Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Interview with Nínive
- Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Nínive, I’m married to an American and have two kids. Until 3 years ago, my family and I lived in my home country, where we worked with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ)
- What made you decide to do this interview?
Because I would like more people to be exposed to the story behind every immigrant.
- Where are you from and why did you decide to come to America?
I’m from Venezuela, and decided, with my husband, to come to the USA looking for better opportunities for our kids, who have special needs.
- What was life like for you where you grew up?
My life was difficult. My family is HUGE, and for that reason it is full of secrets and stories that nobody talks about. When I was 5 years old my adoptive mom died and my little brother and I went to live with an aunt. We suffered abuse. Years later we went to live with my grandma and things started getting a little bit better. We didn’t have much, but I can say that even with all the bad stuff in it, my life was a lot better than my biological siblings. All my sisters were teen moms and they didn’t even finish High School.
- What is life like for people in your country now? Do you still have family and friends there?
All my family is still there. I’m the only one here. Life for them is even harder now. Venezuela is experiencing the toughest times of its history. There are food shortages, and the little one can find is being rationed. Crime and delinquency have increased sharply. Inflation this past year just reached 62%. There are no jobs and salaries are very low.
- What did you have to do to get here (i.e. paperwork, money, etc.)?
Because my husband is an American citizen, I applied for an immigrant visa. It was the only way to come to this country again. The year before I was denied a tourist visa, even when I demonstrated that it wasn’t my intention to immigrate. The process was long, expensive and exhausting. My experience with immigration wasn’t good. All my papers were lost for more than a year, I wasn’t even registered in the system. After spending more than a year in the country I was told I didn’t exist; it was like I never came to the USA. Finally, after getting a Senator from Virginia involved, I got my green card and was able to work.
7. Once you came to America, what was life like?
Many things have changed; the biggest challenge has been adapting to this culture without losing my identity as a Venezuelan and trying to balance two cultures in our home. Another difficult thing has been the language and the expectations of others concerning this. I am very direct and as a result it is hard to express my thoughts without offending others. My life here is more tranquil, I have no fear walking outside, and I know my family has what we need to live and eat.
8. What helped you get to where you are today?
First of all, God. He has strengthened me during the process of adapting, as we have sought help for our children. Also the support of my husband and the Church.
9. How do different generations in your family experience America (i.e. immigrant-born vs. American-born generations)?
That has been the most difficult part for my family. Especially with my daughter, who was born here but lived in Venezuela until she was 5 years old. She has forgotten her Spanish, and has also lost much of her identity as a Venezuelan. It is difficult to maintain a balance when there are two cultures in the same house. My husband embraces my culture and traditions, even my language, but it is difficult to pass that on to our kids when the rest of their relatives, friends and teachers don’t have that identity.
10. Have you preserved any traditions, foods, languages, or customs from your native country?
Yes, I often cook Venezuelan food that my family enjoys. My husband and I speak Spanish almost all the time. We try to talk with and expose our kids to their Hispanic roots by showing them pictures, videos and listening to music. We even go to the Spanish service in our church and keep the fellowship with other Hispanics. For me, it is very important that my kids know where they come from.
11. How does your cultural heritage affect your views on immigration?
Definitely it is affected. It’s impossible, as an Immigrant, to not see this issue from your cultural perspective. When you come from a culture where everybody is accepted without looking at the color of their skin, their nationalities, their accents, or the region that they came from; it makes it difficult not to have a radical position about the injustice of the immigration system. But I think that what makes it even more difficult are the critical and unfounded opinions of many Americans, who seem to forget the history of their Nation. This is a Nation founded on immigration, seeking for its people equality, liberty and justice. Sadly, for many America it’s theirs and there is no place for others, especially if they look different and speak a different language.
This makes me sad because my own family is a mix of both cultures, and it seems to me, like one of those parts needs to be annulled. Even when my immigration status is different, I have to include myself when I say that we didn’t come here to take anything from anybody. We came here to work, to seek a better future. Many come here escaping from crime and violence in their countries, escaping from poverty, because they don’t have money to feed their families. We come here not to ask for a handout but to give. They offer their hands, their sweat, so we can have things that they themselves cannot even afford.
I also need to clarify, that even when it is true that many people in America think this way, God has given me the blessing of allowing me to meet many people who embrace and support those who come from other places and other cultures.
Nínive, thank you so much for openly sharing your story with us!
And here are some pictures she has shared with us, too!
(the barrio where I grew up and a lot of my family, including my grandmother still live)