New York has given me that Refuge
In this film, refugee South Asian LGBTQ+ activist Barbara Khan talks about her migration from Pakistan and her life in New York as a trans woman.
Are you homesick at all? Would you like to return to Venezuela?
Yeah, honestly, I keep doing everything to go back one day, be able to rebuild my country and to support the reconstruction of the society. Before you would have asked me that question and right away, I would say like: Yes, I can just not wait for the day to come. Right now, be more realistic. I know that might be far away, but that day will come sooner or later. The difference of my response before would have been like: I cannot go wait to go back and live and die in Venezuela. I just now can add, or I could only say that I cannot wait to be able to visit it back again, but I’m not sure if it would be a possibility for me over life again completely be back home.
What are your most potent memories of home that you experience?
Maybe this is too much talking, but part of my therapy that I started in during the pandemic to finally address the PTSD and all the trauma that I’ve experienced back home. Ever since I have a dream of being in Venezuela, like every night, I dream about being in Venezuela, mixing all the people from here from there. I guess the more I visit, at least in my dreams, and yes, I miss my country in general. But what I miss the most is my people, like the ways that we were able to be ourselves among ourselves.
Do you feel like a person who’s in exile? Do you carry that around with you, that feeling that you’re in exile from your country?
Yes, especially by the fact that I cannot go back. If I even want it, so I know people that go back to their countries or go and travel to other countries… Let’s say they already got their asylum and now they are at their residency level, so it’s at different stages of refugee status too. And at the one I am right now; I still cannot even leave the US. In that sense, I always feel like an expat, like I cannot go to the borders, I cannot go to any officials that officially if I don’t want to make sure to be kicked out of here. So that is always in the back of my head.
What role does your mother tongue play in your life? So Spanish. Do you think in Spanish?
I do. But lately I feel like I’m in this mix of English – Spanglish. So I never was like that, but I have some Puerto Rican friend that I’ve been blaming about it because he talks a lot Spanish and English and I’m like: Come on, I’m saying something that doesn’t make sense to nobody. Yes, yeah, I guess right now I have a mix, especially when I try to speak Spanish. I am like: Wait, this is my mother language like a native language and why am I missing or saying things that doesn’t make sense at all… I still have one of my roommates from Spain. So I still have it at home at least and some friends in New York around who also speak a lot of Spanish. So yeah, I keep thinking a lot in Spanish, but lately it’s more like 60 Spanish, 40 English or 50/50 now.
How do you see yourself in New York, do you feel like you’re part of the city, or do you still feel like an outsider?
I mean every day I wake up in this city, it’s a blessing, I feel like in a movie, I feel like no matter where you go… I was walking the street the other day and I’ve been here living here for almost six years, and I never walked that street before. So, I was like: Damn… you never stop getting to know New York City. Even if you’ve been here for a long time. But that at the same time as I mentioned earlier, going out there and having at least one person, two people, three that say “hi” to me on the streets or randomly come and say “hello”. It’s a good feeling that makes me feel like: I’m home. It’s like when back home I could see somebody I remember we saw “Fulanito” and somebody on the train or the bus or the library, whatever. That is happening to me here in New York more and more even at the beach. So, it’s like: Ok, I’m becoming a New Yorker, I guess. That feeling is so good.
Eric is a political refugee, co-founder of a political party from Venezuela and activist originally from Caracas, born in 1988. He was forced to leave his country in 2014 because of the regime and the dictatorship in Venezuela. In 2020 he has recieved a scholarship from Columbia University. Currently he is living in New York and is actively supporting the refugees and migrants from Venezuela. Eric is seen as the consul of Venezuela in New York.
Interview conducted by the We Refugees Archive team with Eric in the summer of 2022. The interview was edited for length and clarity.