My boyfriend rushed into my office in the apartment we share in Colombia. “I’m pre-approved!” he said in Spanish with a smile, his big dimples making cute craters in his tan cheeks. We hugged and kissed and I broke into tears. They were happy tears because the email he had just received said Colombia’s immigration department would allow him to stay in the country for three more months.
If he were from another country, that pre-approval email would simply mean we could be together for three more months. We could continue our lives in Colombia – our adopted home. But since Eduardo is from Venezuela, that email meant so much more. It means three more months of not worrying about where food will come from. It means three more months of safety. It’s three more months of not living in poverty and political unrest.
Eduardo and I decided to move to Colombia for very different reasons. I sought adventure and wanted to improve my Spanish. I quit my job as a radio news anchor in Florida, gave away my stuff, moved out of my apartment and arrived in Colombia without a plan or a job. In the back of my mind, I knew I would be able to return to the United States if my little quarter-life crisis didn’t work out.
Eduardo came to Colombia with his sister and her family. He briefly lived in Panama where he worked three jobs. He was studying Electrical Engineering in Venezuela, but couldn’t finish because he couldn’t afford not to work. The plant where he interned shut down.
It’s hard living in a new country, but it’s wrenching when you see your country falling apart on the news, through social media or worse – from first-person accounts of loved ones who didn’t make it out. Eduardo is fortunate to be living in Colombia, but it feels as though that fortune is limited – a timer looms over us like a sick game show and those who lose get deported.
The situation in Venezuela itself is enough to break hearts. The average Venezuelan lost 19 pounds in 2016 and it wasn’t because of Crossfit. Inflation in Venezuela is expected to hit 720 percent and Reuters reports at least 42 people have died during the last six weeks of protests and riots against the government. But putting aside those awful statics, the online reactions from people in the United States have also been saddening. The comments under news stories about Venezuela’s turmoil aren’t met with empathy, rather with snide words like “that’s what they get for being socialists!” or “that’s socialism for you.”
The same morons who couldn’t pass a basic high school economics exam take time out of their day to offer their dimwitted two cents dripping with condescension instead of compassion. Yes, it’s the Internet and people are rarely nice behind anonymity and keyboards, but the level of callousness I see in comments about the situation in Venezuela alarms me, and I’m not even nice.
It’s painful to see someone you love hurting. Eduardo feels guilty he’s so far away from his mother, the rest of his family and his country. I’ve realized how incredibly privileged I am to have been born and raised in the United States. Since my dad is also from Venezuela, it’s not so far-fetched to think my life could have totally been different if Pops didn’t immigrate to the United States, at a time, according to him, where it wasn’t as difficult to do so as it is now.
As for me and Eduardo, we desperately are looking for ways for him to be able to stay in Colombia after these three months. In the meantime, we try to appreciate the time we have together, because for him – and so many other immigrants who are just looking for a better, safer life – the clock is ticking.