Andrés Jésus Cáceres Rodríguez

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In this interview, interviewer Gabriella Montes learns about Venezuela’s recent history as experienced by her long-time friend, Andrés Cáceres. He describes the first ten years of his life in his city of origin, Caracas, Venezuela. He explains details about his family relationships, home life and school life as he grew up in the economic turmoil occurring in Venezuela since the 1940s. He shares his experience being a new student, his struggle in school in North Carolina, and how difficult this overall adjustment was. Andrés recounts that despite this struggle in the U.S., as well as Venezuela, he misses his home country, and mentions some of the happier moments he had back home and the friends and experiences he’s made here.



Gabriella: Ok, My name is Gabriella Montes. I am here with…
Andrés: Andrés.
Gabriella: And we are at my house. The time is 8:57 p.m., and today is March 14th 2023, and today we will be discussing Andrés’ migration journey from Venezuela to North Carolina, and yeah, are you consenting to this interview, Andrés?
Andrés: Yes [pause] I consent.
G: All right, so, if you want to just like start off and just say like your name, age, occupations, school, and all that kind of stuff.
[00:00:55] A: So my name is Andrés Jésus Cáceres Rodriguéz, I’m twenty years old, I turned twenty not too long ago on March 5th, I'm currently going to school at NC State, trying to get my degree in chemical engineering, my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, and I've previously worked at a cabinet manufacturing company as a cabinet painter, so that was really good. That was my first real job, and right now I'm looking into getting an internship at Sherwin-Williams, engineering internship, so that's cool.
G: Awesome, okay, and can you tell just like a little bit more about yourself, and just like, briefly describe your connection to like, your migration journey and your heritage?
[00:02:30] A: so, I was born in a smaller subdivision in Caracas, so I was born in Chacao, which is – a lot of people say its Caracas, but it's like, technically not – it’s like two minutes away from the main city, so it's technically not Caracas, but it's so close that people still call it that. I was born in a small clinic, and I lived in my grandparents’ house for 9 years until I moved to – we moved to our own apartment, but, I was basically raised mainly by my grandparents ‘cause, my parents were always working. They were always out and doing their own thing, and my grandparents were always at home.
G: And, like, do you want to talk a little more about your relationship with your grandparents, was it like your mom's parents or your dad's parents?
A: It was my mom’s parents, so my dad's parents – they lived a little bit farther away and we got to see them like for family reunions and stuff like that but – it was mainly, I mainly lived around my mom's parents, and they're always very, very nice and very patient, because they certainly didn't have to do that for my parents, but the fact that they were still able to be there with us, and take care of us and take us to school it was, it was something that I'm sure my parents are very thankful for and I'm very thankful for it, ‘cause I got to spend more time with them, so yeah.
G: They were like a second set of parents for you, for like, the first, almost, ten years of your life?
A: Yea basically, they were always there for me, my grandpa was actually the one who… I was into sports when I was younger. I did baseball for five years, and I swam for 3 years, and he was always the one to take me to practice, he was always the one to, basically drive me around and I would always do stuff with him. Yeah, he was my main guy for like a really long time, so…
G: That's so sweet – and are those the grandparents – do they still like, visit you guys or do you still visit them?
A: Yea, so they actually still live here. They live in Miami right now, but they rotate six months in Miami, and six months here.
G: Ok, and they live with you guys, like, when they come here. Do they live with you guys for like a few months in the summer?
A: Yea, so, this past year they actually lived the whole six months, because my aunt, she wasn't really in a situation where she could have them. We welcomed them to our house because she couldn't, but it's usually… they usually live 3 months with my aunt, and 3 months with us.
G: Thats nice.
A: Yeah they… it's not really, Venezuela is not really in a suitable situation for them to go back.
G: Yeah, so, when was the last time they were there?
A: I wanna say 2020… definitely before the pandemic, that's for sure… tempted to say 2018, was the last time they were back there.
G: And then, those are your mom’s parents?
A: My mom’s parents, yeah.
G: And so, just for the recording, Andrés and I have been friends for like, I don't know, seven years, I think, and you’ve talked to me about your grandpa before, and is this the same grandpa that lived in Puerto Rico?
A: He is Puerto Rican.
G: Ok.
