Untapped Talents: Venezuelan couple trade medical and legal careers for food service and unloading boxes

Editor’s note: This is the fourth part in a weekly series by contributor Nzar Sharif examining how individual immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life have had to leave behind the skills, talents and careers they had cultivated.

After coming to the United States to escape a choked economy and volatile political environment in Venezuela, Eduardo and Rosa had the right to apply for work authorization from the U.S. government. Eduardo was a lawyer, and Rosa was a pediatrician in Venezuela. They obtained legal rights to work in the United States two years ago.

Eduardo started working in a Walmart distribution center in Harrisonburg but decided to leave that job and is looking for another opportunity. 

“That job was not good, mentally and physically,” he said. “It is not healthy to stand on your feet for 10 hours a day and loading/ unloading boxes all day along with little few breaks. My back was hurting, so I decided to leave that job.”

Rosa has taken a job working in food service at JMU. Both requested The Citizen only use their first names in order to talk about their experiences, especially in trying to find work before receiving their official authorization.

Here are their stories as told to contributor Nzar Sharif with Rosa translating for Eduardo: 

Rosa’s story

I was also a professional in Venezuela working as a pediatrician. After moving to the U.S with my family, I decided to take English classes at Eastern Mennonite University. We have two little intelligent and awesome sons and live in Harrisonburg with another 50 family members from Venezuela. Some also left prominent jobs. One was a pilot back home, but he is now a mechanical technician.

I am very sure if we have moved to another country, such as Canada, we would have taken time to relax and slowly adjust to the new country’s culture. Simply put, the other countries have some kinds of benefits to help new arrivals to settle and slowly overcome culture shock. But that was not the case for us. We had to be very fast in finding a job before we were not legally authorized to work. 

This is how our life has started after traveling through nine countries. Two illegal immigrants, with two little children, no support group, not knowing the language, no health insurance, no work authorization. My husband had to work no matter what just to make a living, to pay our rent and other bills that we had. Those days I was not working. I thought it was harder for a woman to work illegally than a man. I was staying at home spending time with my children. 

But after we obtained our work authorization, I started to work as a cleaner. I was cleaning houses and apartments in Harrisonburg. I finally found my way from taking care of children’s health to cleaning houses. I hated that job. My feet were swelling every night. I had so much pain that I was not able to hide it from my children. I mainly did not want them to know about my pain, but sometimes it did not help. We both were professionals — a doctor and lawyer in Venezuela, but we ended up becoming a cleaner and a laborer. 

Eduardo’s story

I spent 13 years of my life working in offices and managing legal cases in the courts of Venezuela. I had never dreamed about moving to the USA until recently. The American dream is a historical dream globally — but not necessarily in Venezuela until two decades ago. 

After practicing law for several years, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in political science. I literally had a good life that any individual would hope for. It is very unfortunate that we cannot control the full part of our life no matter where you stand in the hierarchy of the society. That was true for me and my family as well. The corruption in the Venezuelan central government and the new political system ruined everything. 

Venezuela is now one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world, but it used to be the richest country in Latin America just two decades ago. Seeking a safer life made us end up moving to the U.S. I had never thought about being an undocumented immigrant one day in my life in a country where I was planning to take my family and kids to Disneyland for vacation. 

After I crossed the border, I made it to Harrisonburg, Virginia. I had a cousin who was helping us to settle down in the beginning. Soon after our relocation, I started to look for jobs, but because I did not have legal rights to work, I ended up working as a construction laborer here in the Valley. I believe the “working side of the U.S is terrible.” I have so many questions about why the work is so hard, especially in the manufacturing production. Imagine how much worse it would be if you did not have a legal document to work. I did not have any right to say “No” for whatever I was asked. 

Despite the hopes and dreams that I have, I do not enjoy the quality of life, my last job brought me a terrible back pain and I have to spend more money in treatment than I made from that job. It is obvious that people face culture shock when they move to a different country. Humans need time to feel partially adjusted to the new system, culture and traditions. But unfortunately, my wife and I did not have that luxury to take our time and observe, learn and adjust to the new country. I had to work illegally to make living. I will invite the readers of the Citizen to think about this transition — think about what it takes time- and energy-wise to adjust to the new country, especially if you are an undocumented immigrant with no English language skills. 

I do not have any job as of now. I spend most of my days learning English and thinking to establish my own business. In the meantime, my wife, Rosa, is now serving food in one of JMU’s food locations. 

  • Ahead in the series: Next week, a physician from the Democratic Republic of Congo strives to make a living for his family while hoping to one day practice medicine in the United States.

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