Fourteen years haven’t been enough time to diminish what Adriana Acosta feels for Venezuela – the country she left behind. The same goes for Jorge Glem, a musician who carries the South American country wherever he goes. However, as they have made their way to New York, they have built a new community – a home away from home.
As food and medicine shortages, political instability, and an escalating financial crisis change the face of Venezuela, many have fled the South American country for security and better opportunities. In 2016, about 27,000 Venezuelans sought asylum across the world. But by mid-2017, that number had nearly doubled, with 50,000 applying for the protection, according to The UN Refugee Agency’s UNHCR.
With migration ramping up in the last few years, thousands of Venezuelans have begun to make their mark in New York. But even 2,412 miles away from their native countries, they remain connected to their culture. A few times in 2017, Venezuelan ex-pats in New York have organized marches and came together to protest Nicolas Maduros’ government. Between calling out the government for the number of deaths at Venezuelan protests to criticism of Maduro for stripping parliament of its power, they have relied on their New York community of Venezuelans to push forward.
Throughout 2017, we photographed and followed a few of them to learn how they built a new home in New York.
For musician Jorge Glem, going from Venezuela to New York came with complications. He traded his reputation as a musician in Venezuela for the anonymity of NYC. With performances in subway corridors and at a few small stages in Queens and Brooklyn, he shares the music and culture of his homeland with a diverse audience. Little by little, he spreads the country’s traditional music beyond its borders, introducing more people to the cuatro.
One of his goals is to change outsiders’ perception of Venezuelans – something he believes he can do with music, a powerful tool for social change.
Erick Rozo, an activist forced to leave Venezuela because of his political inclinations, similarly found it challenging to adjust. Watching his fellow Venezuelans fight for their rights from afar proved difficult for him, which is why he once again leapt into activism. Not only did he help organize a May protest, Rozo – who carried a sign that read “assassinated” to draw attention to those killed in the midst of violent protests back in Venezuela – led the demonstrators down the streets of New York.
For others, adapting came easier. Multidisciplinary artist and lawyer Juan Landaeta understood what uprooting his life entailed. He believed the key was to take in this new culture, without ever forgetting his roots. As he leads a different life in New York, he has made sure to remain politically engaged. One way he’s accomplished this is by using his talents to uplift his community. He wrote the lyrics to “Soy lo que decido,” a song that pays tribute to the protesters who have fought for their rights in Venezuela.
Unlike someone like Rozo, who fled in recent years, Adriana Acosta hasn’t lived in Venezuela for more than a decade. But her story is proof that time can’t sever her ties to her native country. Rozo runs all communications for the Movimiento Libertador, a movement organized by New York’s Venezuelan community. (Erick is also a leader in the movement.) Through this role, she develops strategies to help Venezuelans around the world. Activism takes up a chunk of her time, something she has to balance with her job at The New York Times, where she works as an audience analyst.
Though their circumstances differ, they all have something in common: They fled Venezuela seeking a better future. Despite the path their lives take, in everything they do – write poetry or play notes in a busy subway station – Venezuela is and will always be present in their every move.