Migration journey is also a journalism journey

By Arantxa Millán Domínguez

Vía País México

Argentina

More than six million Venezuelan migrants and refugees from Venezuela live in Latin American and Caribbean countries. According to the latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), this situation is considered the second-largest migration crisis in the world.

It is not a secret that people leave their country looking for a better life. In the case of Venezuelans, they are seeking to flee insecurity, a shortage of food and medicines, and the deficiency of services because of inflation that grows daily without stopping.

The political/socioeconomic situation and insufficient human rights in the country are the main reasons thousands of people and entire families move to other countries. For economic and proximity reasons, Latin America is one of the most popular options for Venezuelans.

Argentina is one of the most popular destinations for migrants leaving Venezuela.
Argentina is one of the most popular destinations for migrants leaving Venezuela.

Argentina is among the 10 Latin American countries receiving the majority of Venezuelan immigrants. In 2018 — one of the most difficult years experienced in Venezuela — Argentina’s National Directorate of Migration granted more than 70,000 residencies to migrants from Venezuela.

I was able to live part of this 2018 story myself. I am a Venezuelan who migrated at that time — the year the largest migrant collective settled in Argentina, according to the country’s official migration figures. It was not a pleasant experience from the beginning, even though my conditions were relatively normal.

Journalism linked to migration

For me, journalism was not love at first sight. But, it has captivated me since I decided to study it in 2011.

Even when the situation in Venezuela was “sustainable,” I understood that I felt freer expressing myself. That eventually turned into “I want to express them” because true journalism should be constructive for everyone, and I repeated that to myself during the five years of my career.

I had the joy of understanding that when I began working in TV in 2016. However, I learned to manage the screens for journalism that had to broadcast large press conferences for Hugo Chavez’s followers, which became “madurismo” — a face imposed by his followers, whose government was in place between 1999 to 2013. Chavez’s presidency, which abruptly ended after his death, left poverty, hunger, insecurity, inflation, and, consequently, high migration in its wake.

I went from newsreader, reporter, and prop assistant to head of press in less than a year and a half. I was the youngest journalist on the team, and I understood that it would inevitably be a place of political struggle. You can’t run a news channel, no matter how small it is, thwarting and avoiding the real news just to keep up political facades so the place would not be censored.

That same period was also a tough time for Venezuelan journalists. This was due to the competition after the cessation of the print edition of the renowned newspaper El Nacional, which left the country without any printed newspaper that was not related to chavismo-madurismo.

I fought tirelessly for almost three years against the wave of unnecessary political rallies and the coverage of the other face of the country: communities completely surrendered to idleness (without water, electricity, drains, food, and medicine) due to the bad decisions made year after year by the government. This government was sustained by a portion of the population that still supported it in the midst of an unstoppable increase in poverty that, in 2018, reached 48%, according to official data from the National Survey of Living Conditions.

In that context of alleviating the inflationary drama affecting all Venezuelans, I got two other jobs within the same industry. I left behind my rejection of politics and dedicated myself to the coverage of the state of Sucre for the national newspaper Últimas Noticias. I resorted to the coverage of political events in favour of the government to stay afloat. During all this, at least nine media outlets in the country announced partial closures due to lack of paper and exchange control policies.

The situation in the country became difficult to manage, even working as a professional. This led me to try freelance options to supplement a salary that disappeared daily. I started in the field of digital marketing as community manager for a Venezuelan news anchor at CNN en Español. This situation made me understand that journalism could be practiced through migration, and it was the moment when I decided to accept the proposal to travel to Argentina.

During my last period of constant struggle as a journalist in Venezuela, my parents were drowning in the country’s 2018 inflation crisis, which exceeded a rate of 65,000%. Since the beginning of that year, my family had considered Argentina as an option for emigration. In Argentina, there are free study opportunities, an ideal situation for my sisters who were still finishing college due to the conflicts in the public universities, which had been in constant protests since 2014.

My learning as a freelance journalist alongside the Venezuelan CNN anchor who was performing the job from the United States, my parents’ migration plans, and my frustration with three professional jobs that only helped with food in my home, led me to accept the decision of Argentina as a migratory destination at the end of July 2018 amid growing hyper-inflation.

The year 2018 was iconic for Venezuelan inflation, as the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCN) released official inflation data for the first time in three years. That hyper-inflation ran deep into Venezuelan families who could not even afford packets of flour for making arepas, a typical food in a household’s basic food basket.

Argentina: jumping off a cliff and getting to the other side

My experience as a migrant didn’t encompass the terrible conditions of many compatriots who cross borders on foot every day. Yet, it was a process where I had to take a break from journalism. The goal when arriving in a new country without family, friends, or acquaintances is simple and complex at the same time: to survive.

Survival is the preservation of life in a difficult situation, and that is exactly what it takes as an immigrant. Fortunately, Argentina has been a receiving country for migrants from all over the world. You can see that in the streets, where you run into Brazilians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Chileans, Mexicans, and even Europeans.

However, this does not mean that migration is easy. It is even more difficult, because you must find your place in a population of more than 45 million people, significantly large compared to Venezuela’s 28 million citizens.

For some, it may be an impediment, but for me it was the impetus that drove me to search deep within myself to learn things I didn’t know. In September 2018, I found myself 9,000 kilometres away from home, learning how to be a saleswoman, telephone operator, kitchen helper, clothes refinisher, and even performing cleaning tasks.

I tried and failed many times to make inroads in my career, because I never left journalism aside. It was like starting from scratch. I had an opportunity in radio, and I took two jobs so I could write freelance. I fell and got back up. Every time I stumbled, I fell into a stage of frustration, but the profession came back to tell me that I had never strayed too far.

Recently, a newsroom adopted me, and I also adopted it. We are bonded in the exploration of a “migrant journalist” — a kind of multi-cultural love, where I constantly learn that starting over is not failure and I must keep insisting as much as it is necessary.

About Arantxa Millán Domínguez

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