A chat with Andreina Briceño Ventura Brown
Q: How long have you been living in Trinidad and Tobago and what circumstances brought you here?
I came in 2000, 2001. When my grandmother died, my aunts told me, “Listen you are the one who has to go back and see your family.” My great-grandmother was Trinidadian from Belmont, and she was very sweet and friendly. Everyone admired how she raised her daughters.
When she died, they couldn’t get her coffin out the house. It was too heavy they said. But a relative was in a marching band, and they played outside, and that was when they were able to move her because she had said she wanted music at her funeral. It was like a celebration. So, I had family in Trinidad. I was preparing to join the army in Venezuela, and they said I had to get 10 kilos more. I was too light. So, they told me go across, get a place you will be on an island, and those two months that I had there [Trinidad], I will meet the family and all those things, and I was training to go back home and do all the tests that I needed to join the army.
I came, I met two of my cousins, and one of them carried me to a school. She said, “You not understanding nothing.” So, I went to summer classes, and I took advantage of that.
The week before I left, I met someone, and I got married after a year. I went to Venezuela, and I didn’t get through with the army. I came back for Carnival, for holidays. After I got married, I stayed.
Q: Can you describe what the transition was like from Venezuela to Trinidad?
There was the language barrier, that was big. The food not too much, because I think my cousin was very helpful with this in the beginning. Because of the language barrier I did not have community, I could not practise my profession. I couldn’t do what I normally did in Venezuela, like look for a job.
I was missing my family, my job, and it was an adjustment. My first Christmas here I cried, I get asthma attack. It was very emotional. It was really, really tough on me to know I was out of my country, my family, my friends, so far from them. At that time, I didn’t have internet facilities.
It was sometime after I came, Venezuela had problems with the oil company, and there was a strike, and long lines to buy oil and all those things, and I remember, I cannot afford to send anything to my family. I was trying to see if I can get some job or something, some money to send back, but because of the language barrier I couldn’t market myself. I couldn’t speak English.
Q: Did you have a community to help you through?
At that time there weren’t many Venezuelans here. I met a guy at one of the groceries, and his madam was there. It was Christmas time; I was trying to talk to them a little bit and lime. These people are from my country. I met them at New Year’s and that guy tried to take me out of that depression.
After a while I met someone else, he was from my city, Maracaibo, and through him I met one or two other Venezuelans. I met also a group of Latin dancers, Trinidadians. I was dancing and speaking Spanish. That kinda helped me be a little less distressed. I met this group of people who may not have understood me through the language but through the music.
I started going to the Catholic Church. I didn’t understand what they were saying but I started to meet people there. I learn my English through people. I got more comfortable.
Eventually, I get a job in the airport, and I get a little more ease up. Through that, my mother came to Trinidad. When I got income through there, I travelled to Venezuela; I was able to go and come back easy. My English was better, in the airport, my vocabulary increased a lot. I was helping Venezuelans at the airport, and I started to meet more people. When I started to travel, I was comfortable, because I could understand in Trinidad, and I could understand in Venezuela.
Q: Did the Trinidadians who knew you in the early stages, know about the kind of difficulties you had?
Not everybody. I remember I had a very good friend; I would say he is my brother. He helped me a lot. His madam, oh gosh, she bought medication to make sure I was okay. When I had to get some income, he was cutting grass at that time, I would pick it up, and he would pay me. Actually, overpay. He was trying to help. I was helping him with that, and he was sharing things. He tried to make me feel like I was useful.
Q: What do you see of the Venezuelans who came here recently?
My situation was a little different [to the later influx of Venezuelans]. I had family here; I was not totally alone. I got a society that was a little more open. Now, people are afraid. The society was a little more open-minded. I was one of a kind. When the Venezuelans came, they faced a little xenophobia. The island, they see, is too small for the amount of Venezuelans. Some of them have to hide. They getting harassed, and some of them irregular in the country. When they start to come, some of them get jobs, and some others not. They coming in here for better, to work and get a good income.
We need to understand the dynamics of migration. Before, many Venezuelans came here to study, but now you see them coming to the same hospitals you are going to. So now, Trinidadians have to share, they start to feel a lot of fear, a lot of xenophobia. I know that caused discrimination. The reality for them is a little more difficult. It was an ‘invasion’, that’s the term people used.
Q: What do you do now and how did that start?
I am in community development. When I first came, I realised the Trinidadians had a stigma toward the Spanish woman. I actually faced it with Immigration when I came the first time because they think I was a prostitute, and they treat me real bad. When I filled out the form again, he kind of apologised to me.
I work so people could understand who I am, what I was about. I started to work on a magazine, it was about the Hispanic in Trinidad, and Trinidad in the Hispanic community. I start to meet a lot more people in all the areas, education…and I started to get involved in the community.
Later, I started to do bilingual camps for children, where I teach Spanish and everything about the Hispanic culture. I used to do it in NIHERST. The children were learning Spanish through all the different cultures, so people could understand where we come from, and they could respect the culture and respect each other.
After, I was looking for a space, not only do it in the holidays but all through the year. I found a place, close to the Savannah and I thought it perfect to have the classes. My sister was coming across. She was doing Venezuelan cuisine. I was doing camp, and the classes, and then Venezuelans started coming to La Casita.
I was assisting them with the English, and they started to bring Venezuelans here. I was looking to get commercial status and La Casita was born in no time. When they called for the registration, that was it. Those who were coming to La Casita before, to ask questions about Trinidad, where to do this etc, after registration come, those same people came to ask me, “We can do this here?” and I said, “Of course!”.
We started to help everybody fill out the form. Now, we have a dance group, we have a Parang band. We started with culture. We have so much kids and adults. We celebrate festivals from our culture, and Trinidadians join us to learn.
We work on integration. We have Carnival bands…the culture from the host community. That integration was the first intervention, and the language. We also started to get more involved with everything, hospitals, whatever they need we tried to help. We organise more activities and services to support the migrants more fully.
Q: How do you think your own faith is enhanced by what you do?
My faith is deeper now, and with Casita is a different level. I chose a very expensive building, and I told myself I don’t see myself doing anything else, but I realise He (Jesus) always there. At the end of the month, I say, “How I going to pay the rent? This making sense for me?”, He sending someone with an envelope. I say this business is yours, and I will do exactly what You want me to do.
In one of my conversations I say, “Why You have to wait until last minute?”. I understand my time is not mine. It is God’s time. My mission is God mission. Anything that have to be done, I put it in God’s hands and leave Him to guide.
I did a Life in the Spirit (seminar), and I believe He touched me. I was blessed. I don’t know what gifts He give me. My mission is here with all the lives I touch, and all the lives I change.