himself everything about his new trade while sending resumes once again, this time getting a response from Sao Paulo. It would be a huge change, but Carlos was ready to start once again, this time in Latin America.
Carlos moved to Sao Paulo in 2017, where he found acceptance of his Latino identity, and a sense of belonging that had been lacking for the past ten years of his life. He adapted to the culture and the language, finding himself such a match for the country that his Brazilian friends say “Carlos, you ARE Brazilian!”
This will be literally true next year, when Carlos will get his Brazilian citizenship. He works at a startup with exciting plans for the future of banking in Latin America. Carlos is the lead researcher of the user-centered design section and, although Brazil is his true home, he hopes the things he’s working on can one day be implemented in Venezuela.
On one leg, Carlos has a reminder of where he has been, and a call to thrive: a the tattoo with flowers that represents the places where he has been and reminds him to always flourish wherever he is planted. And flourishing he is.