EVANSVILLE − Thousands of miles from his native Venezuela, Jesus Alejandro Segovia found a home in Evansville and a father figure in fellow countryman Guillermo Guevara.
“He has become a father for our family and he suggested to us to move to Evansville,” said Segovia, who left Venezuela in 2017.
He and his family lived in Chile and Colombia before coming to the U.S. He remembers the date they came to Evansville like it was yesterday: Dec. 28, 2021.
“This city is a great place to live,” Segovia said. “We like this city because it is a family-friendly city and we can give our children conservative values.”
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Segovia is part of a recent uptick of migration by Venezuelans to the Evansville area. While official population statistics are not available, enough Venezuelans have moved to the local area that they have formed their own support system. They fled their homeland for new opportunities in the U.S. and in some instances, to escape persecution.
After returning from Venezuela to see his brother Leo, who was suffering from cancer, in February 2008, Guevara befriended Segovia.
“I went back home after 14 years without seeing my family and it was a shock seeing how deteriorated was my country due to the cancer of socialism taking control of my country and destroying a complete society and its surroundings,” Guevera said. “It was very sad for me to experience this in my own country.”
Upon his return to America, Guevara enjoyed guiding and helping Segovia’s family in virtually every aspect: housing, schooling, church, jobs, you name it.
“All from the bottom of my heart,” Guevara said. “I want them to be a very successful family in this great city of Evansville.”
An immigration forms preparer, Segovia receives calls by Venezuelans who need help filing their forms and do not have the money to pay for an attorney. He helps people to fill out their immigration forms correctly before the United States Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS), sometimes before the Immigration Court.
Segovia graduated as a lawyer in Valera, an estate of Trujillo, Venezuela in July 2015, the year he had been elected councilor of his city, Valera. In order to be a lawyer in the United States, he must thoroughly study its constitution, laws and be able to take a test that allows him to be a lawyer in this country.
“Meanwhile, my knowledge and experience allow me to offer my services as immigration forms preparer,” Segovia said. “People who cannot afford an immigration attorney often call me to assist them in preparing their immigration forms.”
He said he came to the U.S. to experience the freedom that he could not experience in his country.
“We came to America to be part of a great country that allows you to dream and grow at the same time,” Segovia said. “We came to give our children the protection and opportunities that we could not get in other places. I hope that America can keep this freedom because it is the hope of the world.”
Segovia and his wife, Verleijh Toro, plan to open their own gelato business.
“We are inspired by our children and ice cream,” he said. “We have our own recipes and we have the certification of a company dedicated to the training of ice cream makers. We have already started testing our gelato because we must adapt the formulas learned to the ingredients that we can find in the United States market.”
Guevara came to Evansville from Trujillo in August 1989, through his friend Ivan Rodriguez, then the swimming coach at the University of Evansville. Guevara found what he was searching for: an area where he could find a real American culture, traditions, a tranquil setting and a good place to learn the language.
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“I fell in love with Evansville since and now I have my own family combine, a Venezuelan and American lady, my wife Theresa and my two beautiful daughters, Angela and Marielle,” Guevara said.
He is presently working for ECHO Community Health Care as a Community Health Worker and Multicultural liaison for the four clinics in Downtown Evansville.
“For the last six years we have had a big influx of Venezuelans moving to our area and most of them are college graduates,” Guevara said. “We have in our small Venezuelan community, lawyers, doctors, dentist, administrators, teachers, engineering, artist, and much more.”
Wilamiara “Wil” Melean will celebrate six years of having arrived in America next November.
“Years in which we have reinvented ourselves at work,” she said. “For no one it can be aliened to think that trying to fit into a society with a different culture, customs, ways of thinking and language can become difficult, but definitely not impossible.”
Melean started humbly in her new country, cleaning sinks in Florida. She had the same dream as so many immigrants: the desire to emerge, without knowing much English, at least at first. However, Melean rapidly climbed the ladder in hew new surroundings.
She and her husband, Ghenny, who works at Toyota in the logistics area, have lived in Evansville the past three years.
“He is developing a wonderful career overcoming the language barrier,” Wil said. “My children are bilingual too. I work at Anchor Industries as a trainer in the Training Center and Interpreter. This has been one of the most impressive professional experiences of my life.”
She teaches Spanish to the Latin American community that hoped to find an opportunity to have a stable job by being served in their language.
“Anchor is that site,” Wil said. “The Latin American team members are studying English. Our Latinos attend English classes twice a week within the same company. We currently have more than 60 Hispanic employees, representing approximately 13% of our employees.”
She is proud to have helped other people come to this area and be successful.
“They have found in Evansville a different life with the possibility of job growth and life stability. Many of them, Venezuelans,” she said.
Wil is writing a book, entitled “Five Years Later.”
“I will propose two things as a basis: a labor inventory to mention all the trades that I had to perform before today and in the same vein to emphasize that being an immigrant is not synonymous with sadness, nor should it be hopeless,” she said. “Being an immigrant is having the golden opportunity to show yourself that reinventing yourself and improving yourself is the best option.”
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Meleán was born and raised in the city of Maracaibo, about 10 hours away from Colombia. She worked for 10 years at Diario Panorama C.A. (named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and founded in 1914). Inside the Panorama building another tabloid-type newspaper was printed (an international franchise that was born in Mérixo) called Mi Diario and which is one of the many editorial products of the Fábrica de Diarios company.
“At the beginning I was a content reporter who understood the needs of the communities,” Melean said. “I’m talking about the most fragile needs: education, health, food, family orientation and even monitoring families in poverty so that the competent authorities could provide and establish help for them.”
