Venezuelans Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Venezuela, a country situated on the northern coast of South America. It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea to the north, Brazil to the south, Colombia to the west and southwest, and Guyana to the east. The land of Venezuela can be divided into three main regions: coastal mountains, plains, and forest. The coastal mountains are confined to a small part of the north of the country, whereas the plains and forest areas make up most of the landscape. The Orinoco River divides the country between north and south. Venezuela is the sixth-largest country in South America, covering an area of 352,143 square miles (912,050 square kilometers), a little more than twice the size of California. The contiguous United States is almost nine times as big as Venezuela.
According to preliminary results of the 2011 census by the Institutor Nacional de Estadística (National Institute of Statistics), Venezuela had a population of 28,946,101 inhabitants. The overwhelming majority of citizens, between 90 and 95 percent, are Roman Catholic. About 2 percent are Protestant. There are small Muslim and Jewish communities. The Muslim community of more than 100,000 is concentrated among people of Lebanese and Syrian descent living in Nueva Esparta State and around Caracas. The Jewish community of approximately 13,000 is mainly found in Caracas. Santería, a belief system that fuses ideas from African religions and Catholic doctrine and that involves worshipping deceased Venezuelan people of importance, is growing in popularity in Caracas and coastal areas. The majority of citizens are of mixed European and indigenous or black heritage. Venezuela is the fifth-largest member of OPEC for oil production. Oil revenues accounted for roughly 95 percent of export earnings, about 40 percent of federal budget revenues, and around 12 percent of the GDP. Venezuela had one of the highest inflation rates in the world (roughly 28 percent) in 2011.
There is no clear record of early settlement by Venezuelans in the United States, although there were migrations between South America and the United States, including by Europeans who first settled in Venezuela and then immigrated to the United States. Between 1910 and 1930 there were significant migrations from South America to the United States, but the number of immigrants specifically from Venezuela is unknown. Most of the South Americans in these migrations settled in urban areas in the northeastern United States as well as in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Economic and political crises in Venezuela since the 1980s have made middle-class lifestyles harder to attain, spurring immigration of Venezuelan professionals to the United States and elsewhere. Since 1999 President Hugo Chávez's social and economic policies prompted a surge of middle- and upper-class Venezuelans to move to the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 215,023 Venezuelan Americans—a number comparable to the population of Irvine, California—living in the United States in 2010 (about 0.4 percent of the Hispanic or Latino population). The community is based primarily in southern Florida. Populations of Venezuelan Americans are more concentrated than most other South American immigrant groups, with the exception of the Guyanese and Ecuadorians. States with significant Venezuelan populations include Florida, New York, Texas, New Jersey, and California.
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE
Early History Archaeologists estimate that the first people arrived in present-day Venezuela around 14,000 BCE. Venezuela was inhabited by a number of indigenous groups, including the Caracas, Arawak, and Cumangotos. By the time Christopher Columbus and the Spanish arrived in 1498, the area was populated with an estimated half a million indigenous inhabitants. At first assuming the land to be a large island, Columbus traveled east along the coast, where he encountered the wide mouth of the great Orinoco River. Knowing that no island could produce such a large river and outflow, Columbus realized that he was encountering a landmass much larger than he had assumed. When another explorer, Alonso de Ojeda, arrived a year later, he sailed westward along the coast. Ojeda observed houses built on stilts above the coastal water. These houses reminded Ojeda of the great Italian city of Venice, and he named the land “Venezuela,” Spanish for “Little Venice.” From 1500 to 1541 a series of Spanish settlements arose on the Page 486 | Top of Articlecoast of Venezuela. Caracas, the capital, was founded in 1567. Over the following centuries, European and African populations in Venezuela continued to grow.
Modern Era As the Spanish empire grew in South America and the Caribbean, Venezuela moved from the control of one province to the next until 1717, when Venezuela was placed under the control of the viceroyalty of the Virreynato de la Nueva Granada in the Colombian city of Bogotá. Due to its difficult climate and the perceived lack of gold and other resources, Venezuela was largely ignored by the Spanish empire.
By the end of the eighteenth century, resistance to colonial rule in Venezuela grew. In 1806, a revolution began, headed by Francisco de Miranda. After trying to establish an alternative government in the capital city of Caracas, de Miranda was arrested and sent to Spain, where he died in prison a few years later. With the loss of Miranda, Simon Bolívar, a man who was to become the national hero of Venezuela, took control of the independence movement.
In 1819 Colombia (which had just become an independent nation), Ecuador, and Venezuela were united into one state named Gran Colombia. In 1821 Bolívar and his army defeated the Spanish in Venezuela and won independence. In 1829 Gran Colombia was split up into three separate countries, and Venezuela became an independent country.
Following Bolívar's death in 1830, a series of dictators ruled Venezuela. During this time, periods of civil war, and political and economic instability were frequent. In 1945 Rómulo Betancourt, the leader of the Acción Democrática (Democratic Action) party took over the government. In 1947 a new constitution was created, and well-known novelist Rómulo Gallegos became Venezuela's first democratically elected president. This new democratic regime was in power only six months when a coup toppled the government, and a military officer named Marcus Pérez Jiménez took control. Jiménez was overthrown in 1958, and Betancourt was elected president; he stepped down in 1963. Betancourt was followed by a series of democratically elected presidents.
For a time, Venezuela was one of the most stable and wealthy countries in the region. With some of the world's largest oil reserves, it benefited from the high oil prices of the 1970s and 1980s. However, when oil prices started to drop, political instability increased. Carlos Andrés Pérez became president in 1989 and introduced economic reforms that increased the gross domestic product but again concentrated wealth to a small elite, provoking violent opposition by the many poor and unemployed. Pérez was nearly overthrown by two coups, was impeached in 1993, and was subsequently imprisoned for misuse of government funds. Former President Rafael Caldera was elected to the office again in 1994. He promised to stabilize the economy and end corruption, but inflation, austerity measures, and record-low oil prices meant a drop in the standard of living for most Venezuelans, leading to further protests.
