Antonio’s life was defined by a tragic and difficult experience that lead him to flee his home country. In 2014 he watched a mob of Chavez loyalist activists burn his home in the middle of the night, Antonio knew it was time to leave his native Venezuela. Antonio had to change everything and took his wife and 15-year-old son with him and fled. This is his story:
The family sought political asylum in the United States and struggled for months to gain refugee status. Antonio, now living in Utah, described the difficulty in not only leaving his home country, but also in settling and starting a new life in Utah.
Antonio came from a city just outside of Maracaibo in Venezuela. His persecution started when became an activist for the political party that supports democracy in Venezuela. “Venezuela’s government pretends to have democracy, but the elections are won by fraud,” Antonio argued. He cited injustices against students, hundreds of whom have disappeared or been killed to suppress their voice for democracy.
He could only take so much injustice before Antonio had to act. “They have no weapons; they are just fighting for their rights on the streets. Six hundred have disappeared because of government suppression,” Antonio said referring to those persecuted for speaking out against the injustice. His affiliation with the political party, which started in 2011 as an elected municipal representative, led to persecution and eventually his seeking political asylum in the U.S.
Once Antonio escaped the persecution in his own country, he spent months petitioning his case to the U.S. immigration department until finally receiving refugee status. He recalls the most difficult part of the wait was not being allowed to work during that time. Antonio’s experience is not an isolated incident. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) reported a record high 60 million people forcibly displaced from their country in 2014. That equates to one in every 122 people with a refugee status worldwide.
Trust and Influence
He never intended to move to Utah. Antonio describes that starting his life over again has been a challenge. “You start to feel like no one trusts you,” Antonio said. “I have to show that I am trustworthy even when I have all my experience.”
Antonio has a Bachelor’s in business and human resources. Before seeking political asylum, he had a successful career working with Cisco Systems, Inc. He feels building credibility with people is a lasting challenge for him in his new life in Utah.
His experiences have led to greater perspective, with an appreciation for freedom and democracy. He understands how important elections by the people are in creating opportunity.
His influence comes from his focus on family and putting their needs above his own. That was the reason behind his decision to flee his country, that was the reason behind his decision to fight for democracy, and that was his decision to continue to make a difference in the community he now resides. Yet in addition to his family, he looks to his faith in God and Christ as a motivating factor to propel him to continue in spite of dangerous and difficult circumstances.
Antonio now works as an insurance agent. He also volunteers with a local university teaching business courses to the Latino community. “I am here because of my son. He was born in 2000 has never seen democracy until now,” Antonio said. “Now he attends a local high school and plays soccer there.”
Like Antonio, hundreds of refugees in Utah try to build up the community they now call home. He reaches out to local refugees, the Latino community in the area, as well as contacts back in his native home in Venezuela. His effort to continue to fight for what he believes in gives him an advantage to see the important impact he can have as a force for good.