A: He is Puerto Rican.
G: Ok, and do you wanna expand on that a little more on that?
A: Sure, yea, so my grandpa, his mother was German and his father was Dominican, but they – during the second World War – my grandma, well my great grandma, my grandpa’s mom, she had to leave. She had to leave Germany, so she did, and she went to, Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and then she met my grandpa’s dad there, and then they settled down in Puerto Rico, not long after, and that's where they had him. And then he lived there for, I’d say like, 2 years of his life, and then they moved to Puerto Rico – or sorry – they moved back to Santo Domingo, so he ended up living in Dominican Republic for, for a while and then, I can't remember exactly when he left to go to Venezuela, but it was – he was still young, he was still young.
G: And then, that's where he met your grandma?
A: My grandma, mhm, so he met my grandma… it's a funny story, he would go – he was really in love – he would go 12 hours to see her every weekend, like, ‘cause he was working at a research lab – I think it was a research lab – because he was a agriculture engineer, he did a lot of work with meat production and dairy production, and when he was off, he would drive 12 hours to go see her in Merida, ‘cause he was working – I can't remember where he was working – but I just know it was 12 hours away from where my grandma lived.
G: Yea.
A: Which was in a very small town close to the Andes, it was very small.
G: Oh wow, wow, ‘cause Merida is like in the northern part of-
A: Very close to Colombia, yea.
G: Wow, that's so cute, aw.
A: Yea, twelve hours…
G: Wow, so he’s dedicated!
A: He was dedicated!
G: Ok, so what was, to get back into like more about you, what was school like while you were in Venezuela?
[00:08:15] A: So I went to a private Catholic school, it’s called Santo Tomas de Villanueva, and I went there, from, I want to say right before first grade, – so what we call it over there is preparatorio – and I went there all the way up to 5th grade, which was right when I left, and that school, it really shaped me, like, I'm not necessarily the most religious person today, but the values it instilled in me, I think school had a lot to do with that. They had a lot of core values, that we were exposed to everyday, basically, because we had a lot of classes that dealt with values and family and stuff like that.
G: And is that like, common for kids in Venezuela to go to private Catholic schools or?
A: It is more common for kids to go to private schools, because public schools over there don't really function that well, and they’re no longer – it's not like here where you have a public school system, its kinda like, you have several schools scattered around. It's mainly more common for people to go to private schools, and private schools over there – back when I was still there – they were not that expensive, so people with middle to lower income could still afford putting their kids in private school.
G: So like families who had kids, it was typically like they were either going to private Catholic schools or just private schools?
A: Yea, pretty much.
G: I guess like, do you want to talk a little more about like, the friends you met, ‘cause you said it was like very formative for you, so do you want to talk more about any teachers that were memorable to you?
A: Oh yea, oh yea, so I still regularly communicate with a lot of the friends I made over there, yea we – I like to play videogames, and they play a lot of the same video games that I do, and so that's one of the main ways I keep in contact, you know, just playing video games when I have time, whenever I’m not doing schoolwork, I’m probably just talking or playing with them. As for teacher, my mom actually still keeps in contact with one of the professors over there, who still – she kind of asks about me from time to time and I talked to her through – I still don't know why I don't have her number – but whenever my mom, whenever she gets a message from her, she'll show me, and I'll respond but –
G: It's always through your mom?
A: It's always through my mom.
G: Yea.
A: Just haven't gotten around to – there's really no reason as to why, I just haven't gotten her, in contact with her, personally – but yeah I’ve gotten into contact with her from time to time. Whenever she reaches out – she was my fifth grade, third and fifth grade math teacher – and she always said I was good with numbers and she thought I would go into like something related to numbers and I did, so.
G: Does she know that you're currently studying chemical engineering?
A: Yea she knows, yea I talked – we had a conversation about it four months ago,
G: Really?
A: Yeah, that I was in a chemical engineering program here.
G: And like, what was like, her reaction?
A: She was – she told my mom, ‘cause I had to I had to go back to what I was doing, but she was telling my mom like how proud she was of the achievements, and the fact that I've been able to find a program and be successful here after after moving. She was very proud that she met me and had such a good time with me as her student, and to see me like be successful somewhere else was really cool for her to see. She was proud, she was proud.
