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People of Nowhere

By Valeria Quiroz, journalism, May 2022

I come from Venezuela, the land of beautiful women and eternal tropic – as some people say. I grew up surrounded by a huge family in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone.

My dad worked as a lawyer for 20 years and had a well-known reputation in his field. However, having a successful law career in Venezuela comes with great risk. There were many enemies lurking, waiting for him to make the wrong move. The corruption of the government and the justice system endangered my dad’s and my family’s safety. He decided to move to the United States after he was incarcerated for eight hours.

The moment my dad arrived in the U.S. with my stepmom and younger siblings, he set in motion a plan to have me and my other two siblings join them. On May 4, 2015, he accomplished this goal. It was a cold, spring night when my siblings and I arrived in the U.S. We left behind not only our lives, but also our mom – not knowing when we would see her again.

Since then, I have been living in a constant state of anxiety for my future and my family. I had to learn a new language and adapt to a different culture; I saw my younger sister cry more than once out of despair and frustration for not understanding a word in her classes. I had to be strong for her.

I had to be strong for my dad, too. He has told me multiple times that I gave up the right to be a normal teenager the moment I accepted coming to the U.S. I do not regret it. It has given me so many opportunities and allowed me to meet wonderful people. But my life has changed because of the uncertainty and absence of identity I face as an asylum seeker.

As one of many asylum seekers, there are experiences particular to our situation. The uncertainty we live in affects everything we do and every choice we make. Our stability is disrupted because we lack a sense of belonging. Asylum seekers don’t belong in the country we left behind or the one we currently reside in. Even though we have a work permit that must be renewed every two years, there is no safety in our status. We are still waiting for the interview that will decide whether we stay in this country. I don’t feel like I am 100% Venezuelan since my family members are the only people from my culture I interact with, but I’m not American, either.

This is my existence. My struggle.

During my high school years, I had a hard time truly connecting with people; however, I never forgot why I was here. I was determined to finish and go to college.

When I started to work for the MSU Denver Scholarship Success Team the summer before my first semester in college, I finally found a sense of belonging, and in a sense, of hope that I will earn my bachelor's degree. I soon became aware of all the opportunities for involvement and scholarships, and I met extraordinary people who helped me through the fear and anxiety of starting this new phase in my life.

MSU Denver gave me the financial and emotional support that no other institution offered. I am strongly involved on campus as a sister of the Associate Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma, I participate in the annual Illuminate event – a one-day community service experience for students – and I worked as an orientation leader during the summer. As of now, I am the recipient of a few privately funded scholarships, including the Salazar Family Scholarship and Frances A. Melrose Foundation Annual Scholarship, plus grants and work-study.

The vast support systems I have discovered as a scholar still overwhelms me sometimes.

If it was not for these scholarships, I do not know where I would be today. I rely on them to pay for school, and I am beyond grateful for them. My scholarships help take the economic burden of being a full-time student and having two jobs to help pay bills at home off my shoulders. It means the world to me. I am not only able to continue my education, but also to be part of other students’ support system as a peer advocate. Every day, it drives me to do my best – and more – in and out of class. It makes me want to be that person someday in the future for the upcoming generation of students.

So, while there are struggles, it’s not all bad. I’m in college, I have an amazing family and I am surrounded by people who genuinely care about me. I’m hopeful. I know all the sacrifices my family and I have made will be worth it in the end. 

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