In 1998 Hugo Chávez Frías was elected president by a large majority. He claimed to represent the needs of the poor and promised radical social reform. A new constitution was created in 1999, dissolving the bicameral parliament, establishing a single National Assembly, and giving greater powers to the president. Chávez's agenda polarized the country, and again there were violent protests. In 2002 he was replaced by a military coup but returned to power after two days. Dissent continued with a nine-week strike and subsequent referendum that Chávez survived. He was elected to a new term in 2006. In 2011 Chávez announced he was diagnosed with cancer but was still running for reelection. He won another term in office in 2012.
The varied history of Venezuela has made for a country rich with ethnic and cultural diversity. Approximately two-thirds of the population is mestizo (of mixed European and Indian ancestry) or mulatto-mestizo (African, European, and Indian), approximately one-fifth of European descent, and approximately one-tenth mainly of African ancestry. Although there is a statistically small Native Indian population, there are thirty-eight distinct Indian peoples within Venezuela.
SETTLEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
There is no definitive accounting of Venezuelan immigration to the United States before the twentieth century. Many Europeans immigrated to Venezuela between the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and later migrated to the United States. They brought children and grandchildren who were born in Venezuela and grew up in Venezuelan culture, with Spanish as their first language.
Between 1910 and 1930 ten times more South Americans than Central Americans immigrated to the United States, with estimates of more than 4,000 per year. Again, there are no definitive breakdowns, so it is not clear how many emigrated from Venezuela specifically. Many came hoping for better educational opportunities and then remained once their schooling ended. Frequently, they were joined by relatives.
Census data show a continuing rise in Venezuelan immigration to the United States since the 1970s. In 1970 there were 17,321 Venezuelan immigrants; in 1980, 38,120; in 1990, 50,823; and in 2000, 116,867. The overwhelming majority of Venezuelan Americans, 70.4 percent, identified as white; 19.1 percent identified as “other race,” 6.7 percent identified as two or more races; and 2.1 percent identified as black/Negro. Less than 1 percent identified as Latin American Indian or Asian/Pacific Islander.
During the 1980s and 1990s political and economic crisis and instability in Venezuela stimulated
immigration to the United States. According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2000, real wages in Venezuela decreased nearly 70 percent between the 1980s and 1990s, and the probability of being poor increased from 2.4 percent to 18.5 percent. Obtaining or maintaining a middle-class lifestyle became more challenging, and immigration to the United States grew more enticing, especially for professionals, manual laborers, entrepreneurs, and bureaucrats. With changing economic and social policies in Venezuela, immigration allowed many Venezuelans to protect personal property and capital investments. A 2002 survey found that more than half of Venezuelans under the age of twenty-four wanted to leave the country.
Immigration to the United States increased significantly after 1999 when Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela and enacted major changes in economic and social policies. The soaring crime rate was another impetus for many to leave (in 2010, there were 13,387 murders in Venezuela compared with 6,000 in 1999). Between 2000 and 2006 the Venezuelan American community in the United States grew by more than 94 percent. The 2010 U.S. Census reported 215,023 Venezuelan Americans, a 135 percent rise over the 2000 population; by 2011 there were 244,123. Some analysts likened Venezuelan immigration to the United States after the election of Chávez to Cuban immigration to the United States after Fidel Castro took power. Cuban Americans who were against Castro immigrated to the United States and continued to be vocal and active about their opposition to Castro, also getting involved with U.S. politics generally, just as Venezuelan Americans who opposed their national leader, Chávez, came to the United States but continued their vocal opposition to Chávez and became involved in the U.S. political scene.
Although many Venezuelan Americans are found in California, Texas, and New Jersey, the majority settled in Florida (41 percent), generally in the greater Miami/Fort Lauderdale area near other South American communities. Weston, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, is known as “Westonzuela” because of its high Venezuelan population. The Venezuelan population is concentrated on a state level, but within those states Venezuelans also settle outside of Latino communities in suburbs where they share class and educational backgrounds with non-Latinos. Consequently, they become strongly linked to mainstream American society.
South American immigrants tend to be more demographically similar to Cuban immigrants than other Latino groups. They are generally better educated and have higher incomes that correspond to lower poverty rates and unemployment. South American immigrants tend toward white-collar managerial and technical occupations and demonstrate a more equal male-to-female ratio of immigrants than Page 488 | Top of Articlemany other Latin American immigrant groups in the United States. Venezuelan Americans in particular are generally younger and more educated than other Latin American groups. In 2000, 42.8 percent of Venezuelan immigrants had a bachelor's degree or higher, and 41.7 percent worked in professional or managerial occupations. The median age was thirty-two, and 52.7 percent were female and 47.3 percent were male. The majority, 68.8 percent, were not U.S. citizens. Recent Venezuelan immigrants, like many other immigrants from Latin America, often faced the challenges of undocumented status, ethnic concentration, and uncertainty about the impact of the political and economic stability of Venezuela.
Spanish is the official language of Venezuela, though there are more than twenty-five indigenous languages. English is required in private high schools and some public schools. Spanish and English are the predominant languages of the Venezuelan American community. Venezuelan American families stress education, and English proficiency is high, but strong family values also put an emphasis on teaching and preserving Spanish. Most children speak Spanish in the home and are bilingual. Some have adapted “Spanglish,” Spanish combined with a liberal usage of English words.
People often stand closer together when speaking than one does in mainstream American culture. Using your hands when you speak is common, as well as using gestures to communicate without speaking. For instance, you can ask for the price of something or request payment by rubbing the thumb and index finger together while rotating the palm up. The diminutive form, constructed by adding -itoat at the end of a word, is often used to show affection.