[00:13:17] G: That's awesome, awe, ok, so I guess to kinda like, take a bit of a sharp left turn, were you ever aware of the instability in Venezuela, and with the riots that were going on, ‘cause, when exactly did you leave Venezuela?
A: I left in October of 2014, and the riots had been going on for about two years, or maybe even more actually, but I remember my family constantly like, talking about the fact there's a riot close to where I went to school, semi-often, you know, you could see a little bit of smoke in the distance, you could see it above the treeline, you could see smoke, you couldn't hear anything, but you could see the smoke, and my parents usually knew that, “oh, there's something going on over there like,” ‘cause it's not usually normal just seeing smoke over the tree line.
G: Yeah.
A: So, yeah, so, those have been going on for a while.
G: Did it ever, like, interfere with your school week, like did you ever have school canceled because of those riots?
A: I don't, I don't actually think school was ever canceled because of the riots, I think maybe once, but, you know, they were mainly in the city. I was a little bit farther away from the capital city, I was like 5 minutes away, so they were mainly over there in the very-
G: Ohhh
A: -populated, like super dense areas, ‘cause where I went to school, it was still a really dense area, but it was more-
G: Definitely away from the center of it all,
A: And it was a little bit of a, there was more money in the area, so people didn't really go there to riot.
G: And did you like, so with the riots basically just being like so close to your school, did you ever have any kind of like, first-hand experience or exposure to them, besides seeing the smoke from the tree line?
A: No but I did have other experiences, not in school. I had seen them before, I saw them when I was going to my other grandparents house, my dad’s parents. They live in a little bit of a more unsafe area, where a lot of those things would tend to happen.
G: What area is that?
A: It's El Valle. It's a little bit of more, I guess, poor area, where they lived, and that's where a lot of those things would happen, a lot of the riots would happen there. I remember one time we were going over there just for a family reunion to see my grandparents, and it was going down, it was really going down, yea I was… the police were posted up in a line formation with their shields,
G: Oh my gosh.
A: And the people were in the – what are they called?
G: Goggles?
A: No not goggles, they were like, balaclavas or something?
G: Ohh yea yea.
A: Yea, everyone was wearing those, to protect themselves from the smoke bombs, cause they would use tear gas on them, the military or the police would use tear gas on them, and it was only that one time that I really gotta see it, that was close.
G: How did you feel, how old were you?
A: So, it was in 2012, or 2013, the year before I left, so I was 10, I was almost 11.
G: And how did you like feel in that moment, that must’ve been scary, was it right outside?
A: It was not outside my grandparent’s place, it was a little bit off to the side, closer to a mall that they had close. So there was a lot of traffic, so we kind of were forced to look at it for a while and see everyone like, see the chaos pretty much, it was pretty chaotic.
G: Wow.
A: But I was never physically in one of those. I do remember my grandparents, they felt compelled to go to the protests, they weren’t riots, they were more like protests where people, you know, masses of people would gather and basically gather from one end of a really long avenue to another, and they did that to like raise awareness, and retaliate against the government. But it was never violent, it was more like a, you know just, a peaceful protest.
[00:18:40] G: Yeah. So in mentioning the protest, you said like, “raising awareness about what was going on in the government,” can you like describe more of what exactly was going on with the government?
A: So the government… Venezuela is incredibly corrupt. They steal, and they launder money, and they traffic a lot of drugs – they traffic drugs to the United States – they steal from the people, and they've cheated their way through every single election since they've been elected, since Chavez was elected in ‘99. I remember my parents, when Maduro got elected, it was like, they voted for the other candidate, I don't remember the other candidate, but whenever we got the news that Maduro had been elected, they weren't really surprised, they were kind of just like, “we really didn't want it to happen, but we're not surprised that it did.”
G: Yea.
A: Because it's just how the government operates, it's corrupt, and it's… it's just full of liars, so yeah in that regard, I've always been aware of the people in charge and how they are, and I've always been around it.
G: And how long, cause, it was Chavez, but now it's Maduro, right? So how long has he been in power?
A: He got elected, well he didn't get elected, presidency was passed down to him, because he was the vice president, and then-
G: From Chavez?
A: Yea, and then they had their elections, but they weren't really elections ‘cause he was gonna win anyways,
G: Yea.
