In their search for political asylum, Yenny and her children escaped Venezuela in 2015 to make their way to the United States. Unable to speak or understand English but with a determination to master the language, Yenny approached the task with the same vigor she had called on to earn her university accounting degree and her commitment as an academic tutor to adults while in Venezuela. Language acquisition became her major goal while at the same time pursuing all channels to earn a living. During the pandemic she pooled her talents, including her musical abilities, to create instructional videos to teach Spanish online to children. As you listen to her story, you will be amazed at how much English she has acquired in such a short time. I caught up with Yenny by phone after the pandemic was well underway. At that time, resilient as ever, she was already teaching online and delivering packages for Amazon. The music you’re hearing at the start of this introduction is a tiny sampling of Yenny’s playing as she joined in a family celebration.
In their search for political asylum, Yenny and her children escaped Venezuela in 2015 to make their way to the United States. Unable to speak or understand English but with a determination to master the language, Yenny approached the task with the same vigor she had called on to earn her university accounting degree and to fulfill her commitments as an academic tutor to adults while in Venezuela. Language acquisition became her major goal while at the same time pursuing all channels to earn a living. During the pandemic she pooled her talents, including her musical abilities, to create instructional videos to teach Spanish online to children. As you listen to her story, you will be amazed at how much English she has acquired in such a short time. I caught up with Yenny by phone after the pandemic was well underway. At that time, resilient as ever, she was already teaching online and delivering packages for Amazon. The music you’re hearing at the start of this introduction is a tiny sampling of Yenny’s playing as she joined in a family celebration.
Deborah: Could you tell us a story about what was going on for you and why you decided to leave Venezuela?
Yenny: Of course. I came to this country because I worked for the Venezuelan government and I was persecuted for thinking differently from the autocratic regime that has dominated for more than 20 years and led to the worst social, moral, and economic situation in the history of my country. I want to say of Venezuela, Venezuela is my country of origin but I feel right now that the United States is my country. The final straw came when my children were threatened and persecuted. The communist party is known for punishing dissenters, particularly protesting university students. When my two college-age children noticed that they were being followed, the family made plans to leave. My daughter was the first to think about leaving Venezuela. To be here means an opportunity to be free. Coming here our lives were saved. Literally.
Deborah: How soon did you leave after you decided to leave? How fast did you make it happen?
Yenny: The situation in Venezuela is worse every day. And if I go back to my country, I can be attacked.
Deborah: That was definitely life-threatening for you and your children.
Deborah: Did anybody come to harm, actual physical harm?
Yenny: Yes. Because my name is registered national list to control people who were employees for the government and left from the country to the United States.
Deborah: I see.
Yenny: They consider we are their enemies.
Deborah: Wow. I know you said you miss your mother. She’s still there, right?
Deborah: And then your brother had a terrible accident and you couldn’t go.
Yenny: Exactly. Because my immigrant situation is applicant for political asylum. I am waiting for an interview to definitely know if the United States accepts me and my children and my family to live here.
Deborah: Is the interview setup yet?
Yenny: No. Right now the process is, maybe three years and a half exactly. Waiting for this interview.
Deborah: It’s nerve wracking. It’s makes you probably nervous to not know when you’re going to have that interview and what your status is for your children.
Yenny: And during this three and a half year or four years living here we are learning a lot. We are working and I’m waiting and praying for our situation because we don’t want to go back to Venezuela.
Deborah: Your life is in danger if you do.
Yenny: I wish to have my documents also to go to a near country maybe to meet with my mother in Colombia. It’s a good place. It’s a good country. I can meet with my mother.
Deborah: Is she well enough to journey to a place like that to meet you?
Yenny: Yes. She would need to travel to Colombia. My mother can’t travel to the United States because she doesn’t have a visa and this is very difficult. However, during the time we are learning, being helped by a lot of people here, a lot of institutions like the Gardner Pilot Academy. When I came to the United States, really I didn’t know what will happen here. My life in Venezuela was a good life with possibilities. Economic possibilities. I could have my own home. I had a good job. I had even some luxuries.
Yenny: But with the regime, I left everything
because my life and then my children’s life was and is the most important for me.
Deborah: That must have taken a lot of courage.
Yenny: Yes it is.
