Junior Juan Prieto dreamed of coming to the U.S. during his childhood in Venezuela. He paid special attention in his English classes and asked his parents if he could one day study abroad in the U.S. His parents were reluctant until his senior year, when he fled the country in fear after protesting against the Venezuelan government.
“It all started when I was a little kid playing video games, but most of the video games were in English, and I didn’t know much about this language so I would ask my aunt to translate everything for me,” Juan Prieto said. “When I was old enough, she told me about this amazing country where all people spoke this language that all the video games were made out of, so I kind of took interest in that.”
As Juan Prieto prepared to leave his home, he dreamed of the possibilities the U.S. offered and wondered what might happen to his family while he was gone.
“At first I was really excited, but as the date became closer, I started to realize what was really going on,” Juan Prieto said. “I would see (my family) again, but it would be four years, and who knew if they would be in jail or even be alive because of my government, so I kind of started thinking about all of that.”
He began thinking about his home, what he would leave behind and how he would adjust to living in the U.S.
“I always thought of my home as being the place where your loved ones were — sort of a peace temple where you knew everything was going to be OK,” Juan Prieto said. “Whenever things started to go wrong, I didn’t feel like I had lost my home even though I did no longer feel safe in it. When I lived through the bad that was going on in my country, I wanted to get out of there so badly that I started thinking of the U.S. as being my real home, that I was just kind of in a waiting room waiting to get my one-way ticket out of Venezuela. However, when I came to the U.S., a weird sense of patriotism took over my spirit. I felt so bad for abandoning my homeland … I wanted to go back so bad, I even thought that I should have died fighting instead of just running away like a coward. That’s when I really felt like Venezuela was my home.”
Juan Prieto began at Harding in January 2015 as a biomedical engineering major. After his first semester, the government prevented his family from attaining American dollars via currency exchange to pay for tuition. According to the CIA website, this trend was universal across the country. The CIA reported that the Venezuelan government’s response to the declining economy was to increase state control, especially that on currency exchange. Mr. Juan Prieto Sr. , Juan Prieto’s father, then found a temporary job in Ohio to earn money. Within a year, the rest of his family came to the U.S. and settled in Orlando.
Back in Venezuela, the family lived comfortably, according to Mrs. Maria Prieto, Juan Prieto’s mother. She owned and managed a preschool, and Mr. Prieto owned his own business within the oil industry.
“We loved what we did,” Mrs. Prieto said. “Our jobs were not heavy weight on us because we loved what we did and that made it be much easier … We had what was necessary, and we were not missing anything.”
The family first shared a home with another Venezuelan family, and Mr. and Mrs. Prieto became housekeepers for hotels.
“When I got here, I had to do a job I really wasn’t used to doing,” Mrs. Prieto said. “Back at home, I used to pay people to clean my house for me and now I had to do that very same thing. It was a brutal change. I don’t think it was bad or anything, it was just kind of shocking to go from what I loved to cleaning. It affected me emotionally, but I know it is worth it and it will always be. It is the sacrifices that parents do for their children and their education.”