A: So, they had their democratic elections after Chavez died from cancer back in 2013, he died, and then Maduro got elected, or he stepped into the presidency, that's when he became president.
G: So, he's been in power for almost 10 years now?
A: Yea, almost, I think yea.
G: Under the guise of, quote unquote, democracy.
A: Yea, under the guise of “democracy.”
[00:21:20] G: Wow, so that was around the same time you guys basically like, moved to the U.S. and, do you want to explain more on like, I know you already said when, it was like October 2014, so, why did you guys come to the specifically North Carolina, you could’ve gone anywhere else, why North Carolina?
A: Yeah, so, my parents had been talking to my aunt, who also lives in North Carolina, and she basically said that, you know, if we kind of wanted to break from the city, and the busy life, that Waxhaw – which is where she lived – would be a pretty drastic, but good change for us, and also the fact that, you know, she could give us a place to live at least until we got our bearings.
G: Yeah.
A: Yeah so we moved with her for about six months, she was always great to us, I'm really thankful for her and the time that she was able to give us, to get our bearings. And then we we moved to Indian Trail, but I think my parents decided to move here – they've been in the process of getting our documentation since 1999, which is when Chavez got elected, because my mom was like, “all right…” she really did not like him as a presidential candidate or as a president, so she kind of kick-started the process of getting all our papers and getting — well, getting their papers first, ‘cause I wasn't even in the picture in 1999, but the turning point, I think, for actually finishing out the process was 2012, which is when my mom really was like, cause it was kinda in the back of their minds in 1999 all the way through like 2010, they were kind of like, “stuff is good,” you know, my dad had a very stable job, my mom also had a stable job, so they kind of put it off, and they didn't really think about it, ‘cause they didn't think we were going to have to move. My mom still wanted to have that, just as a safeguard, and it wasn't until 2012, where she was like, “all right, we, we need to, we need to finish this.”
G: So when did, like, I'm not very well versed with the whole like, papers and documentation things, so when did like, your mom, get papers? So was it like the green card first or like?
A: So we had to, I actually don't don't know the order of things, but I do remember the day that they were finalized.
G: Yeah.
[00:23:45] A: I do remember going to the Embassy, US Embassy, we were there for
roughly 8 hours.
G: Yeah.
A: We were there maybe, maybe a little bit more, and we were waiting for our turn to, basically, ‘cause my parents had to talk to one of the Embassy agents, I don't really know what they're called, but, they had to sign documents and go through, like, the small interview process, and then they would be sworn in. They would have to take an oath to the United States, that's when I remember seeing like, our actual documents in their hand.
G: So it was all four of you guys at the same time?
A: Yea, it was all four of us.
G: And how old were…
A: I was ten.
G: So, like 2013?
A: Yep, it was, I think it might have been right before, a little bit before my birthday… that time is kind of, I don't really remember dates that well from that time, but, it was definitely between the end of 2013 and October 2014. It was really close actually I think, it was really close to October 2014.
G: It was like, just in time.
A: Yea, it was just in time.
G: Ok, yea those Embassy and like, naturalization process takes..
A: They take a while, yeah.
[00:25:40] G: Can you talk a little more about your adjustment to your new life in North Carolina, so like, in terms of like, making new friends, going to school, all that kind of stuff.
A: So I went to, when I moved to Waxhaw, I went to Cuthbertson, which is a predominantly white middle school, so I didnt, I’d say I kinda struggled to make friends there, ‘cause I didn't know the language yet, but I did meet this one Colombian kid who was really, we were good friends until I moved away. His name is Federico and he was cool, but making friends was hard at Cuthbertson, and I'd say I really only had him as my friend, and it was, it was I think, the most difficult part of it for me was the fact that I was always kind of high achieving… I was always like, I was kind of like, a little bit rough on myself if I didn't excel in academics, which I did not at Cuthbertson, because of the language barrier.
G: Yea.
A: Yea like I, it was like-
G: They just kinda threw you in there.
