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New student crosses continents: Navarro comes from Caracas, Venezuela seeking safety, education, bliss

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New student crosses continents: Navarro comes from Caracas, Venezuela seeking safety, education, bliss

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By Ludovica Longo and Katherine Merritt

Navarro

Navarro impresses onlookers with his soccer skills during lunch.

In early November, the morning bell rang as student Jean Carlos Navarro entered the loud, overwhelming halls of Grady for the first time. He briskly walked the crowded hallways unsure of what to expect; it was not only his first time at Grady, but also his first time away from his home country, Venezuela. Never having studied the English language, he resorted to smiles and hand gestures as his only means of communication throughout his first few days.

His journey spanned 1948 miles, four hours and an overnight layover in Miami before touching down at Hartsfield-Jackson airport, where he met his father after nine years of monthly skype calls as their only method of communication. His step-brother, whom he had never met, greeted him with a handmade ‘welcome’ sign. He was soon to be introduced to a new house, his ‘new family’ and a new lifestyle.

The 15-year-old-boy moved to the United States by himself, leaving his mom and the rest of his family without a guarantee that he would ever see them again. His home city, Caracas, named one of the most dangerous cities in the world, would not have been so difficult to leave if it weren’t for his family that raised him there.

“My mom wanted me to come here because she wished I could have a better education,” Navarro said. “Something unattainable in Caracas.”

He lived with his mom and his grandmother, and Navarro said that, although his freedom was very limited, he was happy. Occasionally, he was allowed to drive to school alone, and after school, he would return home to work on homework or hang out with friends. However, due to the extremely high crime rates, teenagers had to be careful when choosing their whereabouts after school. Frequent kidnapping, theft and murder prevented them from hanging out freely.

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, has been a gang and crime hub for the past 20 years. Last year, Venezuela was ranked the most dangerous country in the world by Gallup. The record high violence and crime is mainly due to general discontent, leading to widespread anti-government protests. Murders and kidnappings go unreported, and the government stopped publishing crime data a decade ago.

“The biggest problem in Venezuela is our president,” Navarro said. “He is like a dictator.”

The condition of Caracas 9 years ago pushed Juan Carlos, Navarro’s father, along with 20,000 other Venezuelan citizens, to immigrate to the United States. This year, now that he has gotten older, Navarro followed for the same reasons.

As he adjusts to an entirely new language and lifestyle, Navarro is undergoing the biggest transition of his life thus far. He knew he was going to move since he was 2 years old, but he had to persist through the harm and dangers that surrounded him in Caracas.

“I miss my mom more than anything else,” Navarro said. “But I am going to bring her here as soon as I am 21.”

Day by day, Navarro becomes more familiar with his surroundings and has picked up English surprisingly fast. Navarro plans to join the Grady soccer team and get involved in the arts program. He wants to stay in the United States “forever,” and can see himself becoming an architect.

The journey from Venezuela to the United States has unleashed a whole new realm of freedoms to which Navarro had never been exposed. The challenges that he encountered during the move have allowed Navarro to pursue his passions in a way that Caracas did not allow. He now takes advantage of his safer surroundings and plays soccer and rides his bike whenever time permits. In his spare time, he can be found speeding through the various trails of the Atlanta BeltLine in pure bliss.

 

Miguel Flores contributed to the reporting of this story. Quotes from Navarro were translated from Spanish to English.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the print edition of this story left out Jean Carlos’s last name, Navarro.

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New student crosses continents: Navarro comes from Caracas, Venezuela seeking safety, education, bliss