Lo Que Tuve Que Soltar

Daniela Rivera Antara

2020 - Ongoing


"Lo que tuve que soltar", meaning "what I had to let go of" comes from one of the conversations I had with Marisol on a late-January Sunday before she had to go to work at around 9.30am. It puts into perspective the steps she took during her process in migration and adaptation.

This project began inspired by a Venezuelan woman I met called Maria who works with my mothers friend as her house keeper. We spoke in October 2019 about the fear she felt on the growing xenophobia and sensationalism that was being fired up through peruvian media and tabloids. She had developed so much anxiety that she did not leave the house or go out with the very few people she knew in Lima, as she did not want to get harrassed or possibly killed.

Over the last 3 years, the incoming Venezuelan population started growing quickly in Lima. 58% of Venezuelan immigrants in Peru are women, making it over 800,000 women (ACNUR), 59% between the ages of 18 and 24, 68% without access to higher education, and 88% working informally. Informal work means lower wages, not getting paid, work extra hours and having to endure harrassment. The Unidad de Analisis de Economia from the Banco Central de Reserva of Peru showed that Venezuelans earn on average 35% less than minimum wage, which is 961 Peruvian Sols a month, around $270 USD with women receiving worse salaries due to their gender.

A lot of cultural differences began poping up from both sides too, one of them being the unaddressed sexism and consertavism of Peruvian culture and the normalization of violence towards women. Marina Navarro from Amnesty International in Peru stated clearly that Venezuelans are being subject to xenophobia with a clear difference in sexual violence and harrasment in comparison to Peruvian women. Derrogatory attitudes towards Venezuelan woman being labeled as man-hunters and prostitutes due to their quote on quote desperate situation coined the term "Veneca". Coming from the word Veneco which means Venezuelan-Colombian. It turned into a categorization of Venezuelan women as promiscuous, sexual predators and highliting their bodies for being more volutuous, desirable and "dangerous" to the Catholic integrity of Peruvian society while also highlighting the lack of respect towards the female body.

In 2019, Defensoria del Pueblo in Peru recorded 168 cases of reported feminicides, the highest recorded feminicides in a year within the last decade. By the 21st of January 2020, 15 cases had already been reported. The Ministerio de la Mujer y Poblaciones Vulnerables (Peru) stated that only 29% of Peruvian women report situations of violence and Venezuelans were less likely to report violence due to feelings of distrust of police, security officials and policy and regulations that keep on changing for Venezuelan immigrants. From female populations, those with higher chances of suffering from sexual violence are girls, older women, lesbians, bi, trangender, migrants, refugees and indigenous populations (ACNUR).

If as a peruvian woman there is already a lack of intervention and action from the judicial system, as a Venezuelan access to health care and security is hardly existent. The Centros de Emergencia de la Mujer in 2018 reported that from 326 offices only 52 around the country atended issues on feminicide and 87 did not attend migrants.

In 2018 less the 1% of crimes commited in Peru were done by Venezuelans, however, due to heavy sensationalist press coverage, xenophobia around the country has increased creating situations of eviction, abuse, taunting and threats. It is now common to find all forms of graffiti saying VENECO PSICOPATA or VENECOS DESCUARTIZADORES, meaning psychopaths or murderers (specifically referred to dismemberment). One of the women I photographed joked that if the Pope died, Peruvians would be blaiming a Venezuelan.

Knowing the context, these are women that volunteered to speak to me and invited me into their personal spaces during their time off work (usually on a Sunday). They are women that have been working in service or at Peruvian homes since they arrived to Lima. I got to meet them through word of mouth and I am still looking to contact other women this way, as I realised there is a lot of fear, antagonism and anxiety due to the xenophobia and stereotyping within the city.

I focused on bright colours as a way to highlight their expressions in spaces of stillness and quiet but to also reference the colours of the carribbean. I consider this fundamental for the project as a lot of the misunderstandings between Peruvians and Venezuelans come from the very distinct cultural differences in warmth and charisma, something I believe could be good to add to Peruvian culture. I also wanted to offer intimate images as a form of opposition to the sensationalism circulating in Peruvian newspapers and to offer a grounded look at women adapting to Lima, a city I consider hostile, that resists change and seems to forget it's existance within the world of unsettling political regimes, forced migration, climate urgency and women's rights. I cannot ignore how history repeats itself, as once it was Peruvians fleeing terrorism to find a better life in Venezuela and abroad, and finding situations of rejection but also integration. A past experience that could remind Peruvians of the need for empathy and internal evaluation.

The photos have been taken with 24mm and 35mm lenses meaning I have had to be very close, something that would not have been possible outside of the intimacy of their homes. Keeping in mind the context, I decided to document their surroundings to ground us on the reality of their existance as people along with the willingness to build on what has been lost. I got to spend more time with Nakhia and Marisol, therefore as a continuation of the project I would be looking to keep on looking for other women within the city, working in other areas and possibly expanding on relationships, work, goals and the integration of Venezuelan culture within Lima and around Peru.

