News + Ideas

MGAC Inner Voices: Episode 19


MGAC Inner Voices is an interview format podcast where a diverse mix of employees are interviewed to share their perspective on challenges they have faced in the A/E/C industry as a result of their identity—including race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. By discussing the experiences of our staff, our hope is that their stories will have newfound and powerful resonance with the audience—both to comfort others in similar situations and to encourage those in positions of power to bring about positive, actionable changes to workplace environments for all A/E/C professionals, regardless of their identity.

Beth Scully (MGAC Senior Project Manager, Seattle) talks with Andrea Carusi (MGAC Marketing Manager, Los Angeles) about choosing to pursue political activism in her home country of Venezuela and her journey to the United States.


Beth: Hi, and welcome to MGAC's "Inner Voices," a podcast digging into issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, construction industry. Brought to you by MGAC, I'm Beth Scully, residing in Seattle, Washington. I'm a senior project manager. As always, to our audience, this podcast is not a discussion between experts on all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. I can speak to my lived experience and do my best to help our guests share their experiences as well. Our goal is not to hold a platform that espouses our expertise on diversity. We wanna share our stories that we might not have known in an effort to figure out how, together, we can create better outcomes for all of us in the AEC industry and beyond. Today we'll be talking to Andrea Carusi. Andrea and I've spoken together prior to this podcast, and her story is a profound demonstration of perseverance, fortitude, and drive. Andrea, can you tell our listening audience a little bit more about yourself?

Andrea: Hi, Beth. A little bit more about myself. My name is Andrea. I'm originally born and raised actually in Venezuela, so I'm South American. I started here at MGAC two months ago now, and I'm the marketing manager for the Los Angeles office.

Beth: And one of the things that drew me to really having this conversation with you was that beautiful post that you made in LinkedIn and I thought, "This is a person I really wanna get to know. This is somebody really extraordinary." And it turns out it's absolutely the truth. So, let's start with the fact that you just shared, you've landed at MGAC. And knowing that everybody has a story and a journey, yours is exceptional. As a child, you had a dream. What was that dream?

Andrea: Well, I have many dreams. I think one, first, I wanted to be an astronaut, but then at some point in my life, I envisioned myself always being in La-la Land for some reason. Actually, that was a dream that I shared also with one of my best friends back home, and we're always like dreaming, you know, like daydreaming about Los Angeles. And it was always a dream because I didn't ever see the possibility of actually being here. And the fact that today, 2022, I've been here for almost seven years now, it's unbelievable sometimes waking up to it. That was one of my biggest dreams when I was a kid where I wanted to be.

Beth: Talk about manifestation, right?

Andrea: I know. Yeah. In a really weird way, but it happened.

Beth: Yeah, it did. It did happen. But let's just do a little rewind here because you shared that you were born and raised in Venezuela, and that is a country that has been torn by political upheavals. And when you started at university, you started to be an architect. Yeah?

Andrea: Yes. Part of that is because my family has that background in this industry. My grandfather, God bless his soul, he was a topographer, and my dad was a city planner. My mom studied interior design and my brother is a civil engineer, specializing in, like, structural. So, I was pretty much thrown into that. I was confused because I've always been the rebel in my family in the sense of not following through what everybody else has done. So, for me it was like, yeah, I like to paint, one of my hobbies. I thought honestly, architecture was a lot about that. But that was a class that I loved with a really well-known artist back in Venezuela, it's called Miguel Carrera. He has this class, I don't remember the name, but we were supposed to do art through geometric figures. So, I took that opportunity to present my skills on it.
And I thought it was that, but then when I started to see design classes and that, I'm like, "No, isn't for me." So, it was a shift. I liked civil engineering and then I chose civil engineering thinking that I could follow my brother steps. And after two years and a half, three years, I decided to drop out completely. And I didn't tell my parents that I dropped out of college. So, that was a problem. When I got home with all my paperwork, they were like, "What?" So, I took one year to, you know, getting myself to know myself on what I wanted because I felt that I was just pleasing everybody with what people wanted and not myself. I was very conflicted when I graduated from high school, so it was really difficult for me to find my way, but I've always been somebody that I'm okay with numbers, I can do them, but I'm better with words or anything that comes in the human part of it.

So, that year also were things happened in Venezuela, like political problems. Part of me wanted to become one of those people that speaks the truth. So, I decided myself, yeah, I wanna pursue journalism. We need people to be able to tell the truth about where we live. It's not what you see on networks or anything. So, I was driven by it, and I think I'm really good connecting with people. So that for me was a no-brainer decision. And honestly to this day, I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I'm really grateful about the opportunity and the opportunities have presented through it. So, it has been a roller coaster, but part of being that it led me to being here, I'm grateful for it, and I took that opportunity.

