A Venezuelan abroad

Despite the fact that the United Nations Human Rights Council, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Lima Group and countries such as the United States, have rejected the electoral process in Venezuela, tomorrow the country will have presidential elections. In order for a Venezuelan living abroad to vote, they need some sort of identification confirming their citizenship. Like a passport.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Venezuelan living abroad. I moved to this country in 2001 and now that I’m 32 years old and we are almost half way through 2018, I have officially been living in this country longer than I lived back in Venezuela.

On Friday, I went to the Venezuelan consulate in San Francisco for the fourth time in the past year. I went because I was hoping that I could finally replace the passport that I lost (to theft) back in 2014. If my timing makes it look like I’m interested in voting, don’t be fooled. Truth is I only found out about the election a day prior to going, thanks to a video that my mother sent me in a text message. In the video, a crowd of people were yelling “DON’T VOTE”. It turns out that the “assembly” that Venezuela’s president Nicholas Maduro put together after his party lost congress to general elections last year, decided to adjust the date for presidential elections, again.

My grandmother, who had armed robbers break into her farm for two suitcases full of frozen chickens, flour and rice last year, said I needed to vote. My mother, who tirelessly volunteers in her community organizing efforts to make life more livable, said “don’t dare vote”. Finally, my father, with his silence, seemed to say what everybody’s thinking: “Everybody knows the fight was fixed… That’s how it goes. Everybody knows”

My friend, a first generation American, says that she can’t see herself living in her parent’s Belgium in the future because in Europe, she would not know how to speak to a bureaucrat in order to get what she wanted. According to her, being able to navigate bureaucracy, requires a deep understanding of a country. Knowledge that goes beyond language or familiarity with the culture.

The first time I went to the consulate in San Francisco, a “traditional” Venezuelan woman with her kid waited for the clerk to expedite a travel document for her son. The woman said that despite the chaos at home, she traveled to Venezuela every year and she wanted to take her son with her. The woman was wearing fitted pants, a shirt that looked properly bleached and ironed and shoes that matched her purse and cellphone case. Her hair was dark and straightened with a flat iron and her make-up was sensibly noticeable. She also had a strong voice. She was not loud, but there was a lack of preoccupation for coming across as pushy, a disregard for niceties while¬†having no interest in being rude. She told the clerk exactly what she wanted and that was that. I sat there, looking at her and worrying about whether I would get a parking ticket for leaving my car in the Whole Foods parking lot. Two hours later, she walked away with the document she needed and I walked away with nothing.

I went back to the consulate on Friday because my fruitless efforts to get information over the phone or online were becoming demoralizing. The woman on the other side of the door was sweet and had an accent that didn’t sound Venezuelan or American:
– “The consulate is closed. We are now a voting poll”
“What? How can I vote without a passport?”
– “You will have to come back when we are working as a consulate again”
“When will that be?”
– “I’m not sure. A week or two”

I’m unclear about what I am in terms of nationality. I like to call myself Venezuelan-American, but I’m not sure that’s correct. All I know is that I walked out of that consulate wondering if I am as Venezuelan now as I was 16 years ago. Whatever the answer is, it is unimportant compared to the questions, fears and frustration that Venezuelans will face this Sunday.

PD: Gracias Jessalin por prestarme la bella foto que tengo como imagen principal.

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