By Veronica Bayeti Flores, Research Assistant, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
We often think of immigration in the context of people leaving a â€œpoorâ€? country and going to a â€œrichâ€? one. In some regards this is true â€“ many immigrants do arrive at their new homes with the promise of a land filled with opportunity. But to think of immigration in terms of the movements of individuals is to obscure a large piece of the picture: the social and political forces that precipitate these movements and make countries â€œpoorâ€? or â€œrichâ€? in the first place. As an immigrant who comes from a family of immigrants, it is clear to me that these forces have brought me, and countless other Latina immigrants, here today.
In the 1950s, Venezuela was a prosperous, oil-rich nation, and Italy was ravaged from the destruction and the fascism of WWII. My Italian family saw Venezuela as a land of opportunity, and slowly made their way there; first my grandfather with his oldest son, then the next oldest son, and finally my grandmother with the other two children. They started anew and they started poor, but after a few years they had it all â€“ a house, friends, a new language and culture, and a new Venezuelan son: my father. Their children had opportunities they could have never imagined for themselves, and they watched their sons go to college and build prosperous lives of their own in their new home. But everything in Venezuela changed in the 1980s. The prices of oil dropped dramatically, and Venezuelaâ€™s economy never quite recovered. There was increased unemployment and crime, and Venezuelaâ€™s currency devalued quickly. So in 1995, when I was twelve years old, we came to the United States â€“ my father, my mother, my younger sisters, and my grandmother who, at the age of 87, was brave enough to once again leave all that she knew to start over.
While my immigration story is unique in some ways, it reflects the ways in which international politics can affect immigrantsâ€™ ability to live fulfilling lives in our home countries. Many times international politics â€“ whether it be war, oil prices, trade agreements, etc. â€“ are at the end of a chain of events that lead to Latinaâ€™s displacement and affect our health. Leaving everything to start over is never easy, and I suspect most of us would not have left our countries if we had felt that we could have grown to fully realize our potentials at home. So when our policy-makers look to â€œfix the immigration problem,â€? it is important that they look to themselves, to both put an end to the greedy wars and policies that make some countries rich by exploiting others and to set an example as world leaders for other countries to do the same.