I could hear people screaming and the sound of shots. I ran like never before and took cover behind a tree. A bullet whizzed by so close to my ear that I could feel the wind whistling.
I was in the middle of a huge civic protest against Venezuela's repressive government. The ruling party had not only allowed their followers to shoot at the opposition, but had encouraged it. So as soon as we reached the closing road to the Voting Center, the center of our meet-up, we heard the sound of gunfire. We were trapped on an avenue that is completely open and visible, so even when we ran, there was no place to hide.
I kneeled in the driveway of a building nearby, my ears still ringing with the sound. I prayed for my life and promised myself I would find a way to overcome my fears and start a new life in freedom.
I made it through that day and made good on my promise. I sold what I had and left for the USA. I started to read everything in English, studied as much as I could to learn the language, and jumped on that plane, the vast unknown before me.
At first, I found myself homeless, with no money or place to live. But I began volunteering to help an American family and was able to live with them as I cleaned houses for friends to get a little money. I could not find full-time work because my of visa. I was discouraged and about to give up on getting an education -- but then I got a scholarship to study the Arts, and change swept into my life.
The first semester I cried and doubted myself; even though I did well, I thought every day might be my last. But then I started to see that I had things to say. My eagerness to learn and to take advantage of the opportunity soon worked to my advantage and I began to take flight. Having the right to use my voice and not be punished made me stronger and event defiant. I started to drink it all in. Libraries! We didn't have libraries back home.
I worked really hard (and then harder!) until I got a Masters degree and graduated with Honors. Just as importantly, I realized that expressing myself through the Arts was the way that I could live the free life that I had always hoped for. No regime can overpower art and emotion. No one can silence music. At the end of my studies, I was asked what made me who I was and how, during everything I had gone through, I kept dreaming, hoping, and forging ahead. I told them: because I look for beauty and poetry in life. In spite of all the things I have seen, I believe in people. And I believe in myself.
I returned home to Venezuela and now am working to share that vision. My time in the US showed me how resourceful I can be and I want to pass that on to others. I teach art, lead workshops, write articles, and do whatever I can to express myself. I don't look for talent in my students -- I look for wonder and for an appreciation of life. Those are the qualities that got me where I am today.
I realized that I am always who I am no matter the environment. I expect great things of myself, and I know I will deliver.