Immigrant Voices is a new feature I hope to do here on Latinaish.com once in awhile. Basically I will pick a topic and those who identify with being a Latino/a immigrant will send me their thoughts/memories on that topic to share here. Those who participate are welcome to remain anonymous if they wish. If a name is given, I’ll also provide a link back to their Twitter profile and/or blog.
Today’s topic is “Christmas.” I hope you enjoy the stories shared here today.
“My first Christmas in the United States, I don’t really remember. I had only been here a couple months and I wasn’t working yet. All the days passed the same sometimes. My second Christmas here, in 1997, Tracy and I had a wedding date picked in January but she lived with her parents and I still lived with my brother. That year my brother went with his wife and daughter to Puerto Rico to visit her side of the family. I was all alone in their apartment on Christmas Eve and there wasn’t even any food in the house. I didn’t have money or a car. I didn’t really have any friends. It started to snow outside the windows, and someone knocked at the door. It was Tracy and she came with grocery bags full of food. We pulled the sofa bed out of the couch and spent the evening eating and watching T.V. together. It wasn’t anything like Christmas in El Salvador, but I was happy during those hours she stayed with me.”
– Carlos López (Blog)
“My best memory is that of the Christmas I spent with my grandpa in Tejutepeque, a small village in Cabanhas.
My sisters and I ended up living with him for a while and part of that time included the Christmas season. He didn’t have a tree or anything else as he wasn’t accustomed to having kids over or in general, decorating his house.
His solution: chop down a coffee tree from the local hills. He then proceeded to decorate it with whatever was around the house like packing peanuts, etc. In the end, everyone in town wanted to check it out because it was so unique.”
“For my mom, my sister and I, living ‘sin papeles’ was hard enough, but when the holidays came around it felt like we had it twice as hard…mainly because we moved around a lot and we never knew if we were even going to have a Christmas or where we would end up. But somehow my mom always worked her magic and found a way to get a tree and put gifts under it for us. And if we needed a place to stay, we knew we could always count on friends or family. We may not have had much, but just being around family and friends during the holidays was very comforting and gave us some of the best memories of our childhood.”
– Rafael Gameros (Twitter)
“I was 7 when I came to live in the States. Besides the general cultural shock, the Christmas tradition shock was even greater. I had always spent Noche Buena with my Abuelitos in El Salvador, but only my Abuelita migrated with me. Abuelito refused to come. So the first 3 or 4 years, right after opening presents, stuffing my face with “Sanwiches de Pollo Salvadoreños” and having fun with my family, my stomach would become a knot and I would retire to my room, to cry. It would not be a melancholic cry either, it would be a hysterical sob fest. I still get chills remembering my 9 year-old self crying into my pillow, missing my Abuelito and the Salvadoran Christmas of my younger years. Abuelo passed away 3 years ago, and I only saw him twice after emigrating to the US…”
– Emisela (Twitter)
Celebrating Christmas as a Latino in the U.S. means strategically finding the line between your own cultural beliefs and society as a whole. For us, it means going to mass on Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus but also enjoying Santa and all the commercialism of the day. When my “American” friends ask how we celebrate Christmas, I find it hard to say that we had tamales – my response is usually, “traditional/family.”
– Hector Flores (Twitter)
“Growing up, my sister and I would have to board a plane every other year to spend Christmas with our dad and his new family in Houston. We were always happy to visit and be with him, but I could never get over the fact that Christmas in Houston was much quieter and serene than it was in El Salvador. I always missed the smell of pólvora (gun powder) and going to sleep way, way past midnight to the sound of cuetes being lit all around.”
Early Christmas Day… we groggily made it out of bed, following my mother into the living room…There, smiling from ear to ear next to the white three story bookshelf he’d built with his own hands was my father, not saying a word, just pointing at what was sitting on each layer of the shelf…Immediately we raced across the room, screaming and hollering, jumping from one end of the room to the other with our brand new toy cars in our hands. The size, make, model, and even the color of our cars, today, are memories long gone, many, many years ago, but the one thing that has always remained in the deepest and most treasured of my childhood memories is the feeling in our hearts that morning.
We knew we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a Christmas tree, or even so much as a single Christmas light anywhere inside or outside of our house, but somehow, some way, whatever little money they had, our parents had managed to make certain we didn’t wake up to just another day on Navidad. Even better, my two older sisters didn’t get anything at all and they were just as happy and excited for us as we were.”
My first Christmas was in Michigan. I was recently married, so it was the first Christmas with my hubby, (so romantic). I loved the idea of a white Christmas, a freshly cut tree, a fireplace, different food to what I usually had etc. But then it hit me. I had no family to hug at 12 o’clock, no fireworks, no kids’ laughter, no cumbia music in the background. I felt very nostalgic. I felt so lonely and even though my husband had tons of love and presents to give me, there was an enormous emptiness in my heart. I talked to my family, every single one of them. They were all together at my house. They told me what the menu was going to be, all the fireworks they had bought, and how much they missed me.