During a visit to our store at 444 West 55th St. in Manhattan, Majedda Arreaza introduced her daughter's husband as her "son-in-love." The daughter looked up and smiled upon hearing the miscue.
Majedda, 55, said her English continues to improve as she makes progress in her new life in the United States, which began in May 2016 when she left her native Venezuela for political asylum here.
Majedda said she watched Venezuela slide into greater and greater instability under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, from 1999 until he died in 2013. Things ultimately continued in the wrong direction, she said, under Chavez's successor, Nicolás Maduro.
"For 18 years, day by day, it got worse and worse," she said.
Venezuela's economy has reached crisis proportions with chronic shortages of basic goods, spurring anti-government protests.
"I helped a lot of people (who were) fighting political corruption and protesting," Majedda said. "The last two years I helped students who don't have food, jobs."
Specifically, major protests took place near where she lived and she would open her home to college student protestors to provide a place to shower and eat. She said her efforts caught the eye of the government. Majedda and her pregnant, adopted daughter and the daughter's husband were kidnapped by plainclothes police and kept in the back of a car overnight for several hours before being released. The husband was struck a few times in the face, but the two women were unharmed. The interrogators searched their Instagram feeds and other social media and phone contacts.
Majedda is an insurance broker who used to have several clients who worked at a private oil company that later came under state control. The client connections and her affiliations with the protestors led to several physical threats.
Majedda's other daughter, Rabsaris Arreaza, said: "They wanted her to be quiet and compliant."
Majedda could no longer tolerate the state of affairs. "I felt scared in the streets," she said. "I don't like violence."
Rabsaris, 30, was already living in the United States and had been pleading with her mother to come live with her. Finally, the kidnapping in January 2016 made the decision to move easy. Majedda left but kept her office open so she wouldn't have to lay off her workers.
Here, she helps Rabsaris and Rabsaris' husband, Steve Atkinson, sell books at street vending tables they set up in the city. They keep their books and tables at our store. Steve, 34, is a Massachusetts native. The three of them live in Union City.
In addition to the books, Majedda earns money by catering meals and teaching people to cook healthy, vegetarian meals featuring sazón seasoning.
Majedda's other daughter and two granddaughters moved to Spain, where there were other relatives.
"I miss my people and my family a lot," Majedda said. "My dream is to put my family together. Sometimes it feels like I'm missing something."