A to Z

Two Latin American diasporas in Arizona

By: - September 25, 2018 11:00 am
Yesenia Perez and daughters
Yesenia Perez (center) poses for a photo with her two daughters at a gathering in Phoenix to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Maria. Perez survived the hurricane and moved from Aibonito, Puerto Rico to Gilbert. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Did you catch Nelly Gonzalez saying this week how hard it is to send basic necessities to her family in Venezuela?

She said it’s easier and more reliable for her to travel there in person, than to ship a package to South America. Gonzalez’s anecdote opens a window into the reach of the crisis in Venezuela, and how its effects are felt in communities far from its borders.

Last week, another Arizona community that’s far from home marked the first anniversary of the deadly hurricane that tore through Puerto Rico and its people. Entire families like Yesenia Perez and her two daughters who survived Hurricane Maria have come to Arizona for a new life.

Both Venezuela and Puerto Rico are undergoing deep population losses.

According to the UN, more than 1.6 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015, mostly arriving to neighboring countries.

Some of them have landed here in Arizona.

Gonzalez isn’t one of them. She arrived in Phoenix in 2006, before Venezuela descended into political chaos, its economy collapsed and its people starved. But she’s part of the diaspora. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela touches her and her family. Census data from 2017 shows there are about 2,000 Venezuelans living in Arizona.

Claudio Medina Rivera from the Puerto Rican Center of Arizona said there are about 50,000 Puerto Ricans in the state, but no one has official figures on how many have moved to Arizona since Hurricane Maria.

Between 2005 and 2015, Puerto Rico had a net loss of about 446,000 people to the mainland, according to the Pew Research Center. Puerto Rico’s government estimates that, by the end of this year, 200,000 more people will haveleft the island, according to the Washington Post.

Lilian Ortiz, who has lived in Phoenix for 14 years, is part of the Puerto Rican diaspora. She said the time and distance don’t weaken her deep connections to the island, or the amount of pain she’s felt from Maria’s disaster.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.