She fled Venezuela with only one bag... and it was filled with shoes.
In 2003, Elena Carné and her husband moved from Venezuela to the United States in search of a better life. A few days after arriving they filed for political asylum.
“Everything is crazy and nothing works,” Carné said about Venezuela. “People are starving and collecting food from the garbage can.”
For the first time, Venezuelans are the top asylum seekers in the U.S. as they flee empty supermarkets, increasing homicide rates and lack of medical care.
According to a Central University of Venezuela professor, Tomas Paez, nearly two million of the 30 million citizens in Venezuela have left the country since 1999.
But Carné says Venezuelans are not only immigrating to the U.S. They’re moving to countries like Peru, Argentina, Spain and even Nigeria.
“They’re moving to countries we’d never imagine a Venezuelan would immigrate to,” she said.
Yet, Carné joined the over 100,000 Venezuelans living in Florida, the state with the largest Venezuelan population in the nation.
The number of Venezuelans filing for U.S. asylum skyrocketed 168 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.
In Miami, Carné received her business degree and a fashion degree while raising three daughters, working side jobs and learning English.
According to the Pew Research Center, Venezuelan immigrants have higher levels of education than Hispanic immigrants overall since 53 percent of Venezuelan immigrants over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Not only are they educated and skilled, but Carné said Venezuelans like to be business owners.
“We like to be our own boss,” she said.
With years of experience in the fashion industry and a couple degrees under her belt, Carné focused all her energy on her fashion line: Tepuy Activewear.
As an American citizen, she wanted to give back to the country that has provided her with so many opportunities, so she decided to produce her line in the U.S. and offer employment to American workers. She wated her line to feature bright and bold colors inspired by her Latin roots.
She moved with her family to Americus, GA where she won Small Business of the Year. During Palm Beach Swim Week, Carne was also awarded Best American Fashion Designer.
During her fashion show at Palm Beach Swim Week, Carne used her spotlight to show her support for Venezuela by waving her flags infront of guests and photographers.
“We’re out of the country but we suffer because our hearts, our families and mind is over there,” she said.