‘In Mexico, when I was with my parents and my children, we had wonderful Christmas. Even when we didn’t have much to eat –just beans and vegetables; even when we didn’t have money for buying gifts. We had parties with our neighbors. They’d bring tostadas, atole and tamales. We had a nativity scene. Somebody was elected to be the Godparent of Baby Jesus. We prayed the rosary. It was fabulous. Here it is different. Here I feel cold, not because of the cold weather, but because when you are away from family, there is no warmth.’
Maria Eugenia tells her story, the plight of a Mexican immigrant, who, like many immigrants living in the United States, is away from family during the holidays. Maria came to Minnesota from her hometown of Puebla, Mexico, seven years ago. She made the painful decision to leave her two children, a seven year-old son and a five year-old daughter, in the care of her parents. She had just separated from her spouse, and was the sole supporter of her extended family. She came to make a living. She told them, and told herself, that it would be for only two years. But two years turned into seven and Maria is still away from home.
Maria works as a housekeeper in a hotel and she has been able to send enough money for her children’s care. They are happy, active teens, getting good grades in school and living healthy lives with their grandparents. She calls them regularly. She has long conversations with them, trying to get every detail of their adolescent lives, giving them advice, encouraging them, long-distance parenting them. She misses them tremendously and constantly worries about them: Will they make the right decisions? Do they have good friends? She knows her parents are getting old and cannot keep up with the care for growing adolescents.
She has been making plans to either bringing her children here or for her to return. But this is not easy, it takes lots of money to bring her kids, and although Maria has a good job, she has not been able to save enough. She knows she could never get a good paying job in Mexico, and the responsibility of caring for her family weighs her down. Still, she would prefer to be home for Christmas.
There are thousands of immigrants, who like Maria, are living away from their children, parents, spouses or siblings. They too have made the difficult decision of leaving home in search of a better life for their families by migrating to the US. For them, Christmas is a difficult time of year. They buy gifts to send to their loved ones in far away lands; they send money to relatives for Christmas gifts; they call long distance; they try to connect with loved ones. They partake in the festivities here, whether going to religious celebrations, or celebrating with new friends and co-workers, but it is not the same.
“Here, I don’t do anything for Christmas,” Maria says. “It is like another workday. I miss the noise of Christmas at home, the children blowing little whistles, sounding like little birds, the firecrackers, the posadas, the church songs.
“My Christmas wish is to be with my family soon. This is my wish for all: that we can all be with our loved ones every Christmas. I wish that we become better human beings, that we live like brothers and sisters without difference of race or social class, that we are not separated by borders.”
Teresa Ortiz is a writer and organizer. An immigrant from Mexico, she lives in Saint Paul and works as a labor organizer with Workers Interfaith Network and with community outreach in St Paul for Twin Cities Daily Planet.