A: Yea, they kinda just threw me in there, which I really had no other choice, ‘cause I had to go to school, but I didn't know the language and that was kinda, that I was just really hard on myself for, for a time because, I wasn't used to… I just have really high standards for myself and underperformance is something I couldn't really handle very well back then, and I wasn't really aware of how to handle, so I'd say that was one of the harder things, making friends was also really hard, and then just communication, was just, I just really wanted to talk to my professor, and my teacher and classmates, but it was just wasn't possible for like a few months, and there was also the, like, there's also a little bit of bullying, from like, like two kids. I didn't really know what they were saying, at the time, but I could tell they were like talking about me, but, overall I think I got pretty lucky, actually, going to Cuthbertson, ‘cause it was a really nice school, I liked it, it was just hard at the beginning, it was just something really huge, it was just a really huge change, going from-
G: It's a hard change.
A: A large Catholic school to a school in a completely different language and completely different country. I was with my friends, I've been with my friends from the school in Venezuela, from before first grade all the way up to 5th grade.
G: Yeah.
A: So, I didn't really have that support system anymore, I didn't have those friends that have been with me for 6 years.
G: Yeah.
A: You know, I was with a completely new group of people and new teachers and new faces and completely new language, so, that was… that was hard to adjust to but, yea.
G: And then, so, you went to Cuthbertson for your first year of middle school right?
A: Mhm, well I left Cuthbertson halfway through the year, and I went to Sun Valley, which is where I met you, about… I wanna say like, a month after I moved to Sun Valley is when I met you.
G: I remember it was the summer before seventh grade.
A: Summer before seventh grade?
G: Yea.
A: Well I remember seeing you in the hallways, and… but maybe we didn't have a real conversation until the summer.
G: Yea, yea, and then, so like, and that was like finally some stability for you, and like, you graduated from Sun Valley middle, so, talk more about… if it was nice to have that stability.
A: So yeah we were finally done moving. My parents had like, “I think we can settle down here for a while,” and we ended up settling down, and I stayed in Sun Valley until 8th grade, which was when I graduated middle school, so that was nice. It was nice to finally have some sense of belonging and in a new place, ‘cause at Cuthbertson, I barely got to adjust, and even when I left I still didn't feel like, fully adjusted, but then I got to Sun Valley and it was that same process all over again. At least at that point I kind of had the language to kind of-
G: Yeah.
A: – Kinda had it, but not fully, but I could at least make friends and communicate with people and communicate any concerns to my, my teachers and stuff like that, but it was the point where I was like, okay we’re just gonna settle down and be fine, yeah.
G: Do you have any like, moments in middle school after Cuthbertson, where, like… did you have any friends in Sun Valley where it was like, “okay they're like, a bit of a godsend, thank God, I have a friend who's gonna look out for me,” or even like teachers too?
A: Yea, I would say you were definitely one of those people for me, in seventh grade, I definitely saw you as a, as a person I could rely on, in terms of other people, I'd say, I had really good science eighth grade Professor – I don't know if you remember him – Mr. Barron, he was great.
G: Mr. Barron…
A: Mr. Barron.
G: I remember the name, was it for the AIG team?
A: No I was only in the AIG for English.
G: Ok.
A: Yea I only had AIG for English, but he was great, he was always like, super friendly and nice and understanding, and yea I think that's it.
[00:33:10] G: Yeah ok, well I kind of wanted like, to backtrack ‘cause, I don't know if you mentioned it in the recording, or during the recording, but it was before the recording. Do you think you can talk a little bit more about the CLAP program, and what you know about it and what your friends have told you about it?
A: Yeah, so, this program, the one that Gaby's mentioning right now, is a mitigation program for the people of Venezuela, so it's trying to deal with the fact that food items are very scarce, your basic necessity items are really scarce, so back in 2016, Maduro established a program to try to mitigate, quote unquote, mitigate the humanitarian issue, which is the food problem in Venezuela. And it's basically a little box of a protein, but most of the time it's going to be rice, pasta, any sort of bean, usually it's black beans, but it's usually for lower income families. They get them once every 2 months. So, it's definitely not something that is sustainable, that program isn't sustainable for people getting a box of that size every 2 months is not the solution to the problem, and this problem has been going on for, ever since I left. The problem’s been getting worse, but it was always present, ever since 2010 is when it really started. But, in 2014 is when it started getting really bad, where you couldn't find your, you know, basic need items like, toilet paper or chicken or rice – rice was especially hard to find – and yeah, you, I remember, I just remember seeing really, really long lines at the supermarket like, huge like probably 50 meter, maybe 100 meters lines.
