Rebecca makes churros like she always knew how to prepare them. Wearing her beige pants and the dark blue chemise with the churro franchise on it, she moves with her right hand the handle which helps the churro dough to pull down; with her left hand, she takes a strip of raw churro and throws to the fryer. She makes seventeen churros and waits until they are gold, but first, she has to rotate them to be cook uniformly.
She places fourteen of them in a carton basket seasoning them with dulce de leche and chocolate syrup on them. Now, Rebecca is ready for the next order. She makes churros six days per week in a mall in Pembroke Pines; working thirty-seven hours at $8.5 per hour, she has to work some morning in Uber Meals to pay her bills.
Making churros was not the dream of this twenty-nine-year-old-Venezuelan. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She used to be Accounting manager in a medium bank in Caracas, Venezuela. Rebecca remembers the days when she used to dress up and wear makeup and high heels to go to her work.
“It was my dream job. My coworkers were also my friends, my boss was nice to me, and people around were respectful to me. I am thankful to have this job in the mall, but anytime I burn with the oil, or my hair smells like frying, or I look my nails; I just want to cry,” explains Rebecca. She used to live in a four-bedroom five-bathroom house; now, she rents an apparent and shares her bathroom with a stranger.
Rebecca talks about a dream life in her country; maybe it sounds to perfect to be true: a big house, caring parents, handsome boyfriend, friends around and perfect job. The question is: Why did she change this paradise to make churros in South Florida?
“My life changed a Tuesday forever five years ago. It was seven in the morning; I was driving to my job. I stopped in red light when two guys knocked my window showing me a gun. I had to let them take my car with me inside. They covered my head with a black cloth bag and sitting me in the back. I don’t know where we went, but a while later they had two more innocent people inside of my car.”
Rebecca was a victim of express kidnapping, a common crime in Caracas’s street where thousands of people get kidnapped for a few hours. In this period they criminals drive around the city using all victims’ credit and debit cards and asking their family for an amount of money. Ten years ago, they asked in bolivares (Venezuela currency); today, they ask for dollars. Most of the victims can go back to their homes, but a part of them are not lucky enough.
“I could not see the other two victims, but by their voices, I knew they were a lady and a guy. Sometimes the criminals stopped and heated us; they were more violent with the guy. Also, they touched my boobs and other personal parts.” Rebecca has to stop when she is narrating her experience. Some tears appear on her face.
“One time they stopped and left the car. Any of us talked. We were so scared to talk. I don’t know how much time after they came back. I think they took some drugs because their behavior with us changed. They started saying that only two of us could leave the car. I thought I was going to die. They keep threatening us and hitting us. They parked and opened the back door of my car where I was sitting close to. I was not able to see, but I could smell the metal of the gun in front of my face. The criminal said: ‘You do not leave calm this car. I’m going to leave you traumatized.’ He shot.”
Rebecca has no voice at this moment. She has to ask for a break and going to the bathroom to take some air. Fifteen minutes later and with hot chamomile tea in her hands she can continue her story. “They killed the other lady. She was sitting just next to me. I felt her blood covering my face, my body, my clothes. I think I taste her blood because of some split on my lips. I could not stop crying until the guy told me to shut up or I was going to be the next one. They start driving again and left me in the middle of the city late in the night. I never knew what happened with the other kidnaped.”
She was in a poor zone of Caracas, the second most dangerous city in the world, in the middle of the night with not cellphone nor money and covered on blood. At least she was lucky enough to find a good man who called her family to pick up her.
Rebecca could not leave her house for two months for the trauma caused by this experience. “I was not able to go to the garden; I could not sleep in the nights nor eat. I thought the criminals could come to my house any time.” When she is asked about the twenty hours she was kidnaped, she only can cry. “I never saw them. I did not eat the whole time; I think that even they would try to give some food, I was not able to eat. The very first worst moment was when I had to call my dad and tell him I was kidnaped. My dad had a heart attack a year before. I thought he would die with the call.”
However, her father did not die. He, Manuel, and her family had to pay $10,000 to liberate Rebecca. Manuel talks about this experience by Skype. He still living in Venezuela. “At that moment we did not have $10,000. We had good jobs, a nice house, and three cars, but did not have the cash. The criminals gave us 24 hours to get the money. I had to call all my family and friends to borrow the money. My biggest fear was not to lose the money; it was the possibility of Rebecca being killed.”
This experience changed Rebecca and her family’s lives forever. They went to the police to report the kidnapping and car theft. “We need to report the car to disappear because somebody was killed inside of Rebecca’s car.” They never got a call about this report. In Venezuela, the percent of cases which are resolved are minimum. Impunity is a big issue there.
“I don’t know what made me be madder: the fact to be kidnaped for twenty hours, my family suffering and losing money, a woman was killed in my car, or people telling that I was lucky because they did not kill me. When you live in a country where people think you’re lucky because you only were kidnaped, you must leave.”
Rebecca called an immigration lawyer in South Florida and asked him her possibilities to file a politic asylum. He explained that the process would take one or two years, but she could work at that time. “I entered in the US as a tourist. I was scared; I had luggage for more than a vacation; thank God, nobody paid me attention. In that time, they were not the same number of Venezuelans asking for political asylum than today.”
Rebecca is making another order of churros; this time they have guava and cream cheese. She has recovered of talking about her experience. “I filed my political asylum in 2014. I expend all my saving in the process. It was around $5,000 between lawyers and documents. The advantage of this process is I can work. I have a friend with a student visa, and they only can work illegally. I don’t have this problem.”
After finishing her new order of churros, she continues: “The problem is in four years I have not had my first time in court. I have a friend who have been waiting for over five years. I live in a constant expectation because any day they can call me and just not to approve my case. Today, I am here working, and tomorrow might have to leave the US. I am so scared to have to come back to Venezuela.”
Rebecca is almost done with her day in the mall. A couple of more orders of churros and she is free to go to her rent room or to drive for Uber Meals. “I don’t complain. In the US I have the safety I need, but I miss my old life. I still having a nightmare with that horrible day, and now I have a nightmare with a courtroom where they say my case was denied.”