Christmas, a Bittersweet Holiday for Immigrants

Experts say that depression increases during this season, especially for people who are far from their homes and their families
Christmas, a Bittersweet Holiday for Immigrants
Martín Hernández, de 47 años de edad, se pasa la Navidad en la iglesia o en las misiones para contrarrestar la soledad.

The greatest sorrow an undocumented immigrant faces in the United States is the feeling of not being able to travel and to return home. And that pain increases during the days before Christmas, when the airports and the highways are filled with people trying to reunite with their love ones.

“For me, Christmas means sorrow and loneliness,” says the Mexican immigrant Sergio Navarro, 43, who makes a living as a day laborer in Los Angeles. “Last Christmas I was warm in a shelter, but this year I’m going to be cold, living in the streets and without the possibility of visiting my daughters who live in Texas.

Dr. Jairo Gomez, a psychiatrist from the White Memorial Hospital, said that during this holiday season, the level of depression and the amount of people who suffer from depression increases significantly.

There are two kinds of depressions during this time. The first one is a depression related with the lack of family ties. People feel sad and homesick if they cannot be with their love ones. The second one is depression related to shortened days and less sunlight, says Dr. Gomez.

“What can happen, and happens frequently, is that the two kind of depressions fuse together, along with the fact that immigrants sometimes cannot travel,” said Dr. Gomez.

Guadalupe Garcia, Day Laborers Program Manager at the Popular Education Institute of Southern California (IDEPSCA), said that this organization offers, especially in December, activities in day laborer centers to help cope with the loneliness that many immigrants feel during this time.

“Depression levels increase. There are many day laborers who are homeless and live on the street or in shelters. Along with this, many of them hide their reality to their relatives back in their countries of origin so they do not worry. This increases the sadness and loneliness level that they feel when they cannot tell the truth about their situation,” Garcia said.

For Garcia, these immigrants’ reality is so sad when they do not have any job, live on the street and are publicly discriminated, that they frequently face high levels of depression that persist throughout the year.

“We have different activities for them, we give them food and we have toy drives for their children. Many have told us that this is the first time they feel like their amongst family,” added Garcia.

Navarro, meanwhile, hopes to spend next Christmas with his daughters. His daughters are teenagers and live in Texas with their mother.

“On December 25th, when you are on the streets and everybody else is home, with their families, that is when loneliness hits the most. You feel a an ugly sadness that does not go away with anything…, yes, family can take away that sadness, if you have a family,” said Navarro

How to fight depression

  • Spend time with as many people as possible.
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs. Although people tend to drink alcohol during the holidays, experts do not recommend it when the person is sad or suffers from depression.
  • Look for religious activities in churches or community centers.
  • If needed, look for medical help in community clinics or hospitals.
  • Do not be afraid or ashamed of asking for help.