Lía, the Venezuelan who created a foundation to help people through the pain of migration through art. She is an industrial designer who arrived in Argentina in 2006. She combined activism with her second passion to help immigrants and refugees.
Lía Valeri: Venezuelan who created the Foundation to Help People Through Art of Migration
“Art is a human refuge,” says Lía Valeri, founder of the Foundation for the Cultural Integration of Migrants and Refugees (FICU). This is an organization that plans cultural activities every month, which not only helps to overcome the grief of migration but has also created job opportunities for some of the artists who have joined the proposals.
FICU was born in 2020 to integrate immigrants and refugees into society, but it also became another means to bring the locals closer to the diversity of cultures that coexist in Argentina.
“The human being is a being in motion. It doesn’t matter where they come from. When people arrive in a country, they have to assume that this culture will be theirs and they have to adapt. That is the challenge, to learn to love the local culture without losing your own,” said Lía in an interview with TN.
“We are convinced of the power of art as a vehicle for integration so that migrants try to make the positive aspects of migration visible. Art is a universal language,“ she stressed. This is the essence of her project, which includes workshops and art exhibitions.
From North to South
Lía was born in the Andean city of Mérida, Venezuela, but spent her last years before emigrating to the Paraguaná peninsula in the north of the country. She lived in an oil field with her two children and her husband, who worked for Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). She was a professor of industrial design at the Universidad Antonio José de Sucre and an interior designer.
Her husband was one of the workers who participated in a historic oil strike between December 2002 and January 2003 to protest against the government of Hugo Chávez. The protest ended with the dismissal of 18,000 highly qualified workers, who were also forbidden by political mandate to work in other companies.
Lía’s life took an unexpected turn. Without the means to support the family, her husband accepted a job offer in Argentina and arrived in 2006. She followed him with her children. “It was an organized migration, but it was very hard to leave the country just because I couldn’t get a job,” she recalls.
“It was a sadness I couldn’t shake – what was the point of the strike, of the struggle?”
That sense of defeat led her to become an activist. She could not help her compatriots in Venezuela, but she would try to do so from Argentina. “I can’t do anything,” she repeated to herself. The news of the economic and health crisis that reached her from the Caribbean country shocked her and spurred her to action.
Her volunteer work began in 2010 with the NGO Venezuela es Una. Her tasks included fundraising to help various organizations in Venezuela.
Until the bad news turned into a mass exodus in 2018 when people in dire need started arriving in the country. That year, Lía was part of the founding team of “Alianza por Venezuela”, which brought together all the NGOs in the community to welcome migrants and refugees.
In contact with so many people, Lía and the psychologists began to notice a need as urgent as food: mental health. The first effects of migration turned into depression and identity crises and many found it difficult to cope with grief.
At that time, Lía asked for help from the International Organization for Migration (IOM Argentina) and became the coordinator of the Migrant Welfare Program with the Organization of Venezuelan Psychologists (PSICOVEN) in 2020.
That same year, she “finished a cycle” at the “Alianza por Venezuela Foundation” and decided to create FICU. “I realized that culture was a bridge for inclusion,” Lía emphasized. And she pointed out: “When images, songs, dances, stories and gastronomy are shared, it is a cure for nostalgia.
Art as a remedy
Art in all its forms has always been important to her – her father was a musician – and it has become not only her therapy but a mission: to promote the perspectives of foreigners and locals.
“We want beautiful stories to be told, of people who want to succeed, who want to share their skills. Art has the power to create empathy and to get the message across to people in a creative way,” she explained.
One of the projects with this value was INtegrados, a series of 150 portraits of migrants of 22 nationalities, including Greeks, Chileans, Venezuelans and even Argentines of Korean, Russian, Spanish and Italian descent. On September 4, 2022, National Immigrant Day, the black and white images were installed in Plaza Rubén Darío in Recoleta.
The message was “no matter where you come from”, a way to make visible the contribution of foreigners and their descendants in Argentina. All the portraits were taken by Venezuelan photographer Nelson Dudier.
FICU also participated in the Buenos Aires Book Fair (FILBA) with a group of migrant and independent authors and participated in the Buenos Aires Celebrates Venezuela event with a tribute to the renowned Venezuelan artist Armando Reverón (1889-1954).
These are the results of more than 10 years of activism, almost three years of a foundation that continues to grow and help others grow. Lía is grateful for the opportunity the country has given her to help her compatriots: “This is a country that celebrates collectivities,” she said.
She sees herself as one of those who have found a place in this country. When she emigrated, she brought her culture with her – along with a copy of the atlas of Venezuelan customs and a collection of poems by Venezuelan writer Andrés Eloy Blanco – and planted it here: “I didn’t come, I came back. I feel at home.”