Common Venezuelan Expressions and Slang Cheever and Verbatim
Very well done, cool, excellent
Ester plead (literally, “to be bald”) and ester limpid (“to be clean”)
To be broke or out of money
Awesome or astonishing; also used when someone is angry
Pioneers las pilas (literally, “to insert batteries”)
To be aware or to watch out for
Dejar el pelero (literally, “leave the hair”)
To leave a mess
Friend, buddy; also used to indicate someone is a good person
Venezuelans generally have a strong religious foundation and strong beliefs in religion and destiny. As in Venezuela, the vast majority of Venezuelan Americans are Roman Catholic; a very small number are Protestant, Muslim, or Jewish. Although religious by the strength of their beliefs, Venezuelan American Catholics' attendance at Mass and other official religious functions is infrequent when compared with other Hispanic or Latino groups.
Many Venezuelan traditions synthesize secular or cultural beliefs with religious beliefs, as well as official and unofficial doctrine. Hispanic, Indian, African, and indigenous customs often combine with Catholic beliefs. For instance, María Lionza, who is popular among Venezuelans of all social classes, blends Catholic belief, traditional Afro-Venezuelan folk culture, and native Indian myth. She is revered as a goddess of nature, love, peace, and harmony. Lionza is characterized by traits similar to the Virgin Mary and is often the center for many complex rituals about food, fortune, healing, and safety. She is referred to as “the Queen” or the “Spirit Queen” by her followers and is seen as a figure of inspiration.
People in secular positions are sometimes revered as “saints” because of their good works and the positive influence they have had on others. Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, for instance, was a medical doctor with an illustrious career before his death in 1918. He was seen as having an unusual ability to heal and was venerated for inspiring health and healing. Some claimed to have been granted miracles after praying to him. His image and story have made him so famous that in 1949, Venezuelan Catholic Church officials began the process leading to beatification. He was granted the title of “venerable” in 1985. Simon Bolívar, a military and political leader instrumental in achieving independence from Spain, is honored as a great man. Pictures of him often occupy a prominent place in the homes of Venezuelan Americans.
CULTURE AND ASSIMILATION
Large-scale Venezuelans immigration to the United States is a fairly recent phenomenon—it began to rise each decade from the 1970s and then saw a particularly significant rise after Chávez took power in 1999. As a consequence, there is less research specifically on the Venezuelan American community than some other Hispanic or Latino communities, such as those coming from Mexico, Cuba, or Puerto Rico. Venezuelan Americans do share some characteristics with other Hispanic or Latino immigrants, such as language or, in some cases, religion, culture, and family values. However, there are some less common characteristics, such as patterns of immigration, history, levels of education, work, and professional backgrounds.
The majority of Venezuelan immigrants were not politically persecuted, and thus their feelings for their home country are generally not as hostile as those of Page 489 | Top of Articlesome other immigrant groups. Venezuelan Americans lack a long immigration history in the United States, which also accounts for a strong connection to their home country. Before the economic and political unrest of the early twenty-first century, Venezuela was often considered one of the most desired places to live in South America, boasting a high standard of living—albeit with frequent economic inequality—and vast cultural and geographic diversity. A Venezuelan expression indicates this pride: Venezuela un pais para querer (“Venezuela is a country to love”). Venezuelan Americans maintain their pride in their national heritage and culture. Political organizations, for instance, work on both American and Venezuelan issues. Venezuelan restaurants, such as El Arepazo in Doral, Florida, have become community centers where there are celebrations, protests, weekly dominoes sessions, and television screens showing Venezuelan soap operas and news footage about and from Venezuela.
It is not uncommon for Venezuelan American immigrants to have traveled to the United States prior to emigrating, giving them a familiarity with American culture. Some immigrants intended to be in the United States temporarily, but as the political and economic situation in Venezuela changed, they decided to stay. In this way, they are seen as similar to Cuban immigrants who moved to the United States at the beginning of the Castro regime.
The majority of Venezuelan Americans are from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, identify themselves as white, rarely immigrate due to political persecution, and often seek higher education. Most Venezuelan Americans descend from the Spanish (mainly), Italians, Portuguese, Germans, and French. They sometimes settle in suburban areas, not necessarily concentrated with other Venezuelan immigrants, but rather with others of similar class and educational backgrounds. For these reasons, their assimilation into mainstream culture can be less challenging than that of some other Hispanic or Latino groups, whose members are people of color or impoverished. Nonetheless, Venezuelan immigrants still do experience challenges when trying to assimilate, maintain their cultural heritage and values, and cope with a new environment. Differences in language, family and gender roles, and racial issues (that were not necessarily present in Venezuela) are challenges that Venezuelan Americans face. Undocumented immigrants face further challenges.
Traditions and Customs Depending on an individual's history, his or her family traditions may reflect those of several different ethnic groups. The majority of Venezuelans are of mixed heritage, although many Venezuelan Americans consider themselves white and identify more with white Western cultures. Their culture is heavily influenced by the Spaniards, and so cultural attributes found within the Venezuelan American community are also seen among Caribbean peoples and Colombian Americans who were influenced by the Spaniards as well. It is often difficult to separate the religious elements of Venezuelan American culture from the more secular elements.
Honesty, generosity, optimism in the face of difficulties, and a good sense of humor are important parts of daily life. A common Venezuelan expression reflects these attitudes: Al mal tiempo, buena cara (“In bad weather, put on a good face”). People doing business with Venezuelans are advised that, unlike in other cultures where how strongly competent you are or the details of your specific business proposals may be of the most importance, in Venezuela it is more important whether people think you are trustworthy, worthy of respect, and have good relationships in order to make a profitable business partnership. In the business world it is said there are not relationships between companies but between people. Business meetings may often start, for instance, with what would might be considered extensive “small talk,” such as personal questions about one's background and family, so that people will become better acquainted before a business transaction occurs. Similar to many other Latino cultures, schedules are often more “flexible”—being fifteen minutes to an hour late is not seen as problematic.