Beth: We're grateful you took it. We're grateful you're here. But I wanna explore some of your experiences. I mean, obviously, you went into journalism because there were political ideologies that you didn't necessarily agree with, right?

Andrea: Yeah.

Beth: And I'm sure that with your best architectural skills, you started to uncover some things. Can you share what kinds of things and the journey that you took there?

Andrea: I was always, like I said, a little bit of, like, rebellious in my family. Not that my brother always played safe, but you know how engineers can be, that they're very thoughtful, but I'm not, I was all over the place. I was somebody, at that time, when I was studying journalism, there was a lot of political issues back home. And there were, like, protests, problems with professors in the universities that they were not getting paid. So, we were protesting making justice for them. And not only that, for the entirety of the situation of how it was, for me it was unacceptable that we would have to live with cuts of our electricity. Seven days a week, you will get the power cut out, like, four hours. So, I think it drove people to a point of no return. There was one year, I think it was 2014, that an entire protest got really out of hand.

It led to like few months of the country basically stopped for it. And there was a lot of death, there was a lot of friends that got hurt in unimaginable ways. I had also somebody that died, you know, so it was pretty close home for me in that sense, and I was always in it being at the protest. I mean, you would think that the law enforcement will protect you, but it's kind of different back there. I think people here in the U.S., it doesn't escalate to like the police brutally attacking them. It has been seen, yes, but not as a common thing back home that you wouldn't trust a law enforcement to do their job. So, basically, they were the ones killing us and throwing everything at us, same with the military.

Every time that I went to one of those protests, it was a problem with my family. My mom would always say like, put your ID in your mouth because that's the only way that I would be able to identify you. That was really, I mean, somber from her way, I'd say kind of grim. But when this friend died, I understood the complexity of the situation, that I was, yes, defending my political views and also trying to make the country better because, honestly, the youth was the future of it, you know. And it saddens me that entirety of the youth back in Venezuela is mostly out of it, because of the situation, people fled. And some are in the same situation as me, that we were forced to leave.

And probably if I was still back there, I would've continued to be an activist as I was doing, I was part of an organization back there. But the problem is that anybody that shares, like, a different ideology to the government, is a target. And that's a reality and it continues to happen today that people that have a different view or if they share that view publicly, they're gonna be, you know, pursued. So, it's really concerning that a country that wants to proclaim we have a democracy, that's not the reality of it.

I was, honestly, led to a lot of things, maybe some of things I regret because it's hard to not be with your family or your people or being home. So, I think that I made the right choice pursuing what I pursued. But there were choices that I made that sometimes I reflect and I say, "Was it okay of me doing that?" When I go deep in with myself, but I think everything happens for a reason. I think being in danger back there was the main force that drove me out of the country, especially with my parents saying that as well. It has been hard because you wanna be close to your loved ones, and I haven't seen my brother in like six years and a half, and whenever I think about my parents, it's like am I gonna see them when they're like completely white-haired?

And that concerns me because I would love to choose like some people here that have their parents down in Fullerton or whatever, like, I'm just gonna drive like one hour or two hours to see my parents. And the reality is like, no, they're miles away and the communication is not always the best. But I try to take what I can from it, you know, but it has been a rollercoaster. I think I have, like, a lot of scattered thoughts about that time. I just think that putting myself at risk wasn't the smartest choice, but I was driven to do what was right in my head at that time, and it had consequences and, you know, the consequence is me being here.

Beth: Obviously, you had a lot of passion around it, and you had drive, and you were young, and you made choices, and the choices led you here. But I think it would be important for listeners to understand you came here under political asylum, and it was very swift, right, how you came here. Can you talk a little bit about that, and what happened and how...?

Andrea: Yeah, it's kind of scary because coming here knowing that, of course, I cannot go back home, it's not safe. And other people in my family, they had some also problems with the government. So, it's not that it was a choice that I could make, it just happened. But it was scary because I'm in this new place, the culture is different. Even though when I landed I was in Miami, which is a big Hispanic community, but still, I mean, it's a different country. It's not where I'm from. At that time, I was okay with English, but it wasn't like fluent so much. And I was really scared of everything, of like just speaking out or, you know, saying something, and it was really bizarre being here with like $400 in your pocket. But the process, it's definitely something that, it make me think a lot because it's about being safe. And I'm grateful for it because I think the government here gives the opportunity to people that are in that position to just be safe and be able to have a life here.