Deborah: How did you get to the States? Did you fly from Venezuela to Mexico or someplace in between?
Yenny: We came flying with visa. Really when we came, our situation was better than the situation for a lot of people I have known here. I meant to tell you about my career.
So Many Talents/09:04
Deborah: Okay. Yes. I’m so impressed with your resume.
Yenny: About my career and my abilities. I want to say that my mother was a teacher was an educator and she promoted my abilities, my love for studying and she supported my interests, different interests.
Deborah: You have so many interests.
Deborah: I like that.
Yenny: My interests, as specifically, are numbers. I love numbers. For that I studied in accountability. And music and I can play several instruments like guitar, electronic organ.
Deborah: Yeah. What is that instrument you said you brought with you? The guitar and a
C U A D R O. Cuadro?
Yenny: Is smaller than a guitar and has four strings.
Deborah: Oh, hence the name “four.”
Yenny: Exactly. Four in Spanish is cuadro. About numbers, but the instrument name, names cuadro too. And my job in Venezuela was in a government office tax collection manager. And at the same time I was a teacher too. I have two jobs for a long time teaching and a full-time working for the government.
Deborah: Wow. That’s a heavy schedule with children too.
Yenny: Yes. I wish to apply my number abilities here in the United States, but at the same time, I think when I was working in Venezuela, I left to enjoy my musical hobbies. For example, I enjoyed it less than I wanted to enjoy.
Deborah: Are you saying that in Venezuela you didn’t have enough time to pursue your hobbies?
Yenny: Exactly. Here I work with music teaching and doing activities that I love and right now my priority is to advance learning English. Right now I am thinking a lot about what is my way what is my vocation? Because I have different interests, but I want to find what to do now and in the future. This is a question that I have still. When I came here, my first job was in a beauty salon. Working with cosmetology. This is a hobby for me doing this activity eventually. But I have more and more opportunities teaching Spanish, working with music. Right now I special satisfaction because in this situation because of the Covid-19, I am working online.
Deborah: I saw the video of you. You look very, very excited about the work you were doing, where you were moving and speaking.
Yenny: This is the first time I am teaching children online. I worked a lot in Venezuela with adults because I helped with theses before the grade. I don’t know how to say this very well, but I worked about methodology, investigation.
Deborah: And sounds like you were an academic tutor.
Yenny: Exactly. Like tutor like mentor. This is an investigation previous the grade, previous the graduation. That was required to becoming a professional. Maybe here it’s the same. I don’t know. I worked with adults for a long time but right now I’m working with children.
Deborah: How old are the children that you’re working with?
Yenny: I am working with children from toddlers to fifth grade.
Deborah: Toddlers to the fifth grade.
Deborah: That’s a wide range.
Yenny: The most of the groups are toddlers, kinder, pre-school. But I have two groups. One of them are second grade and fifth grade. And it’s special to work for them.
Deborah: Do you feel like when you’re teaching that way using music and language and your body moving everything that you’re using all of your interests in one place?
Yenny: Exactly. I feel very well because I can speak Spanish. I can do that I love and that I do well. And I need my English when I am teaching inside. They have helped me with my English when they say something in front of me. I learn pronunciation. I learned expressions in English. We are teaching each other.
Deborah: Sounds like a very satisfying career right now.
Yenny: And right now for my age I think the best idea is to have my own business. And I continue working with cosmetology, but right now I am opening my mind about to build something I don’t know very well. What is a good idea for me. But something in relation with teaching, with mentoring, with tutoring, with education.
Deborah: Yes. You mentioned life coaching. You’ve done some of that.
Yenny: And I studied coaching and neuro-linguistic programming and some areas in relation with this field of education because I love this activity. Like a job, like a hobby, like a profession. And I think right now I need to focus my efforts on my main goals. And my main goals are first work. Of course, I need to work a lot. Because I have responsibilities here and in Venezuela my mom is my responsibility for example, and spend time to improve my English. When I think what I would change before to came to the United States, the answer it is my English. Because if I can communicate better, I can express at least part that I know or that I have experienced. I can move. I can be productive. I can feel confident or more confident in this country.
Deborah: Well, I think you’re doing well with English and as your former ESOL teacher, your writing is extremely good.
