Being a newly arrived immigrant can be tough & fun
courtesy of Simón Gomez
The decision was an easy one to make. As easy as it can be to make a decision with your nose an inch from the pavement and the foot of an armed thug pressing a gun in your lower back while he discusses with a colleague whether to shoot you in the head or in the back.
"If I come out of this alive, I am so out of here", is all I can remember thinking. Well I did come out alive, as you would probably have guessed by now those thugs were only trying to scare me. And scare me they did, right out of my hometown. This was July 1999.
That unexpected sneak peak of what life in Caracas would turn into under the rule of our then newly minted president Hugo Chavez put me on a express path of self imposed exile. I took my time to put my things in order and make a graceful but definitive exit, but 15 months later off I went, off to reinvent my life somewhere else.
I came to Miami of course, where else? Spanish is the predominant foreign language here, I have a sizable number of friends living here, and I was offered the chance to be part of an exciting start-up allowing me to legally migrate to the U.S. My goal was never to be undocumented here, not for one minute.
I wasn't completely unfamiliar with the United States of America. Up to that point I had spent more than my fair share of vacation time in this country -some of that time in a boarding summer camp in upstate New York- so the issues of language and familiarity were pretty much resolved.
And arriving before the terrorist attacks of September 11 made a world of difference, but still there are three factors to which I attribute the success of my experiment here in Miami:
- I found a fantastic lawyer. I can't stress enough the importance of a good immigration lawyer and I can't be thankful enough to mine. Without one you can get in a world of trouble. Navigating the unchartered waters of bad legal advice or legal inaction is not for the faint of heart. Cheap rates and the offer of magical solutions are often tell-tell signs to run away, and fast.
- I gathered all the information I could about everything that I thought could or would affect me from taxes and financial planning, to physical health and my own interests. To this day, I still use my local newspaper and public radio station constantly for good information.
- I had a job in my pocket when I got here.
None of this is to say that I didn't have my set-backs along the way.
First, I gained more weight than I should have. I didn't gain a ton, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 pounds which for a small-framed person can make a world of difference. Trash food emporium U.S.A. can make it really easy to gain unwanted pounds, which aligned with the natural anxiety brought about by the complexities of a completely new environment makes for very porky results. Gladly, health food emporium U.S.A. makes it easy to inform yourself and to keep your nutrition in check. All the extra weight is gone, in case you were wondering.