And you know, the fact that this has been my place, my home, for the past six years, I'm grateful for it. It hasn't been easy. I think I had a lot of trauma that comes with my time back in Venezuela, but it wasn't safe anymore. It was fight or flight as they say. So, instead of myself, at some point, getting killed, I wanted to live. And also my parents decided that. So, it was just like arriving here, new country, new culture, new language. It was a shock, yes, for a couple of months while I started to settle a little bit. It wasn't easy and it's still a process.

Beth: I can only imagine, you know, here you were in a country that you were born and raised in and, obviously, you could not express the diversity of political opinion without it warranting an attack to your safety, and then you land here. And I'm curious, as you landed here $400 in your pocket, did you feel, as you were making your way, that you experienced inclusion? Or did you feel like you were discriminated against?

Andrea: Well, some people, if they see me and I didn't talk, they would assume I'm just like white or I might be American or European. But as soon as I opened my mouth and then you would, you know, trace the accent, you're like, "Mm, yeah, she's not from here." There's always a scare of, you know, where you come from because Venezuela is not seen as a reputable country at the moment. Sadly we don't have a good reputation. But it was kind of, like, shocking that people, you know, I would say that I'm from Venezuela and they're like, "But you're white," or these kinds of things. And I'm like, "What?" Doesn't matter what color I am or where I'm come from. Like it's baffles me sometimes when people, they would make those comments to me or when they hear me talk, they would be like, "Go back to Mexico," or saying me things like that, which are pretty wrong because Central America and South America are pretty big and it's like a bunch of different countries. So, we're all not Mexico.

I feel like here as where I am now in California, I feel more comfortable. I feel more like at ease of who I am. There's a big Hispanic community in here. The fact that we are next to Mexico, that really helps. I'm not saying that Miami was hard or anything, but I think even within the Hispanic community, sometimes they have this conflict in between the different Latin American countries. So, definitely there has been some discrimination. It sometimes happen now as of today that I go somewhere and somebody hears my accent and they're not okay with it. It's happened in the supermarket, somebody would make any comments of it. But at this point, I try to already compartmentalize that, I don't take that anymore into a point of me being offended because I know who I am. And I think it's interesting that people has background, especially when they're like foreigners, you know, like coming outside of the country and then you meet people here, that also has inspired me to embrace my identity and not just try to forget where I'm from.

There's, of course, this adaptation of cultures because Venezuela, you cannot stop at a red light, you know, that's a no-no, you have to drive through because otherwise you're gonna be robbed or somebody's gonna intercept or whatever. So, it's about safety that you would do that. And those are things that you don't do here, but it doesn't mean that I'm gonna be driving and running red lights. But it's about also like how things working here, like trusting the system, trusting law enforcement, thinking that if you have problems, you can always count on law enforcement that would help you. So, for me it has been this shift of how things were back home and how things are here. It's adaptation, what I say some people might come here and they would never feel comfortable, and they would always have these struggles.

For me, it has been the opposite. I think I have embraced it. I think some people would be angry that Venezuelans would celebrate the 4th of July. But I think, why not? I mean, this is a place that there's a freedom speech. I mean, I know there have been some problems. But still, you have basically the entirety of the world, what it means like to be free. I don't see the problem of me celebrating the independence day of the country that I'm currently living in. And that has opened the doors for me and opportunities. This wouldn't happen anywhere else. So, it's being grateful for it and, like I said, it's about adaptation and understanding where you are. So for me, that has been a journey and has been a lot of like understanding sometimes. But again, I'm really grateful for where I am. Like I'm not gonna be depressed if somebody calls me, you know, "Go back to Mexico. Don't speak that in here. We only speak English, don't speak to me in Spanish or that."

I don't take that anymore personal or anything. I think that's just ignorance speaking through. And I think it's beautiful that at least here that I have the opportunity in California, I think there's mix of different cultures. I really love that. I think LA is really diverse. It's not just only movies and, you know, celebrities. It's a lot of different communities into a big one. So, that really makes me feel at ease every day. There's always gonna be somebody making comments, but that doesn't take away my essence or my identity.

Beth: I mean, I'm deeply moved. This is a podcast about diversity, equity, and inclusion, right? And the genesis of it was that we felt like there was a struggle that wasn't being addressed and we weren't tapped into it. And so, to listen to what you've come from brings us encouragement that, yes, there's a lot of work ahead of us here, but there's a path and there's a way forward as we continue to bring these issues. So, I'm wondering, from your perspective, as you joined the MGAC team, and many of our colleagues will listen to this podcast, how can they be allies?

