Tales of a Displaced Youth: Mila

Mila Rojas knows about displaced youth, because she's displaced herself; this is a story, the tale of migrant struggle, that many Venezuelan expats will feel as their own

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

I didn’t cry when I left Venezuela in March of 2019. Instead, it felt as if the country had expelled me after 12 hours at the airport, trying to find a flight that would get me out of a nation that had been without electricity for over two days. I had an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá to get my student visa and I was determined to make it.

I never thought that getting out of Venezuela would at some point feel like the easy part. In Colombia, I stayed at Mariana’s house, a friend from college, and that’s where I went after my appointment. I was completely devastated. They denied my request and also annulled my tourist visa, which I had used a thousand times before. In hindsight, I can’t blame them. How were they supposed to believe that a doctor would leave Venezuela in the middle of a blackout, get to the U.S., do her medical residency and then go back to a country with a broken healthcare system?

But back then, disconcerted, I called my mom. She was as shocked as I was. After all, we had never stayed more than the allotted time in the States and I had already paid for the course I was taking. She asked, “What are you going to do?” What she really meant was, “Are you coming back?”

We both knew the answer.

I rented a room at Hazel’s house, another good friend from college. I’d been working as a freelance writer during the last three months in Caracas and I requested additional hours. I wrote mostly about celebrities but it paid the rent and allowed me to save money. I thought my relationship with Sheldon, my boyfriend who lives in New York, would have to end. Instead, he came to Colombia and met some of my family and friends.

After he left, I was adrift. I had six months to be in the country legally, unless they issued a new set of Special Permanence Permits (PEP), which they had done twice the past year. I decided to volunteer with Techo during my free time, which allowed me to meet Venezuelans that were living in the poorest areas of Bogotá. I was confronted with how lucky I truly was.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones, despite how dark things look sometimes, and how intolerable the uncertainty seems.

Bogotá reminded me of how good it was to live in a normal city. At first, I was overwhelmed by the number of people at the malls. It had been ages since the last time Venezuelan malls were that busy. I overspent during the first month in Bogotá because I kept buying excess food, just because I could. A few months later, I was still amazed at the sheer number of apples I would see at every market. Apples had become a luxury in Venezuela years ago. As I adapted, the nightmares about being kidnapped in Caracas also started to fade.

I started to work on a B-plan: getting my degree validated in Spain. This led to a painful process of dealing with the corrupt Venezuelan government to get my university documents legalized. As the months went by, I knew I had to make a decision. I didn’t want to stay in Colombia illegally, but the new PEP was nowhere to be seen. I applied again for a student visa in the U.S. and was swiftly denied. I looked at my options in the continent and decided to move to Argentina, where they have flexible immigration laws and I could continue to save money for my next step.

Sheldon and I had spoken about marriage as, despite the distance and the obstacles, we were certain we wanted to build a future together. It made sense to get married before I left for Argentina, but two foreigners couldn’t get married in Colombia.

After studying our options, we decided on Costa Rica. I would arrive first, since I needed to leave Colombia soon and a couple of months later, Sheldon and some relatives and friends would arrive for the wedding.

In September 2019, I left for Costa Rica. I was sorry to say goodbye to Bogotá, where I had made good friends. Costa Rica was an exciting place, and I met Lucía, Melvin, and Doña Vicky when I rented a room at their place. They became my new family in a country where I knew almost no one.

The country was interesting. To me, we have more similarities with Costa Rica than we do with Colombia, despite the geography. Costa Rican people are all about “Pura Vida” and have a more laid back lifestyle, without the permanent defensiveness I saw in Colombia, where conflict has always been present. And their cheese is as good as ours!

In November, we had a beautiful ceremony, and I was ecstatic my parents and even my 89-year-old grandma were able to go. Sheldon and his side went back to the States, my family back to Venezuela, and I left for Argentina.

I have many friends and some family in Argentina, and I’m thankful I’ve gotten to spend this time with them. But when I first arrived, I never felt farther away from my family and from Sheldon. It was as if I could feel the increased physical distance between them and me. The alfajores and the amazing Argentinian wine are good distractions, but there’s something to be said for being in the last corner of the world.

It’s been a year since I first arrived and I’ve been with new (and old) friends. I’ve changed jobs, moved from living with roommates to living on my own, and managed to see my husband after 11 months apart due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Special thanks to Brazil for not caring about COVID.

I also got to practice medicine for a month thanks to a special permit issued during the pandemic. This was a scary time that allowed me to learn about emergency care and it reminded me of the areas I like about medicine.

I can’t say it’s been an easy year. It might have been the year in which I’ve cried the most, which I’m sure is true for more than one person out there. It’s the longest I’ve been without hugging my mom or visiting my aunts and uncles, and it’s impossible to say when I’ll do it again.

However, it’s also been a year that has allowed me growth. I know I’m one of the lucky ones, despite how dark things look sometimes, and how intolerable the uncertainty seems. I also decided to write the stories of friends and acquaintances who have left the country to leave a record of the displacement caused by the Venezuelan crisis. With this story, I finish the series for now.

As 2020 ends, I can only hope 2021 will be a year of reunions, for me and many out there. Hopefully, my mom and sister will be able to come and visit soon and my immigration process will advance, allowing me to be with the man I love, doing my medical residency where I want to be.