Venezuelans take great pride in their country and the heroes of the independence movement, such as liberator Simon Bolívar. However, Venezuelans have also long been influenced by American and European popular culture, especially in the more major urban areas such as Caracas. Due to these influences, a great deal of emphasis is placed on popular culture. Fashion is important. Baseball is a passion for many Venezuelan Americans, and they are often loyal supporters of hometown teams. Soccer is also a popular sport. Television programs, both in Spanish and English, are a great source of entertainment for Venezuelan Americans. Telenovelas, or soap operas, are particularly popular. Dominoes is a favorite pastime.
Cuisine Many types of traditional cuisine are found within the Venezuelan American community. Venezuelan cuisine has a good deal in common with that of other Latin American and Caribbean countries. Among the many foods enjoyed are arepas, which are small pancakes made from corn. Arepas are often stuffed with different fillings, including beef, shrimp, ham, sausage, eggs, salad, avocado, and octopus. Another specialty is the empanada, a crescent-shaped deep-fried turnover made of cornmeal that is stuffed with chicken, cheese, or beef. Pepitos, bread with grilled chicken or sliced meat that is served with onions, is a popular “fast-food” dish. Cachitos, bread rolls filled with ham, and golfeados, which look like cinnamon rolls but are made with brown sugar and cheese, are commonly found in Venezuelan American bakeries. Guyanés is a commonly used soft, salty, white cheese. Popular condiments include garlic, tomato,
bacon sauces, and salsa blanca (made from mayonnaise and parsley).
A Venezuelan dish often served during Christmas is hallaca, which consists of chopped beef, pork, or chicken with vegetables and olives. This mixture is folded into a corn dough, wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed. Also commonly served at Christmas is ensalada de gallina, a salad of diced potatoes, carrots, apples, onions, and peas mixed with shredded chicken in a mayonnaise-mustard-olive oil dressing. The most popular Christmas drink is ponche crema, a creamy alcoholic drink similar to eggnog, with rum as the base.
Another popular Venezuelan drink is tizana, which consists of chopped fruit and fruit juice; fruits used to make tizana include papaya, banana, water-melon, cantaloupe, orange, and pineapple. Pampero, an aged rum, is a popular alcoholic beverage.
Cafecito, a thick black coffee served in a very small cup, is often offered to visitors as a gesture of hospitality and friendship. Offering hot appetizers to visitors is also a popular tradition.
Dances and Songs The Venezuelan American community listens to many forms of traditional and popular music. Perhaps the most well-known Venezuelan music is the joropo, the traditional music of los llanos, or “the plains,” which features the accordion, harp, cuatro venezolano (a small, guitar-like instrument), and maracas. The joropo musical form accompanies a song called “Alma Llanera,” which has become the unofficial national anthem of Venezuela; an energetic dance performed by couples often is seen with this song.
Other traditional styles of music include salsa and merengue, also common in the Caribbean. Gaita Zuliana, from the region of Zulia State, is very popular during the Christmas season. Venezuelan Americans enjoy traditional Venezuelan music and a full range of popular music.
Folk dances are common in Venezuela and generally are reflective of a particular region and the interaction of European and indigenous heritages, rituals, and beliefs. Venezuelan Americans come from a variety of regions and may have different folk dance traditions. Additionally, although folk dance is taught and performed by some Venezuelan Americans, most prefer modern dances. Parties, concerts, and nightclubs featuring salsa or merengue often provide Venezuelan Americans with opportunities to dance. Reggeaton, which combines Latin rhythms and hip-hop, is popular with young people.
Venezuelan American dancer and choreographer Tina Ramirez founded the American dance company Ballet Hispanico in New York in 1970. The company describes itself as one that “reflects, explores, and expands the essence of the diaspora of Latino cultures.” It has performed for more than 2 million people in the United States, Europe, and South America.
Holidays For many Venezuelan Americans, Carneval, celebrated forty days before Easter, is the main festival of the year. Many Venezuelan Americans visit Venezuela during Carneval to reunite with family and friends. In the United States, groups gather to celebrate with music, drinking, singing, and dancing. Venezuelan Americans also often simultaneously celebrate July 4, American Independence Day, and Page 491 | Top of ArticleJuly 5, Venezuelan Independence Day, with an outdoor fiesta. Christmas is an important holiday, with many family gatherings and traditional foods, including hallaca, pan de jamón (ham bread), ensalada de gallina, pernil de cochino horneado (baked pork leg), and desserts such as dulce de lechoza, papaya in a raw sugar cane syrup; panettone, a sweet bread loaf; and turrón, nougat with almonds. A quinceanera celebrates a girl's fifteenth birthday and marks her transition into womanhood. Mother's Day is also considered an important holiday.
Health Care Issues and Practices As a group, Venezuelan Americans do not suffer from health problems that differ significantly from those of other Americans. Some Venezuelan Americans prefer to visit practitioners of traditional medicine, such as herbalists. Traditional medical remedies are readily available in many areas with large Hispanic American populations. The Venezuelan American community of southern Florida opened a medical center to address the needs of low-income Venezuelans.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY LIFE
Family ties are strong among Venezuelan Americans. There is a strong value of sharing collective responsibility and the importance of the family—the familiarismo. Familiarismo includes more than the immediate family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and sometimes even more distant relatives are all considered important parts of the family. Additionally, padrinos and madrinas are people very close to the family, either because they are godparents to children or old family friends. Children are taught at an early age to view the family as the key unit of society. Venezuelan Americans may be geographically distant from this extended family and may depend more on community members, neighbors, or even institutions than the family support system traditionally in place in Venezuela, especially as they become more assimilated into mainstream culture. The heavy reliance on family ties and connections is a great strength for Venezuelan Americans, who count on family members for support, especially in times of crisis, and with whom they gather for holidays and celebrations. Wealthy family members are expected to help less economically stable family members. The tight-knit family structure, however, can also limit the ability of individuals to assimilate into the greater society and economy of the United States.
