Where are you from?

Naguanagua, Carabobo State, Venezuela

What was it like growing up?

Naguanagua is a college town, home of the University of Carabobo, one of the most important university in the country. Growing up I was always surrounded by college students – the university does not house students in its campus, so students from other cities usually stay with relatives or rent a room with a local family. At the time, the town still maintained some of its old traditions, many of which are long gone now due to the fast growth the the city experienced in since the 1980’s. As a kid, we played in the streets or in each other’s homes and looked forward to be the first one in the family to go to college. As a teenager, we had our “groups” in school that studied together during the school year and shared summer activities in the summer. I did very well in school, completing high school Magna Cum Laude, which provided additional options for college. Although we had an excellent university in town, I longed to attend a school abroad, perhaps an influence of many American and British movies from the time. Looking back I believe that part of the allure to study abroad was to experience something larger that what i expected to experience had I stayed in my hometown.

What brought you to Cleveland?

I chose Computer Engineering as my major shortly after completing high school- in Venezuela it was the norm at the time to declare a major prior to enrolling in college. Case Western Reserve University was the institution to accept my application, and also the one with the Computer Engineering program that I preferred.

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

Having watched a lot a American TV as a kid, it did not seem such a foreign culture once I got here. I spent my first months at en English academy in Chicago prior to coming to Cleveland, and I recall that the school had a network of local families who would always host students from the academy for events and holidays. The academy was also housed in the campus of a local college, which allowed interaction with its students (dorm life, cafeteria, school facilities and events). CWRU had a very diverse student body, faculty and staff. I do recall my first learning about racism, not as a personal experience, but through learning of the US history, and was surprised that it still remained. I had a hard time understanding it, having been raised in a country that also experienced a fusion of many cultures in the 19th century, and which continued in the 20th century with many European immigrants.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

Finding the culture more formal in its social mores. For example, it is perfectly normal in Venezuela to just stop by a friend’s house unannounced and visit. I recall some reactions when I did the same here after I graduated from college. Learning the subtleties of the language was also a challenge. And as expected, being the only one of my family, I always experienced the sense of longing for your family, home and friends. I was fortunate in that I never really experienced any direct discrimination. Studying and working hard, as well as being respectful to your friends and colleagues, seemed to always gain the trust of others.

What is your occupation?

Technology Management Consultant.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

As one of their own. It helps that Venezuela has a large baseball culture, which provided many things in common with Clevelanders. In addition, always being asked to Thanksgiving dinner and other holidays always made me feel as part of the family and the city.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

Venezuelan and US culture had many elements in common. I continue to prepare Venezuelan dishes, which have become favorites to many of my friends. My hometown holds annual festivities in honor of Our Lady of Begoña, the patroness of Naguanagua. The center of those holidays is a mass and procession on August 15th, which happens to be the same as the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy, so participating in that event is to carry on a tradition of my childhood. I have a collection of small and miniature nativity scenes, which was an important part of the Christmas holidays in my family, and a tradition that I share with my sister. It was a tradition to invite the local priest – back then everyone knew everyone in Naguanagua – after purchasing or moving to a new home to have it blessed, I think I continued that tradition adopting one from the Jewish culture: I affixed a Mezuzah to a doorpost in my living room.

What do you love about Cleveland?

The fact that Cleveland despite being a large U.S. city, does not have the chaos of other large U.S. metropolitan areas. Being an avid gardener, I think June is perhaps the best month to be in Cleveland, when the temperature are warm, but the heat (or humidity) of the summer has not yet come, and the city is at its greenest. I appreciate the fact that there are so many cultures here, and with that the accessibility to their customs and holidays. I live in Cleveland Heights, which I found to be an extremely welcoming community. I once had the opportunity to relocate to Colorado and went there to check out housing, and while the magnificence of the Rockies was right there, there was a big part missing, at the end I decided to remain in Cleveland. Upon returning to Cleveland and making the approach to Hopkins, I realized that the big missing part was having Lake Erie at our doorstep.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

The world has been changing more rapidly, and the improvements in communications and accessibility to travel have a created an ease for people anywhere to follow their choices, which often means moving to another country. Sadly, because of today’s conflicts abroad, for many people the choices become life-or-death choices. This country at one point experienced a spike in immigration; immigrants that then built this country through their crafts and the contribution from their own home cultures. However, immigration is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. If we are going claim that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, there with that comes a responsibility of welcoming those that can continue making this country. The ancestors of everyone in this country, except perhaps Native American, come came from other countries and continents, and were once immigrants themselves.

What suggestions do you have to make Cleveland a more welcoming community?

Encourage local city councils to have orientation programs and education for its residents to learn about other cultures so that their residents can be better prepared to welcome immigrants and ease their first interaction with their new home community

Work with local organizations, including churches, to maintain an ongoing dialogue about what it means to welcome immigrants

Encourage all media to highlight the individual ethnic festivals that take place throughout the greater Cleveland area.