G: Yeah.
A: Just of people just waiting to get food.
G: Yeah, and like basic necessities.
A: Yeah, I don't know if you've seen videos like that, of people, in Colombia, like, people line up for food.
G: Yeah, it's ridiculous and sometimes like, stores will close while people are in line and they won't get their stuff.
A: They won't get their food, no.
G: That is, yeah, that is not very sustainable for a country.
A: No it’s not.
[00:36:05] G: Before I forget, do you have any family left in Venezuela?
A: I do, so, I have some of my cousins, It's mainly my, my dad's side still over there in Venezuela, I have some aunts, great aunts, cousins… they're still all, they're scattered around the country, some of them are in Maracaibo, some of them are in Caracas, and some of them are closer to the coast, but I still have a lot of people over there.
G: And do you know, like, do you like communicate with them often to know, like, how they're doing?
A: I communicate mainly with my cousins, because a lot of my family members over there don't really have phones, or they don't really have social media like that so, I mainly communicate with my cousins. My closer cousins. And they, I always saw them during our family reunions, so I've been, kept in contact with them because of, mainly because they have social media and they have a cell phone and they're just closer.
G: Ok, and the same thing with like, your friends, you just keep in contact with them through like, social media and video games?
A: Yes I do, a lot of like, a lot of them, it's been real easy to keep in contact with a lot of them, because they're, they're a lot younger than the, most of my family is, over there, there's a lot of the family that I have left over there is a little bit older, they're probably in like their 50s or 60s.
G: Even your cousins?
A: No my, everyone except for my cousins, is more like in their 50s and 60s, because the people that are a lot younger have left.
G: And where, like, are they in North Carolina?
A: No, there's some in Germany, there's some in Spain, there's one in Italy, and I think that's it.
G: And did they leave for the same reason?
A: Yeah, they left for the same stability/instability reasons as I did, it's just a really unsustainable place to live in right now, it's just, there's no way with the food, the food issue and the income issue, it's just not sustainable.
G: I remember like, in middle school, learning about all the instability and, like, learning about the inflation there, and how like the inflation was ridiculous, like.
A: Yeah, it is, I think the rate of inflation there is the highest in the world.
G: Alright, well I think this is a good place to end it, did you want to share anything else that may have come up that I didn't ask you about?
[00:39:40] A: I didn't talk, I wanted to talk to you a little bit more about the election process over there, and how it was, it was just, the election process over there, my parents would always, I remember getting up really early to go with my parents to vote, and they were always really excited to go do it because, you know, they wanted to do their, their job as citizens, which was to vote, but I remember one time we were going, it was, I don't remember the year of this election, but we were going down there, and there was a protest nearby, and that was one of the times where I've actually seen it, like, seen a protest, not, not a riot, but a protest that was like, really the only time where I've been close to what it, what it was like for people to go and protest, yeah.
G: How did you feel and like, how old were you?
A: It was scary, it was a lot of people, I was definitely younger, I was younger than 10 years old, but yeah I remember, I just remember just seeing like, a huge gathering of people. It was not too far away, it was probably like a block, maybe two blocks away, it was a huge mass, but yeah, it was like the one time where I really saw, like, what it was like to be in a… closer to a protest, ‘cause I was never actually in a protest, I never actually protested.
G: Did your parents ever protest?
A: No they didn’t, they didn't, it was mainly my grandparents that went to protests and stuff like that.
G: Did they go, like your parents, or not parents, grandparents, did they go protesting like in the 90s, or like into the 2000s?
A: No, it was mainly, ‘cause they never had, they never felt a reason to protest with previous government, that's not to say they were perfect, because every government, I think, ever since the 1940’s to now has been corrupt, so they’ve never actually been good institutions, but they didn't start doing it until 2009-2010, that's when they really started doing it.
G: And that was in protest during-
A: Chavez’s rule, yea.
[00:42:09] G: Yeah… Yeah, well this was very awesome, very enlightening to talk to you about, and I think we’re just gonna end it here. Thank you, Andrés.

TRANSCRIBED BY: Gabriella Montes, March 22, 2023
EDITED BY: Gabriella Montes, April 5, 2023