Family roles are generally clearly defined and hierarchically organized by age, gender, and sometimes education. The eldest in a family has the most authority, and parental authority is an important value. Grandmothers are especially revered for passing on moral and religious instruction. Honesty and dignity are also important values within families and the community.
The connection between family and community dynamics is often strong, and the pull of the family often leads to concentrations of Venezuelan Americans in urban areas in which cultural, business, and political networks may form that otherwise might not exist.
Gender Roles Gender roles in the Venezuelan American community are complex and varied, They align with other Latino and Hispanic cultures that designate a binary gender system of machismo for males and marianismo for females. Machismo puts men in the public sphere—the workplace, politics, and bars, for example—whereas marianismo keeps women in the private sphere of the home. Men are viewed as the economic providers in the family, and women are expected to raise the children, take care of the home, and be responsible for the moral education of the family. Women are expected to submit to the will of male family members but are simultaneously considered greatly important and powerful because the family is so central in the culture. A popular expression is “madre no hay mas que una, padre puede ser cualquiera”; that is, “mother is only one, father could be anyone.” Family decisions, such as which school children will attend or which car to purchase, are usually made jointly. The degree of conformity to these roles varies from urban to rural settings and among different social classes.
As is becoming more common in Venezuela, many Venezuelan American women are active in the workforce, and many families have two working parents. Grandparents or extended family may care for young children, or children may attend daycare. Women are engaged in a variety of professions, including business, social work, and teaching. Possessing a high degree of literacy, many Venezuelan American women and their female children have found greater opportunities than their mothers and grandmothers did in Venezuela. Venezuelan American women sometimes experience workplace discrimination because of their immigrant status, language difficulties, or differing cultural values.
Education Many Venezuelan immigrants already have high educational status; some come to the United States specifically for a higher education. As a group, middle-class Venezuelan Americans share a proportionately higher education level than many other Hispanic American groups. In 2000, 42.8 percent of Venezuelan immigrants boasted a bachelor's degree or higher. Venezuelans have not encountered great difficulty in achieving success in institutions of higher education.
The teaching and preservation of Spanish is often regarded as a family priority, and many Venezuelan Americans try to ensure their children's fluency in Spanish. Mothers traditionally oversee the educational pursuits of their children.
Courtship and Weddings Courtship in Venezuela is similar to that in Western countries and remains so when Venezuelans immigrate to the United States. Opportunities for courtship are abundant within the
Venezuelan American community. Single people meet and mix at school parties, weddings, festival celebrations, and nightclubs. Groups of young men and women often meet in clubs to dance and listen to music. In most instances, young people are allowed to choose whom they wish to date. Although dating outside of one's race or social class is often frowned upon by parents and other family members, marriages to “locals” are not uncommon. Some Venezuelan Americans first come to the United States to study and then marry a “local” and stay in the United States. These couples and families, including ones that are of mixed races, experience the privileges of being more connected to the mainstream culture, the discrimination that comes from being a “mixed” couple (one partner native Venezuelan and one born in the United States), and sometimes less connection or shunning by their Venezuelan families.
In traditional Venezuelan culture, men are expected to ask permission (pedir la mano) of their expected father-in-law before proposing. Most weddings include two marriage ceremonies: a civil ceremony for legal recognition and an optional religious ceremony. The ceremonies may be separated by one day or many, according to the couple's preference. After the civil ceremony there may be a first reception with a small number of very close family and friends. A reception after the religious ceremony is generally large, sometimes with 150 guests, dancing, and food; it is paid for by the family of the bride. It's considered good luck for the newly wedded couple to sneak out without saying good-bye to guests.
Religious ceremonies are an important part of the Venezuelan culture. The majority of Venezuelan American marriages are performed by the Roman Catholic Church. Following the wedding mass, a celebration is held. The wedding couple receives gifts, traditional dishes are served, and entertainment is provided. In some cases, the wedding celebration lasts for several days.
EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
Many Venezuelans who immigrate to the United States are professionals, entrepreneurs, upper-level bureaucrats, or manual laborers. Many migrate in an effort to protect their personal property and capital investments. Some from the upper class change their standard of living after arrival; although they may have owned a number of shops and had a chauffeur in Venezuela, their lives are more modest, though still middle class, in the United States.
Venezuelan Americans are prominent in a variety of professions, particularly banking and the petroleum industry, as oil production is so prominent an economic force in Venezuela. In places such as Weston, Florida, where large communities of Venezuelans live, many have opened Venezuelan cafes and bakeries. Venezuelan Americans also work within the television, publishing, and radio industries, and some are not only becoming politically active, but are seeking jobs in politics.
According to the 2000 census, 41.7 percent of Venezuelan Americans worked in professional and managerial occupations, and 11.2 percent worked in service occupations.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Many Venezuelan Americans are politically active both in U.S. politics and in opposing the Chávez government. In this way, they have been likened to Cuban Americans. Organizations such as Independent VenezuelanAmerican Citizens in Florida encourage Venezuelan participation in local politics.
Venezuelan Americans maintain strong ties with Venezuela. Whether in business, family, or community life, Venezuelan Americans closely monitor events within Venezuela. Visits to the homeland are relatively frequent among first-generation immigrants, and visits by Venezuelans to relatives in the United States are also quite common.
Many Venezuelan Americans have established careers in local politics and government. A growing number of Venezuelan Americans are also pursuing government service on the federal level. The political allegiances of Venezuelan Americans extend across the entire spectrum of American politics.