As an ongoing project which started in January, I hope to continue working on this project starting mid March/April onwards.

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  • Marisol on her way out for work at 9.30am on a Sunday in Lima, Perú.
    She travelled with her daughter Nakhia, the boyfriend and her son by bus during the 2016 huaycos of Piura and had to be flown into Lima on an Hercules (a brazilian military plane). She worked various jobs such as cleaning a gym, a promoter for a dentist and cooking. At almost 60 years of age she experienced all forms of harrassment and inappropriate groping and is currently in a complicated relationship with a Peruvian man.

    "My kids got offended that I did not remember we spent my birthday together crossing the border of Peru and Ecuador. But it just slipped my mind. It is one of those things I have been slowly forgetting...

    Before coming here I thought I was coming to a first world country. My daughter kept on saying that everything we would be looking for Peru would have it. It was extremely difficult for me, as everything I had to let go of I had put together over the years. Now I have made it a bit of a joke. There is a lot of advancement in Peru and a lot of resources. But I had a lot of reality checks during these last 3 years. First we realised Lima was not like what we saw in Google. I also wanted to create a small business and this was my intention, to be able to add to the peruvian economy. I had big dreams but the reality is that making an income to build a small business is not easy. The legal system keeps on changing for us and I don't want to do anything informal."

  • Isabel, with a hamza pendant, sitting on her bed in a room she shares with her son and daughter in law Maria José in a barrio called San Juan de Miraflores in Lima.

    "I am terrified every day. If I am on a bus, I do not speak to anyone. I have stopped talking to people because I don't want them to know I am Venezuelan. If I am in an Uber I monitor it very carefully. I don't know what would happen to me if the driver did not follow the route. I would jump out of the car. You watch and read the news and it just makes you want to disappear.

    Mi amor this and mi amor that. That is how we speak to each other. We are very warm and we like to flatter and joke but that is just who we are. I have been here less than a year and I would go back to Venezuela to stay away from this harrasment."

    I had not planned to speak to Isabel, as I had been put in contact with Maria Jose through Yamilcris, her cousin. She did not warm up as quickly as Maria Jose but when Isabel started speaking, she was close to yelling, making her fear and frustration very apparent. I sat on their bed as she ranted and reminisced. Isabel works as a stylist in a barber shop owned by a Venezuelan man, where she feels safe and at home.

  • Yamilet, lives in a small room with her daughter Yamilcris, her son, grandson and son in law.

    She arrived to Lima after her daughter and currently works as a house keeper. She had a really bad experience working at a restaurant where she was constaly sexually harrassed and yelled at without getting paid for her extra hours or without being able to complain to the manager in fear she would not get paid or in fear of her safety. It took an hour before she started speaking to me, finding her voice and manner to be quite soft and gentle. She has a very light sense of humour but when I started photographing her, her face went serious with her eyes looking away softly, pondering.

    "Do not call me veneca. It is not in my plans to steal someones husband. That is something I do not understand, here in Lima, women treat us even worse than men. At least you know a man would be physically violent, but a woman will make the sterotypes that are already formed about us even worse. There should be more understanding between women, but the judicial system does not favour us, not even as a peruvian."

  • Maria José, from Yaracuy, watching DirecTV after painting her nails. She is 24 and 2 months pregnant.
    "Venezuelan women love to look beautiful. We dress well and we are very lively. Here people do not understand that it is part of our culture. They look at it as if we were exposing our bodies sexually when all we are doing is just feeling good about ourselves.

    I do not want my child to grow up feeling this unsafe, specially as a girl. I want to go back to studying in Venezuela. Biology is my passion, but for now I am doing what I have to do to save up to move away with my husband."

    Maria Jose spoke without taking a breath for one hour straight. It was really entertaining to listen to her as she kept on making jokes and acting out her own reactions to fear or situations of stress she had experienced, making us all laugh in the room. Her story was very straightforward though, even as she tried to keep up her humour and her tenderness.

  • Nakhia, 28, currently working at a cafe in Miraflores. Nakhia remembered her past experiences working at other restaurants with one particular man stalking her for a few months as she eased into her new life in Lima. She recalled switching jobs to a very opposite side of town and one day finding the same man waiting for her outside of the restaurant. He said he had seen her walking by and that he recognized her by her rear end.

  • Yamilet and Yamilcris from San Felipe, Yaracuy, Venezuela.

  • Yamilcris (27) and her son Luca (2) who had just woken up from a long nap.

    "I travelled by bus with my husband when I was 4 months pregnant. Now we have been able to get the foreigners permit in Peru because my son was born in Lima so we don't have to leave.

    I was sitting on a bench by the park and my husband who saw me from a distance said Yamil, look at you, you look like a little bird trying to chirp on your own. It has gotten quite lonely, specially overhearing conversations in buses or when we were crossing the border signaling at us and calling us murderers. I want to go back to study in Venezuela but my husband does not want to stay here on his own. I think being alone would kill him. Before my mum moved to Lima, I would cry every day. The loneliness and isolation was devastating for me.

