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Vincentian sisters presented with Venezuelan passports

Vincentian sisters presented with Venezuelan passports

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AZuCena Williams and Pearl James are still getting used to the attention which has come their way, momentarily disrupting their usually quiet lives.{{more}}

The elderly sisters, who live at Arnos Vale, are part of a fascinating story which illustrates the historic connection between

St Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela, and the role Caribbean people played in the development of the oil industry in that South American country almost a century ago.

Williams and James, though Vincentian citizens, were born in Venezuela to Irene Haynes, a young Vincentian woman, who at that time had ventured to Venezuela to work with an oil company.

Returning to St Vincent when they were two years and five years respectively, the sisters continued with their lives, leaving much of the Venezuelan lifestyle behind, but still yearning to return to the land of their birth. They, however, were recently afforded the opportunity of a lifetime, after being granted Venezuelan passports, with the help of the Venezuelan Embassy.

“We feel happy!” Williams, the younger of the sisters, said about receiving her passport. Seated next to her in the living room of their family home at Arnos Vale, her older sister Pearl Nuestra James looked on as she spoke.

Williams, relating the story of their family, explained that when their grandmother died, their mother, Irene Haynes, travelled to Trinidad to live with an older sister. It was there that she heard about a job opportunity in an oil company, the Largo Petroleum in Venezuela.

According to Williams, their mother worked in the laundry room of the oil company.

“She told us how she worked in this oil company. She worked in the laundry section of the oil company washing the clothes of these oil workers.”

Haynes’ children, all four of them, were born in Venezuela. The other two siblings, who were Jose Manuel and Neville Bernard, are now deceased.

After working for sometime in Venezuela, their mother returned to St Vincent in 1936.

The sisters explained that they returned to St Vincent all speaking Spanish, but their mother had to teach them English so that they could attend school. Williams was two years old and James five years old when they returned to St Vincent. They attended the Belair Anglican School. However, their mother would often relate stories of life in Venezuela to them.

“She told us about the church where we were christened as children. She told us about the neighbours, how the children used to come and play with us,” Williams, the more loquacious of the two sisters related.

“She told us we were christened in a Catholic Church called Chiquinquira. In that church, there were a lot of statues of the saints. And everyday over there (Venezuela) it was a Saint Day. So each child was named according to the day they were born,” Williams explained.

Azucena del Carmen was born on Saint Carmen Day. Pearl Nuestra was named after Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. Their brother, Jose Manuel, was born on St Joseph’s Day while Neville Bernard, was born on St Bernard’s Day.

James, who described their mother as a doting parent, said that when she returned to St Vincent, she retained several Venezuelan practices. Williams reminisced on how their mother prepared the Venezuelan national bread for them.

“She used to make the national bread for us, the Arepas. She will bake it in a piece of copper and she will slice it while it is still hot and put white cheese in it.” The sisters, however, explained that they cannot make the Arepas, though they received corn flour, the main ingredient for the bread. They have, however, decided to attempt to make it.

Williams added that their mother often taught them Spanish songs and Spanish dances. Both sisters explained that they can’t remember much about their time in Venezuela, but they always kept up with news coming out of Venezuela, longing to go back to the land of their birth one day.

Before retirement, Williams worked as a teacher for forty years, and was also the National Secretary for the Girl Guides Association. James worked at a day nursery in Kingstown and then at Norma’s Boutique. She married, but returned home to live with her sister when her husband died.

However, the sisters will soon journey to Venezuela and are excited about their return to their homeland. They added that they hope to visit the church where they were christened, Maracaibo and all of Venezuela.

Venezuelan Ambassador Yoel Marcano Perez told SEARCHLIGHT on Monday that he learnt of the sisters’ connection with Venezuela in 2008, when he was approached by Williams during a function.

Perez added that ever since, the Embassy has been very close to the sisters and would invite them to any events that they hosted.

Perez related that the Venezuelan constitution states that every person who is born in Venezuela is a Venezuelan and the country has a right to recognize their Venezuelan citizenship.

Perez further stated that Williams and James are among many Caribbean people who went to Venezuela to contribute to the oil company at that time. Perez added that granting the sisters their passports is a way of paying a historic debt to St Vincent and the Caribbean, which has contributed to the development of Venezuela.

Perez, stating that they are uncertain when the sisters will return to Venezuela, added that the Embassy hopes to make their visit to the country part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between St Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela and hopes to partner with the Vincentian Venezuelan Friendship Association in this effort.

He added that the sisters will also be required to get their Venezuelan Identification Cards, which will enable them to benefit from social security services in Venezuela. The sisters will be able to keep both Vincentian and Venezuelan citizenship, only having to forsake their Vincentian citizenship if they desire to attain public office in Government.

“And I don’t think that will affect Azucena and Pearl,” the Ambassador said, chuckling. He also invited other persons with similar circumstances as the sisters to come to the Embassy, referring to the institution as their home.

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