Andrea: To be honest, I feel they already are. I feel the fact of just like embracing and just like having me on the team makes me feel welcome and makes me feel that they are pursuing that, they are driving for diversity. I feel like being understanding, continueing to do what they do, for me, has been a really great opportunity. I have never felt like this before about a job. For me, it's like waking up and being excited, looking forward to it, and actually connecting with the team. It's great. And I feel like I wouldn't change anything because I think they're doing things right in the right way. And the fact that out of everybody...because probably there were like, you know, other people that were American applying for this position, and the fact that I was taken in consideration, it makes me feel value to the company and that they want me in their team.

I think that there's no right or wrong way for them because I think what MGAC is doing at the moment, it's like embracing everybody's cultures, and they're trying to add that into the company. I don't feel like I need to pronunciate my words American or have to have some sort of way when I'm talking or my manners or anything because I have to be certain type of thing. I don't see that happening, and I feel myself at ease whenever I connect with my teammates or whenever I talk to somebody. I don't need to force it. I don't need to be who I'm not, which is great. And I feel like that makes them an ally of myself. It makes it so easy to feel welcome, and it makes it so easy to feel like I matter, and that I'm here, and that you guys see me as I see you.

And I'm also super grateful with this opportunity because I didn't see this coming to me. So, I feel like, for immigrants, having this opportunity of speaking out, it's saying a lot about MGAC, it's saying a lot about how you care about the diversity that we have within the company, how much you care about this person's background, or where they come from or their identity. So, I wouldn't change anything. To be honest, I feel like things are being done the right way, I think, you know, making feel us comfortable to be who we are, it's all that matters, you know.
Beth: I am sure that everybody that you work with is grateful that you're there, Andrea. And I've appreciated so much listening to the danger of not having diversity, equity, and inclusion. You've come from a country that your political ideology was such that your life was threatened. And I think this platform is meant for us to utilize so that we know and we understand everybody comes from a different political ideology, a different marginalized community. And as we just wrestle with those things together in an honest and frank manner, we're better together.

Andrea: I agree.

Beth: Yeah. I wanna close off here by thanking you. It takes not just the courage and fortitude for what you've done in getting to this country and bringing yourself from a 22-year-old with $400 in her pocket to now a marketing manager residing in LA. And I have to believe that that is such a full-circle moment for you, and I hope that it inspires and encourages others around you. I know that it does, but I hope it encourages people who are listening and maybe feel a little bit discouraged in where we are on this path of D, E, and I in this country to just keep going, to have your strength. So, I appreciate you

Andrea: Being here right now and where I am at MGAC, and all the things that I've gone through, because it hasn't been easy, it's like milestone in my life. I remember when people, people would ask me like five years ago, "Where do you see five years from now?" And you would say like, "I have a house, I have this," but it's about growth. You know, it's about like your personal growth aside of like all the material things that you want. It's about yourself too and growing. So honestly, it's like never giving up. I think after so many hardships that you will go through, life will always throw something your way that's positive. Success means that you have to go through rough times, but I feel like I've made some kind of success within my career and within my personal growth. When I arrived to LA, I was cleaning bathrooms in a restaurant and just being a cashier and doing all that kind of things that you don't wanna do and working from 4:00 PM until like 3:00 AM. So that was a reality even though I have a degree, but I was an immigrant in this country, nobody knew who I was. Then when they see my university, is like, "What university is that?"

So, there's always a place where you're supposed to be. And for me, that place being here in LA, being here at MGAC, feeling this motivated and content with my life, it's everything that I need, you know, and the support that I get from my loved ones. It's also the push that I get. Honestly, it's like embrace it and don't give up because tomorrow is a new day, and you can only control what happens to you on the present. I don't think myself always on the future, I think myself more about like the present and what can I do at the moment instead of like thinking ahead of it. And it has been a lot about that in my journey. So honestly, like I don't know who listen to this, but if anybody that listening and would feel conflicted with where they are, I get it because I've been there, and I know how bad it can be. You have to go through a lot, or you have to go through hell sometimes to see maybe the rewards of it. I wouldn't change anything because it has made me become stronger, brave, and here I am. And I know things will continue to come my way because they always do. But I'm ready for it. And yeah, and whoever feels that way it's like, know that things will always get better if you continue to push forward and not give up. Don't despair, have hope on yourself and trust.

Beth: You are an extraordinary person. It has been such a pleasure to talk with you. I thank you for your transparency, for your candor, for sharing your story in this public way, and I know its effect will be great. So, thank you, Andrea. It's been a pleasure. That concludes this podcast of MGAC, "Inner Voices." Thank you so much for joining us, and please, check back next month for another episode of "Inner Voices."

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