Recently I met Liliana Reyes when she waited on my table at Frontera Grill in Oxford. She is polite and well-spoken. Her Hispanic accent is different from others, so I asked her where she is from. “Venezuela,” she said. I met Diane Chong five years ago when we played in the same orchestra. She is friendly and humble. Her accent is Oriental, and she is from South Korea.
Both friends, and Liliana’s husband Jose, have been on my mind lately. They have family members who live in two of today’s troubled areas in our world.
Venezuela has a dictator who has dismantled the country’s democracy by dissolving a branch of government. He, and the president before him, shuts down any media that oppose his regime. Sometimes, the dictator directs the killing and imprisoning of Venezuelans in opposing parties.
North Korea has a dictator who threatens the citizens of America and South Korea. His recent actions increased actions near and far regarding the testing of missiles and their development of nuclear weapons.
Because these dictators’ actions have impacted my friends’ lives, I wanted to know more about how they came to the United States and what they felt about their respective home countries. I asked them.
Liliana Reyes and Jose Marin Sosa came to Alabama on Aug. 25, 2016. Jose had previously studied in the United States. His skill at playing baseball earned him a scholarship to a university in Iowa. Connections there landed him a transfer to Talladega College.
After graduation, he returned to Venezuela where he got a job utilizing his degree in business administration and management. He met and married Liliana. She holds a degree from a university in her home country in human resource management. She, too, had a good job.
As the country’s leadership tightened its control over the economy in recent months, the couple found they could not take off from work in order to obtain food. They did not have time to wait for eight hours eight in the rain or sun for a pound of rice from government-controlled stores. The price of food was astronomical. Shopping for food on the black market led to risks of arrest and confiscation of their food. (Basic items such as toilet tissue and medicine are not in the stores.)
Fortunately, the couple had purchased visas for a planned vacation to Talladega to visit his friends. They postponed the trip a few times but eventually decided to leave their family behind when government leaders started following Liliana. They beat Jose, bashed her car, and threatened her extended family, all because some in her family are members of an opposition political party.
The couple walked away from good-paying jobs, a house and furnishings, their cars, and, worst of all, their loved ones. Once in Talladega, friends took them in and promised to help them start over.
“Now we have security, medicine, and food,” Liliana said. Both work at the restaurant but are looking for higher-paying jobs.
For the past 18 years, the couple realized the government leadership was dismantling their democracy, all the while saying Venezuela was still democratic.
“They shut down our media, kicked Hispanic CNN out of the country,” Jose said. “They control the newspapers and radio, control what comedians can say, and slow down the Internet so much that you cannot use it. Our parents call us to find out what is happening there. Of course, we worry about them.”
Diane’s relationship with her home country is better. She came to America more than two and a half decades ago and received a green card that allowed her to work. S
he has been a U.S. citizen now for several years and has the freedom to visit her parents and other family members.
In recent years, she ran a now-closed business and began teaching violin, viola, and piano lessons throughout Calhoun County, which she still does.
“I enjoy being a U.S. citizen,” Diane said. “I have lived here now a long time. I have a son who was born here; and I am busy in my career, which I love.”
She does not worry excessively about threats from North Korea to her family members in South Korea. One reason is that her native countrymen are accustomed to such threats. Next, while she appreciates the military support the United States gives South Korea, she feels that the South Korean government is strong enough to repel threats from other countries. She expresses concern for other Koreans.
“We want the North Koreans to have the same advantages South Koreans enjoy,” said Diane. “We have a very good president. My country of origin has a good insurance system for its citizens, good food supplies, and a high quality of life.”
Understandably, my Korean and Venezuelan friends are appreciative of the kindness shown to them by Alabamians and Americans from other states. That is the way good Americans think. We support people who enter our country through legal means and who work hard to enhance their lives, which has the effect of enhancing ours as well. I hope this country’s attitude of care and concern for those in other countries never changes.
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