Juan Mendez carries an emotional baggage that gets heavier every year during Christmas. He left his home town, Villa Hidalgo of Yalalag, in Oaxaca, 33 years ago, and has not returned since.
“I have sisters and my 70-year-old mother there. What I would like the most is to be able to hold them,” says Mendez.
“It is sad for us, immigrants, who do not have documents, not to be able to go to our hometown during Christmas and see the family. It is hard after many years. I talk to my brothers every day and I am going to talk to my mother later,” says Mendez, who makes a living as a cook.
His wife, Reynalda Diaz, has not been able to travel to Mexico in the last 15 years.
“We miss the family but also our town traditions like the outdoor Posadas where everybody takes a traditional dish, we can eat whatever we want. For example, on Christmas Eve, everybody meets at the neighbor’s house, who has the Baby Jesus and we pray, eat, dance, sing,” she narrates.
She misses her hometown, the family reunions and even the air she breathes in her hometown during Christmas time. “I wish of going to the places I went during my childhood,” she says. Diaz hopes to be able to go home next Christmas. She recently obtained a work permit because she has a daughter who is deaf-mute and that granted her some sort of immigration relief.
Maru Galvan, a tireless activist for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), has not seen her mother Virginia, her brother, and sister in the last 16 years.
“I don’t even have printed photos of them,” she says.
Galvan is an immigrant from Mexico City. Although she has her husband and two daughters in Los Angeles, she misses her mother and siblings during the Christmas season. “I miss everything during Christmas, my family, the food, everything from Mexico,” she says with a broken voice, on the verge of crying.
“I wish I could go there, wrapped inside the presents I send them every Christmas,” she says.
Everardo Perez moved to Los Angeles from Mexico City at the age of 18. He is 45 now and has yet to go back to his hometown. “Each Christmas is hard. My mother died two years ago. I have two brothers here but all my family is there, uncles, cousins,” he says.
Perez says that, during this season, it is normal for him to feel nostalgic. “You also miss your friends a lot. Although you make new friends here in the United States, it is not the same. It is neither the same brotherhood nor the same friendship,” he says.
But the Holidays were harder when he had recently moved to the U.S.
“You could not call anyone from back home because phone calls were very expensive. Today, Facebook and the Internet help me be more in touch. You can speak with your relatives through Skype and you can see them. But you miss the smell of the land and the home you left behind during Christmas. It is really hard, “he says.