    We know we are in a foreign country and we know we are being taken in. I have had to keep my mouth shut so many times because I know this is not my country."

    Yamilcris is the wife of one of the security guards of the building I live in. She has been working as a house keeper and she was the first person I spoke to for this project. Her husband was sleeping with Luca as we spoke for almost 3 hours. She later confessed that this was the first time she got to speak about this during the time they had been living in Lima.

  • Paolas little cousin. She was born in Ecuador to Venezuelan parents and now they live in Lima.

  • "I regret not spending more time with my parents now. Had I known this would have happened I would have savoured every moment because now there is no chance I will be with them again. The sticker we now get to validate our Venezuelan passports is about to expire for me so I have to figure out what I will be doing. I tried getting the passport permit for my parents in Chile but processing time is around one year.

    Back in Maracaibo I knew my friends had my back all the time. Here I just don't know who to rely on. I started developing a lot of anxiety in the last few months before enrolling in Flamenco, something I had not experienced before. I have my Venezuelan friends but I find it difficult to form friendships without feeling worried. I don't even know how I could start developing a romantic relationshiip here.

    It is so common to feel people groping my body on the combi or on the bus. By now I just elbow them and move on with my day."

    Paola (28) studied engineering and currently works at customer service. We met a few months ago in a Flamenco academy but this was the first time we got to properly speak.

  • At around 9.45am, after Marisol left for work. Her brother had gone out to enjoy the day and her boyfriend was still sleeping.

    When I first spoke to Nakhia she described the journey from Caracas to Lima as the biggest odyssey of her life. It gave me the feeling that what she had been living through felt more like fiction than reality. As we would say, la realidad supera la ficción (reality exceeds fiction).

    Nakhia left Caracas after her boyfriend was encarcerated during a peaceful protest and was kept as a political prisoner. He was placed in one of the most dangerous detention centers called Helicoide and was only released after the intervention of José Vicente Haró a famous human rights lawyer. Nakhia remembers not knowing anything about him for 2 weeks. She didn't eat for days until she was able to locate him, having searched for him all over Caracas and its surroundings.

    "I keep on telling my mum that history repeats itself. My grandfather arrived to Venezuela as he was fleeing Francos dictatorship. And now we are looking to go to Spain."

    In this photo I tried to capture her through the lens of light and shadow that we find in rennaisance paintings, with simple and intimate imagery.

  • Nakhia (28) a few doors away from her house in Comas on a Sunday morning in January.

  • Yamilcris and Yosbert, her younger half brother. He was being cheeky and she wanted him to be presentable but his hair was all over the place.

  • Maria Jose, her husband and mother who was visiting from Venezuela as she announced that Kobe Bryant had died with his daughter.

  • Outside the house in San Juan de Miraflores, where Maria Jose and Isabel live.

  • Marisol, following her son Kevin (25) as he accompanies her to the bus stop to go to work.

    "Something my children don't quite understand is that I am afraid of cutting all communication with this man. I am not sure if he is capable of going crazy and I do not want to find out. It has been my first relationship since the father of my children but I cannot stop thinking that maybe if I help him he will overcome his jealousy. He has called me Veneca before and said that we are all the same. I just don't know how I could sustain a relationship if he does not trust me or if he believes I would be unfaithful. I worry for younger girls more specially with all the news that circulate. There was a young Venezuelan women who jumped from a 4th floor because she overheard a group of peruvian men saying they were going to rape and kill her.

    If I get harrassed and threatened as an older woman with more life experience, I can't even imagine what a girl would go through."

  • Nakhia inside her living room with Goliat.

  • Going up stairs to the roof top to watch the sunset after Marisol arrived home from work.

  • Marisol, Nakhia, Kevin and Yoel with their dog. The laundry line had fallen down so they were running to fix it.

  • Kevin, Marisol, Nakhia and her boyfriend Yoel.

    During the sunset, after having had long conversations, I wanted to get a photo of all of them together which turned into a series of photos with mild humour in a family dynamic. In this photo, Kevin quickly said "pretend you are suffering" and dropped his head, while Marisol stared to the distance and Nakhia tried getting them to calm down.

    I found this sense of humour, something I had witnessed before amongst Latin Americans but that I had not fully noticed as a very distinct cultural trait amongst Venezuelans. The joking and humour that comes along with difficult stories.

  • Sunset from the rooftop of the apartment in Comas, a northern district of Lima. Around one hour away by car from the malecón (the waterfront).

    Marisol, Nakhia, Kevin and Yoel live together in this house where they have individual rooms. Over the 3 years they moved houses constantly, previously having lived in one small room the four of them together. Kevin wanted to move out, but when he was looking around for places, many people rejected him instantly, saying that they did not want a Venezuelan as a tenant.

    Nakhia said that she thought the sunsets from the rooftop were even more beautiful than by the malecon.