Yenny: Thank you.
Deborah: You express yourself in English, written English, not only is your handwriting beautiful, but you write very well. Maybe finding a conversation partner would be good for you in terms of working on your English.
Yenny: I know and I want to find a way to practice more. And really I have the best opportunity at home because I live with American people. But we’re speaking a Spanish almost all the time. And this is some comfortable to me but I need to do more effort in this in this aspect. Maybe speaking like this call or in this way. This can help me because I have different topics in my mind. I try to be calm, but I am thinking frequently for example, about my mom, about my assets in Venezuela, about our situation here. About my children, about money, and I prefer to go to work. And after that I am tired and I don’t want to study. And I don’t know.
Deborah: In English you would say you’re burnt out at the end of the workday. It’s called burnout when it’s like you’ve used up your energy for the day after your work and you just don’t want to use your brain anymore. It’s very normal when you’re working hard.
Yenny: These days during the quarentine, I have been extremely anxious to go to work, to have money, to send money to my mom, to solve different situations. And I am afraid to because I want to be healthy.
Deborah: Are you able to get enough work just doing the remote teaching, doing the videos?
Yenny: I want more hours to teach. This is a new idea. This is my new project. We are receiving people who is interested in the classes, in the online classes. And I have some hours. In addition, I work with Amazon.
Yenny: Amazon. And I want to leave to work with them but I need to be careful.
Deborah: What kind of work do you do for them?
Yenny: I deliver packages for Amazon.
Deborah: Are you wearing a face mask?
Yenny: Yes. I have gloves. I have alcohol. I have everything that I can use to protect myself. I am afraid.
Deborah: Sure. This is a very unusual situation around the world. I’m used to working at home and being alone and living alone. So in some ways my life is absolutely the way it always is. But then when I go outside and everything’s closed and I get frightened then. I feel like the world has turned upside down.
Yenny: Right now I have a thought maybe this is an opportunity to discover different ways to communicate, for example, this way. And to think work more from home and I want to know about options to work more from home. I am doing my classes with love and with all my effort, but I need to be more productive.
Deborah: You need more work. Tell me. How do you do your videos? What are you using? What is the technology that you’re using to create your videos?
Yenny: Starting using my tablet, my computer really. I am doing my first medias. And when I have classes we use the Zoom platform. We are teaching through Zoom. And for now it works. But I don’t like the clarity or the sound. Maybe we need to improve this technology. I don’t know.
Deborah: With so many people working at home and using Zoom and things like it there’s going to be more improvement. But before that happens, I think there’s going to be a sort of traffic jam on the internet because before the epidemic, before the pandemic two million people used Zoom and then afterwards 200 million people are using zoom. I’ve been using Zoom for over four years. I taught creative writing in China for four years through Zoom. I was just curious when you’re dancing and using your body to express words. Do you have a tripod set up where you have your phone or do you have a camera or are you using your tablet to record yourself?
Yenny: My tablet only. Most of the time my tablet because like the image resolution more than my computer for example. Sometimes I can use my cell phone too. It works. It works, but I don’t know. I feel comfortable with my tablet.
Deborah: And are you recording an iMovie?
Yenny: I record in my tablet. After I save in Google drive for the program.
Deborah: So are your videos on YouTube?
Yenny: These videos are private, uniquely for example for Our Ladies Academy. I teach there in Waltham or for Regis College in Waban. One for TLC in Wayland or for this is exclusive service to these schools. I was thinking about a YouTube channel on different topics in education, music. Something like different arts or I don’t know, something like that. More general.
Deborah: It sounds like you could create a platform and then every week have a different topic. Not just narrow it down to music or maybe one week, it’s an art project, and one week it’s a math project, and one week—it’s to use all your talents.
Tell me, Yenny, what do you do to calm down when you’re feeling nervous and frightened either by this pandemic or just in general with your situation in life? What do you do to stay calm?
Yenny: Sincerely? I am eating. Eating more than normal.
Deborah: Me too!
Yenny: But also I love to play my cuadro and I am writing some music to play in my class and practice my classes. This is good for me. I miss my children a lot.
Deborah: Where are your children now?
Yenny: My children live near to me but they have their own apartments.
Deborah: Oh. I see.