Academia Leo Rafael Reif (1950–), an electrical engineer and academic administrator was named the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2012. He had previously served as MIT's provost, the head of MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and director of the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories. He was born in Venezuela to Eastern European Jewish parents who had immigrated there. He originally came to the United States for graduate school. Reif holds Page 493 | Top of Articlenumerous patents. In 2012 he received the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award for his work in developing MITx, the university's initiative in developing free online college courses available to learners anywhere via an Internet connection.
Activism Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza, born in Caracas in 1976, is a Venezuelan American human rights advocate, film producer, and writer. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Forbes magazine. Mendoza founded the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of human rights activists, and the Moving Picture Institute, a film production company and nonprofit organization. He is also the president of the Human Rights Foundation, devoted to protecting liberty in the Americas. In 2010 he bought the traditionally leftist Norwegian news magazine Ny Tid.
Architecture Monica Ponce de Leon (1965–), a Venezuelan-born architect and educator, was raised in Caracas and immigrated to Miami with her family after graduating from high school. She was a founding partner, along with Nader Tehrani, in the award-winning firm Office dA and also served as dean and Eliel Saarinen Collegiate Professor at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. In 2002 she received an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2008 she was named a United States Artist fellow. Her work with Office dA has received numerous awards, including the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award (2007), thirteen Progressive Architecture Awards, and the Harleston Parker Medal (2002). In 2008 the firm's Macallen Building was named one of the top ten green projects by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment. After Office dA disbanded in 2010, she established her own practice, MPdL Studio, with offices in New York, Boston, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Art Marisol Escobar (1930–) is a renowned Venezuelan American sculptor and painter. During the 1960s, Escobar gained international fame as a sculptor. Known for her strong political commitments and eccentric artistic style, she created works that sparked controversy, changing significantly in inspiration and style over the following decades. Escobar's works can be found both in private art collections and in art museums. In the 1990s, she continued to produce new work and became active in public education concerning the spread and treatment of AIDS. In 1997, she was given the Premio Gabriela Mistral award from the Organization of American States for her contribution to Inter-American culture.
Fashion Carolina Herrera (1939–) is an internationally known fashion designer and entrepreneur. She was born in Venezuela and became a naturalized American citizen in 2009. Her father was the governor
of Caracas. Herrera was inducted into to the Fashion Hall of Fame in 1981, and she received the MODA Award for Top Hispanic Designer in 1987. In 2002 King Juan Carlos I of Spain presented her with Spain's Gold Medal for Merit in the Fine Arts. She has also won the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence (2002), Womenswear Designer of the Year award (2004), and the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award (2008).
Film, Television, and Theater Fred Armisen (1966–) is an American comedian, musician, and actor best known as a cast member of the television program Saturday Night Live and for his comic portrayal of foreign characters in films such as EuroTrip (2004), Anchorman (2004), and Cop Out (2010). He cocreated and costarred with Carrie Brownstein in the TV sketch comedy series Portlandia (2011–). His mother is Venezuelan, and his father is of German and Japanese descent.
Arthur Albert was born Arturo Albert in 1946 in Caracas. He is an American cinematographer and television director. His work as a cinematographer has included the films Happy Gilmore (1996) and Saving Silverman (2001). He has also directed episodes of ER, The Wonder Years, and The Gates.
Horacio Bocaranda (born in 1965) was a Venezuelan American television and film director and has also worked in radio. He is sometimes known as Steve Bocaranda or Steve Horacio Bocaranda. He won Orquidea's Gold Director Destacado (Director Prize), and his colleagues considered him one of the best Venezuelan film directors. His films include The Celibacy (2010) and Immigrants (2004). He has directed or acted in more than 1,300 commercials and has produced shows such as the Latin Billboard Music Awards.
Jesse Corti was born in Venezuela in 1955 and was raised in Paterson, New Jersey. He was the voice of the character Lefou in the 1991 Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast and played Courfeyrac in the original Broadway show Les Misérables. He has also appeared on television shows such as 24, Heroes, Desperate Housewives, The West Wing, Judging Amy, and Law & Order. He received a Clio award for his Drug Free America commercial in 1990.
Wilmer Eduardo Valderrama is an actor of Venezuelan and Columbian descent. He was born in 1980 in Miami, moved to Venezuela when he was three years old, and then moved to Los Angeles when he was thirteen. He is known for the role of Fez in the sitcom That ′70s Show, hosting the MTV series Yo Momma, and voicing the character of Manny in the children's show Handy Manny. In 2012 he played Detective Efrem Vega in the TV series Awake.
Government Peter Miguel Camejo (1939–2008) was an activist and politician. In the 1976 presidential election, he ran for president for the Socialist Workers Party. Ronald Reagan called him one of the “ten most dangerous men in California.” In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, he was Ralph Nader's vice presidential running mate. He also served as the Green Party gubernatorial candidate three times in California; in 2006 he received 2.3 percent of the vote. Camejo also ran in the California recall election of 2003, finishing fourth in a field of 135 candidates (with 2.8 percent of the vote).
P. Michael McKinley, an American diplomat, was born in Venezuela and grew up in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. In 2010 the U.S. Senate confirmed McKinley as U.S. ambassador to Bogotá, Colombia. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Peru from 2007 to 2010. He also published a book on the colonial history of Venezuela.
Alberto (Al) G. Santos, born in 1965, was the Democratic mayor of Kearny, New Jersey, in 2012. Santos formerly served as councilman for one year. Santos was elected mayor in 2000, and was subsequently reelected in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2009. Santos was born in Caracas to Portuguese immigrant parents, and in 1970 he moved with his family to New Jersey.
Federico Moreno, born in 1952, immigrated to the United States with his family in 1963. He attended the University of Notre Dame and received a bachelor's degree in government. After teaching at Atlantic Community College and Stockton State College, Moreno attended law school and earned his law degree from the University of Miami. In 1986 Moreno became a judge in Dade County, Florida, and later served for three years as a judge in Florida's Circuit Court. In 1990 President George H. W. Bush appointed Moreno to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Ana María Distefano is a prominent government official. Born in 1951, Distefano attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she received a bachelor's degree in 1983. After holding several positions in the private sector, she came to work for the U.S. Department of Commerce in its Minority Business Development Agency and later in the public information office in its Bureau of the Census. Distefano received awards and honors from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Hispanic Association of Media Arts and Science, National Association of Black Journalists, and Public Relations Society of America, among others.