Threatened by government
The government under Nicolás Maduro sent her warnings to stop conducting investigations and uncovering “rotten pots” of corruption.
“One day, a violent demonstration between the group (La Oposición) that opposed the Maduro government and other armed groups that supported him (El Oficilismo) triggered a battle that could be considered a civil rematch right where I lived,” she said. “They said they were hunting witches (they hunted anyone who was in opposition to the government), among the group was me. I was easily reachable.”
Her picture was in Mi Diario every Friday because she wrote a gossip column.
“My mom and oldest son were at home,” Melean said. “There was shooting. Wounded and dead. I knew what was happening because I received many calls. Panorama was very close to my house. I ran and ran to get to my family. I arrived barefoot. I called my mom on my cell phone as I barricaded myself behind a dumpster and watched bodies being dragged down the street to a nearby hospital. Fortunately, my son and my mom were fine, but scared.”
Months later, she fled Venezuela.
“After arriving here, the circumstances in Venezuela worsened,” Melean said. “I decided not to return because you were sure that when I returned, they would kill me.”
Her family reinvented itself working in the U.S.
“For no one it can be aliened to think that trying to fit into a society with a different culture, customs, ways of thinking and language can become difficult, but definitely not impossible,” she said.
Yasmin Marcano works in a Head Start program at the Evansville Community Action Program as a lead teacher. She graduated as a lawyer in Venezuela and has a master’s degree in Civil Procedural Law. After she came to the U.S., she finished her CDA (Child Development Associate) credential and is currently pursing her Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education.
She said Head Start, for which she has worked for since 2020, is an inclusive and complete preschool program designed to serve low-income families and young children.
“The program supports children’s development and learning in all domains, in a safe, positive and multicultural environment, meeting their needs and getting them ready for school,” Marcano said. “It not only provides education for young children but also provides healthy meals and health services.”
“When we support young children and families we are promoting real changes in our society,” Marcano said. “Education is the only tool a country has to make positive changes and to improve the improves of its citizens.”
Like many other former Venezuelans, she came to the U.S. because her family was victimized by political persecution and harassment. Their lives were in danger.
“Today Venezuela is experiencing one of the worst crises in its history,” she said. “Social, economic, political and even cultural conflicts seriously affect the fundamental rights of its population and immerse the country into the cruelest dictatorship.”
The Venezuelan regime stole her dreams and the company of her parents and friends.
“We had to reinvent ourselves, learn a new language, start over, leave our comforts behind and understand a new culture,” Marcano said.
The Vidals are a long-running Evansville success story. Alfonso is president of Vidal Plastics and Daniela is Chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College, Evansville Campus. She is a chemical engineer with an MBA that has transformed the local campus and lead her team to become a successful performing organization leading the state in many key metrics.
The interesting differentiation of many people coming from Venezuela is their education levels, Alfonso said.
“Most migration of Venezuelans in the US stay in the Miami, Florida area, Evansville being an outlier of this trend,” he said. “However, being a Venezuelan in Florida is one among many, and here in Evansville we are a rarity that people remember and want to help given the political situation back in Venezuela.”
While immigration has proved problematic for some in the U.S., it pales in comparison to what they faced in their native country.
“In reality, it is the same failed socialism but with a little marketing spin, in other words, the Venezuelan governments of Chavez and Maduro (current president) just put ‘lipstick on an old pig,’’’ he said. “The decline of one of the most successful economies in the 1940s to a country where people are dying of hunger on the streets has been widely covered in the world news the last couple of years.
But for Venezuelans this is nothing new, Vidal said.
“The proud citizens of one of the oldest democracies in the world were led to believe that the ‘new socialism’ was the solution to all their problems back in 1998,” he said. “Since then, they have seen the decline of their economy, the erosion of their civil liberties and more devastating for their society, the rupture of the nucleus of the family broken apart by the search of new opportunities in other countries.”
The Socialist Venezuela of today has destroyed the great country of the past forcing many to flee, Vidal said.
“Both Republicans and Democrats have played with their future and with their desperate situation making them the newest tragedy resulting from a broken immigration system that no-one really wants to fix because it is not politically expedient. But when we are talking about new blood for a slow growing society that can fuel innovation, prosperity and entrepreneurship it really doesn’t get any better than this. In reality the Venezuelan migration is a blessing for the world and a ‘brain-drain’ for Venezuela.”
Immigration not always smooth in America
Guevara said immigration policies have been a disaster in American politics for decades. By the same token, he has become vigilant about who comes to Evansville, even if they are from Venezuela.
“But my fellow Venezuelans residing here, we won’t tolerate criminals or bad people in our Evansville community area,” he said.
Venezuela is now the origin of one of the largest mass migrations ever on the Latin American continent. As of early 2022, almost 6 million people have fled the shortages of food, water, and medicine. Former doctors and engineers work as waiters or store clerks in Colombia and Peru to send remittances back to family members who remain in Venezuela.
Guevara said Venezuelans have thrived in Southern Indiana because many are either professionals or highly-skill workers.
“Therefore, we are contributing to the growth of our community with our knowledge and hard work,” he said. “Many of them are in high positions in important companies like Toyota, Ivy Tech, Center Point, Azteca and more.
“Venezuelans are friendly, responsible, and family-oriented people who are facing for the first time in history the need of emigrating. We are so blessed and thankful to be here, God has guided us to Evansville and we feel part of this amazing community. I think that’s the real meaning of ‘Evansville: ‘E is for everyone.’”
Contact Gordon Engelhardt via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @EngGordon