The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on the 5,448,441 Venezuelans now living abroad; some got the disease and, because of their irregular status, had no access to health. A majority that depended on informal economic activities (such as ubering, delivering food, domestic work and the like), had their income stopped when quarantine measures came into effect. Others were evicted from their homes because they were unable to pay for their lodging and rent. The heartbreaking stories sure are there.
But there are also inspiring stories of Venezuelans rompiéndola abroad. As we close 2020, we give you 12 stories, one for each month of this difficult year, in the hopes that they can help lift our spirits a bit this season.
Andrea Dopico: From Venezuela to Barcelona and the World (January)
Andrea Dopico tried marketing, but eventually decided that gastronomy was her call. She has been connected to the restaurant scene since she was in Caracas, but has grown as a chef in the country in which she settled. She worked at various restaurants in Madrid, and was hired at a young age by the luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel chain as a pastry chef. Her talent got her a space to work under Carme Ruscalleda, a Catalan chef who holds the record as the woman with the most Michelin stars ever. Dopico was also named a Forbes Under 30 celebrity. We’ll probably be hearing of her own Michelin stars soon.
Nadia Bachur: A Venezuelan Barista in Panama (February)
Nadia Bachur migrated from Venezuela to Panama when she was only 17 years old. Now at 23, she’s showing her art as a barista in Panama City. She found her calling by chance when she got a job at a local coffee shop to pay for her studies at Universidad Santa María in Venezuela, and then had to do what millions of Venezuelans are doing. She settled with her family in Panama where she completed her International Relations degree at the Santa María La Antigua University in Panama. She’s been featured as an up-and-coming barista in Panama, having designed replicas of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Cinetismo by Carlos Cruz-Diez and Munch’s The Scream in a cup of coffee. She’s also received praise as an example of entrepreneurship for other migrants in the country.
Yep, they decided to start the program under the leadership of a seasoned Venezuelan doctor hailing from my native state of Zulia.
Francisco Arocha Sandoval: A Maracucho Contributing to Chilean Medicine (March)
Venezuelan doctors are contributing in amazing ways to the medical field in all countries where they settle, but there are so many interesting stories in Chile! Arocha Sandoval is a retired LUZ professor who was elected to become the first director of the newly opened Faculty of Medicine of the University of Atacama, in Chile. Yep, they decided to start the program under the leadership of a seasoned Venezuelan doctor hailing from my native state of Zulia.
Domingo Pagliuca: From Caracas to the Grammys (April)
Our very own trombonist and an alumnus of El Sistema, Domingo Pagliuca gave us joy this year when he was awarded the 2020 Latin Grammy in the Best Classical Album category. For his Eternal Gratitude album, Pagliuca uses the trombone to interpret timeless pieces by Debussy, Stravinsky, Vivaldi and Bach. The Latin Grammy is just one more recognition in a long trajectory of top performances as a member of the award-winning Boston Brass, the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra and the Palm Beach Symphony.
Dr. Raul Istúriz: From Centro Médico Docente La Trinidad to Pfizer (April)
Dr. Istúriz was part of a COVID-19 solution: the much anticipated vaccine. This illustrious Venezuelan migrant in the United States serves as Vice President for Medicine Development Group and Scientific Affairs, Vaccines and Head of the North American region at Pfizer Vaccines Medical, and was involved in the process of R&D of the coronavirus vaccine.
Paola Nava: Bringing Venezuelan Talent in Arts Management to Chile (May)
This young Maracucha started her career in arts management at the MACZUL, the Contemporary Art Museum of Zulia. Her migratory process took her to Santiago de Chile, where she has been building her portfolio curating and conducting research for important contemporary art curators in Chile. She’s now the general coordinator for Production and Programming at the Contemporary Art Museum at the University of Chile, entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the museum’s public presence, promotion of exhibitions, and the museum’s very own corporate image.
Jorge E. Ruiz Cano: From Maracay to Disney (June)
Who would have thought we had a Venezuelan on the team behind Frozen (2013) and Zootopia (2016)? When he was 15 years old, Ruiz Cano said that he would become an animator for Disney. His classmates probably didn’t believe him but today he’s indeed working for Disney Animation Studios in Los Angeles, California as Lead Animation Storyteller.
Elienny Caiazzo: From La Guaira to Atlanta (July)
Another migrant who was forced to leave her country because of her profession, Elienny Caiazzo moved to the United States from her native Caracas. She landed a job at Canal Mundo Hispánico, in Atlanta, Georgia, and this September, her perseverance and talent were rewarded with an Emmy Awards Southeast. Yep, she won an Emmy Award Southeast for her report The Mysterious Death of Danna Forero, in the Camera Talent/Investigative Reporter category.
Luis Palacios: From Anzoátegui to Buenos Aires (August)
Luis migrated from his native state of Anzoátegui to Argentina. Now settled in Buenos Aires, he decided to participate in the 3rd Season of the famous Argentinian TV show Corte y Confección, a talent show that seeks to find the best amateur fashion designer in Argentina. Well, they found him, but he’s Venezuelan. Luis was named the greatest designer of the year 2020, a pandemic year, voted by millions of Argentinians. Kudos, Luis.
Armando Mundaraín: From Caracas to Budapest (September)
September gave us a pleasant surprise when Armando Mundarain, Caracaqueño living in Hungary, won the Hungarian MasterChef 2020 competition. He actually won with his own version of a traditional Venezuelan recipe, the “asado negro,” accompanied with mashed potatoes, sweet plantains, guasacaca and yuca chips. Can you imagine our platanos and guasacaca captivating palates in Hungary? This is Venezuelan migrants at their best!
For his Eternal Gratitude album, Pagliuca uses the trombone to interpret timeless pieces by Debussy, Stravinsky, Vivaldi and Bach.
Marisol Román: From Valencia to Miami, and then to NASA (October)
Marisol Román hails from Valencia, Carabobo, the daughter of owners of an automation company, in which she developed her interest for STEM. As young as 15 years old, her academic achievements allowed her to be part of the Academy for Advanced Scholars (AAA), which is an eligible program for students from all five Miami Dade County public schools that allows them to start earning credits at Florida colleges. She graduated from Florida International University (FIU, my alma mater!) and was immediately granted a NASA scholarship to do graduate research to improve the STAR (Simultaneous Transmission and Reception) system so that communications can happen between Earth and space simultaneously. She was also president of the Venezuelan Student Association (VSA) at FIU, and has been recognized by Forbes in the 2019 Under 30 Summit.
Sol Calero: From Caracas to Berlin (November)
Combining elements of abstract expressionism, and pop culture, the Venezuelan artist Sol Calero is making her mark in the art scene in Berlin, and in Europe. She explores the migrant experience in Europe and her art combines multimedia elements, experiments with objects and fabric works, and site-based practices. We should be hearing again about her soon.
Glass Marcano: From Yaracuy to Paris (December)
She was selling fruit with her mom in Yaracuy when all the stars aligned for her to travel to Europe, for the contest for female conductors, “La Maestra”, organized by the Paris-Mozart Orchestra and the Paris Philharmonic. Her story is one of persistence and determination. Not having the means to pay for the competition registration fee, much less the trip to Paris to participate in the final round after having been selected from a pool of 220 women conductors who submitted, the organizers did everything they could to bring her to Paris to participate. She didn’t win but her excellent knowledge of the sheet music, her energy, and body rhythm earned her a special award. An alumni of El Sistema, she’s now in Paris ready to continue improving her amazing craft.
* Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States (OAS).
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