Journalism Elizabeth Pérez is a Cuban-Venezuelan Emmy-winning television journalist and presenter working for CNN en Español, based in Atlanta, Georgia. She was born in Cuba and moved to Venezuela at an early age with her family. She immigrated to the United States in 2000. She worked as a CNN sports anchor and as an entertainment reporter for Telemundo.
Music Singer and lyricist Mariah Carey was born in New York City in 1970; her father was of Venezuelan descent. Her debut album, Mariah Carey (1990), soared to number one on the Billboard charts and remained there for more than five months. Seven million copies of the album were sold, and four singles from the album reached number one on the pop charts. In 2000 she left Columbia and signed a record-breaking $100 million recording contract with Virgin Records. In 2002 she signed a multimillion-dollar contract with Island Records. Her single “We Belong Together” (2005) was named “Song of the Decade” by Billboard. In 2009 she starred in the well-received film Precious. She has won five Grammy Awards, seventeen World Music Awards, eleven American Music Awards, and thirty-one Billboard Music Awards.
María Conchita Alonso (1957–), better known as María Conchita, is a Cuban American, raised in Venezuela, and a three-time Grammy Award–nominated singer/songwriter and actress. She moved from Cuba to Venezuela when she was five and later to the United States, where she became a citizen. In addition to her singing, she is well-known as an actress and has appeared in many films including Moscow on the Hudson (1984) with Robin Williams. She also appeared in Broadway plays, such as Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and played Lucía, the Page 495 | Top of Articlemother of Gabrielle Solis, on the hit show Desperate Housewives. She is an outspoken critic of both Castro and Chávez.
Musician and composer Ed Calle was born Eduardo J. Calle in Caracas and eventually moved to Miami. He was nominated for Latin Grammy Awards in 2005 for Ed Calle Plays Santana and in 2007 for In the Zone. He has also been an associate professor at Miami Dade College.
Performance Tina Ramirez, an American dancer and choreographer, was born in Venezuela in 1929. She moved to New York as a young child. Ramirez studied Spanish dance, classical ballet, and modern dance, and performed professionally in all, as well as on Broadway and on television specials. She was best known as the founder and artistic director of Ballet Hispanico, the leading Hispanic dance company in the United States. Ballet Hispanico was thought to give Hispanic culture to American dance in the manner that Alvin Ailey gave African American culture to American dance. Ballet Hispanico included a company, school, and educational programs and had performed for more than 3 million people on three continents, including at venues such as the Kennedy Center and Jacob's Pillow. In 2005 Ramirez won the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest cultural honor. Among many other awards, she received the Honor Award from Dance/USA in 2009 and the Award of Merit from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in 2007.
Iliana Veronica Lopez de Gamero is a Venezuelan American ballet dancer. Born in 1963, Lopez de Gamero danced with the San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Corps of the Cleveland Opera House, and as a soloist for the Berlin Opera House and Düsseldorf Opera House. She was a finalist at the IV International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1981 and was principal dancer of the Miami City Ballet in 1987.
Science and Technology Manuel Blum was renowned for his contributions to theoretical computer science. He was born in Caracas in 1938 and moved to the United States in the 1950s to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he later became a professor. Blum received the Turing Award in 1995 in recognition of his research on the complexity of computation. In 2001 he accepted a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University.
Scientist Francisco Dallmeier, born in Caracas in 1953, is recognized as a leading ornithologist and a prominent figure in the area of biodiversity research. He served as director of the La Salle University Museum of Natural History from 1973 to 1977, biologist and educational coordinator for INELMECA from 1977 to 1981, program manager for the Smithsonian Institute's Man and the Biosphere Biological Diversity Program from 1986 to 1988, was acting director of the program from 1988 to 1989, and then director after 1989. In 2002 Dallmeier joined Secretary of State Colin Powell's delegation to Gabon to discuss the U.S. initiative on the conservation of Central Africa biodiversity and protected areas, and was appointed interim director of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives.
Sports Venezuelan Americans are great fans of baseball. Unlike other South American countries, baseball rather than soccer is the national sport. Baseball was first introduced to Venezuela as a result of the oil boom of the early twentieth century. The sport quickly spread from oil workers' camps to every city, town, and village across the country. Many Venezuelan Americans enjoy playing baseball and actively support major and minor league Venezuelan teams. Many current and former professional baseball players in the United States are Venezuelan Americans.
Luis Aparicio (1934–) was one of baseball's greatest shortstops. Aparicio held records for number of games played by a shortstop, double plays, and assists. He was Rookie of the Year in 1956 and played on All-Star teams from 1958 to 1964 and from 1970 to 1972. In 1984, Aparicio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Oswaldo José “Ozzie” Guillén Barrios (1964–) was a baseball player and manager. He managed the Chicago White Sox from 2004 to 2011 and the Miami Marlins in 2012. He played in Major League Baseball as a shortstop for the White Sox (1985–1997), Baltimore Orioles (1998), Atlanta Braves (1998–1999), and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now known as the Tampa Bay Rays; 2000). He batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He was known for his speed, intensity, and defensive abilities, as well as his love for the game. In 2005, he became the first Latino manager in major league history to win a World Series.
Dave Concepción (1948–), another talented shortstop, played with the Cincinnati Reds from 1970 to 1988, was named captain of the Reds in 1973, played in three World Series, and was a member of All-Star teams in 1972 and from 1975 to 1982. His nineteen-season major league career ranks as the longest period of continual service time for the Cincinnati Reds. He was on nine League All-Star teams, won five Golden Glove awards, and was voted Most Valuable Player in 1982. In 2000, he was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame.