Yenny: My daughter is married. She lives in her apartment with her husband, her daughter, her mother and father-in-law too. My son lives near me with his girlfriend and his two roommates. And we have a lot of good people here. We meet frequently for dinner.
Deborah: But what about now? Are you able to get together?
Yenny: Eventually like we usually meet. For example yesterday was my granddaughter’s birthday and we has a big plan to celebrate in a nice party only I couldn’t spend a lot of time all day with my daughter with my granddaughter but I had more than twenty days without to see them. It is difficult. Weekends.
Deborah: So did you get together online in Zoom?
Yenny: Sometimes. Sometimes because my daughter continues working. She’s a manager in a restaurant in South Boston and they continue on in “to go” and still normally. But almost normally already. It is not normal.
Deborah: Nothing’s normal anymore. Well, this was great talking with you, Yenny. Given everything you’ve been through, you’re a very resilient person. You have a lot of strengths. You have so many interests and so much talent that you pull yourself up and you should feel proud of yourself.
Yenny: Yes. I have different interests. It is good but it is bad too. I talk with you about that because it is confusing. Sometimes I think it is a better idea to do for example teaching and I continue working and thinking about cosmetology but I feel it is more better money, more solid the field of education. I don’t know. Maybe in the future I can combine education with some service in cosmetology. For now I am teaching online with ABC Spanish in Motion and I am very very grateful because I have the opportunity to work. And I live to deliver packages for Amazon and this is excellent because the tips have been very very good.
Deborah: People appreciate what you’re doing. You’re risking a lot by being out and about.
Yenny: Yes, it is a risk but sometimes I want to work more. To complete my income and to be able to attend my responsibilities especially with my mother in Venezuela.
Deborah: You have a lot of pressure.
Yenny: The situation is really, really critical in Venezuela right now.
Deborah: I’ve seen in the news. Terrible.
Yenny: Critical, critical. And my mother is 87 years old. It’s not easy. But I feel well because through the time I’m more focused more in calm and I know that I’m going a step by step. Step by a step. When I came here I didn’t know English.
Deborah: You didn’t know English in 2015?
Deborah: Wow. You’ve done very well.
Yenny: I couldn’t understand the people, eh, but I had I really had loki?
Deborah: You were lucky?
Yenny: Exactly. I were lucky becauseI known a lot of Latin people, Hispanic people and could work with Hispanic people. I received a lot of help to learn little by little English. And sometimes I could study sometimes not all, but I have learned.
Deborah: You’re making progress.
Yenny: I want to learn more grammar, more more pronunciation, more more in general. And I have resources really. I have resources. I need to concentrate more on English and I am achieving little by little.
Deborah: Have you ever heard the poem, “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”? Have you ever heard that before?
Deborah: If you know, a yard is three feet. So yard by yard, life is hard. But inch by inch it’s a cinch. Essentially means it’s easy.
Yenny: Okay. Okay.
Deborah: You’re doing it inch by inch and patience is good and you sound like you’re in a good place. Thank you so much for chatting with me and sharing your experience.
Yenny: Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you and thank you for let me feel that I am speaking well or better each time.
Deborah: Oh, you are. I just want to ask you one more question. What advice would you give to somebody thinking about coming to this country? Maybe something you’ve learned or some advice you would give to somebody?
Yenny: Sincerely, please to learn English. If you are willing to come here, you know that you will work. You will learn a lot of things about a new life. And this process is better is easier, if we can speak in English. For me, these are the first: if I can understand earlier, like kind of speak slowly, but I can speak. And with this for me a knowledge about English. I can live. I can live. And I know if I improve my English, I can be better every day. Communicating is their base. Obviously we need first to have a good health and there were a health emotionally, physically that. But English is so very important to learn before coming.
Deborah: Thank you, Yenny. Thank you so much. Thank you. Take care.
Yenny: Bye bye.
Yenny combines humility, intelligence, resilience, determination and stamina. Her adoption of the English language and her gratitude for being safe here have cemented her desire to contribute her talents and expertise in a way that is surely making a difference in the lives of her students and her new friends in this country. Yenny is the perfect example of a lifetime learner as she continues to immerse herself in English and audio visual technology with the attitude that no job or challenge is beneath her.