Marcy Hinzmann (1982–) was an American figure skater of Venezuelan heritage. She competed in pairs skating. In 2005, she and partner Aaron Parchem won the bronze medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and qualified for the Olympic team the following year, where they placed thirteenth. She ended her competitive career in 2006 and skates professionally on Royal Caribbean Cruise ships with her husband, Lee Harris.
There were more than 800 Spanish-language newspapers in the United States in 2011, including a few specifically oriented toward the Venezuelan American population or with sections (print or digital) specifically oriented toward them. Small neighborhood newspapers specifically oriented toward Venezuelan Americans also exist, especially in South Florida. In 2010 and the beginning of 2011, many long-standing Hispanic newspapers saw slight decreases in print circulation. However, mirroring English-language general-circulation papers, they grew into other media forms and partnerships.
El Venezolano News
El Venezolano News communicates news about Venezuela to residents in the United States. The Venezolano News Editorial Group was established in Miami in 1992 with the weekly the Venezuelan. It expanded to other cities, including Orlando and Houston, as well as internationally to Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, and Costa Rica. It won a National Journalism Award in 2002. Its readers were mostly Venezuelans, followed by Colombians, Cubans, Argentines, and other nationalities, with ages ranging from twenty-five to sixty-five, generally men and women with university degrees and a “purchasing power” of $72,000 annually.
José Hernández, Grupo Editorial El Venezolano
8390 NW 53 Street
Doral, Florida 33166
Phone: (305) 717-3206
Fax: (305) 717-3250
Venezuela Al Dia
Venezuela Al Dia is a weekly print and online newspaper, with daily news from South Florida. It distributes 20,000 copies across Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties and produces editions in Orlando and Venezuela. Its mission is to provide timely and balanced information about Venezuela and its areas of influence: Latino América, the United States, and around the world.
Armando Chirinos, Editor
7791 NW 46 Street
Miami, Florida 33166
Phone: (305) 470-8250
Diario Las Americas
Diario Las Americas is a Florida-based Spanish newspaper “for Freedom, Culture, and hemispheric solidarity.” It has a microsite specifically devoted to Venezuelan issues at www.diariolasamericas.com/micrositio/60/venezuela .
Alejandro J. Aguirre, Deputy Editor and Publisher
2900 NW 39 Street
Miami, Florida 33142
Phone: (305) 633-3341
Fax: (305) 635-7668
In 2009 there were 1,323 Spanish-language stations in the United States, including music, news, and other programming of interest to the Hispanic and Latino community and the Venezuelan American community. News talk remains a small part of that, with 96 stations using that format. The major radio companies were Univision Radio, Bustos Media, and Entravision. Spanish-language radio took a harder hit during the recession years of 2009 and 2010 than general market stations and had very small growth. It is also now possible to live stream numerous radio stations from Venezuela.
In 2012 Radio Caracas Television, headquartered in Caracas, brought RCTV's Spanish-language programming, including ten popular soap operas—telenovelas—through the online video service Hulu. RCTV's shows, which also include documentaries and features, will be part of the Hulu Latino offering. RCTV also licensed more than 1,300 hours of programming to Netflix for its Latin American subscription service, which also launched in 2012.
ORGANIZATIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS
Independent Venezuelan American Citizens
Independent Venezuelan American Citizens is a nonprofit organization founded in Miami in 2004 to help legal residents within the Latin American community change their status to American citizens at no cost.
Ernesto Ackerman, President
The Venezuelan American Association of the United States, Inc. (VAAUS)
The Venezuelan American Association of the United States, Inc. (VAAUS), is a private, nonprofit business organization founded in 1936 to promote investment and commerce between the United States and Venezuela. VAAUS sponsors programs held in New York City.
641 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York 10022
Phone: (212) 233-7776
Fax: (212) 233-7779
The Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce of the United States
The Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce of the United States is a self-financing nongovernmental organization established in 1991. Its objectives include promoting businesses, mentoring and Page 497 | Top of Articlesupporting youth through the Young Entrepreneurs Chapter, and recognition as a principal binational trade association of commerce and industry between Venezuela and United States.
1600 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
Coral Gables, Florida 33134
Phone: (786) 350-1190
Fax: (786) 350-1191
MUSEUMS AND RESEARCH CENTERS
The Venezuelan American Endowment for the Arts (VAEA)
The mission of The Venezuelan American Endowment for the Arts (VAEA) is to promote through the visual and performing arts a deeper and richer understanding by Venezuelan citizens of U.S. culture and by U.S. citizens of Venezuelan culture. VAEA aims to do this by supporting activities such as exhibitions, performance, and the distribution and dissemination of works and information regarding visual and performing arts in both countries and by providing funding and other support to individuals and organizations.
30 West 61st Street
New York, New York 10023
The Smithsonian Latino Center
The Smithsonian Latino Center ensures that Latino contributions to the arts, sciences, and humanities are highlighted, understood, and advanced through the development and support of public programs, research, museum collections, and educational opportunities at the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Latino Center lists almost one hundred Latino museums and museums with Latino collections across the United States.
600 Maryland Avenue
Suite 7042 MRC 512
Washington, D.C. 20024
Phone: (202) 633-1240
SOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL STUDY
Gonzalez, Angel, and Minaya Ezequiel. “Venezuelan Diaspora Booms under Chávez.” The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2011.
Meier, Matt S., with Conchita Franco Serri and Richard A. Garcia. Notable Latino Americans: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
Rudolph, Donna Keyse, and G. A. Rudolph. Historical Dictionary of Venezuela. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Semple, Kirk. “Rise of Chávez Sends Venezuelans to Florida.” The New York Times, January 23, 2008.
Waters, Marcy C.; Reed Ueda; and Helen B. Marrow. The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.