CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Drug violence ravaging Mexico is keeping some South Texas residents from visiting family this Christmas, forcing lonely and heartbroken immigrants to seek solace at local churches rushing to offer ceremonies and services that are tradition across the border.
“I’m very sad, very sad,” Silvia Rodriguez told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. “Because with all my heart, I want to go to Mexico.”
Drug cartels, battling over territory and profits, have torn apart regions of Mexico, and while millions of U.S. citizens visit every year, the U.S. Department of State has cautioned against travelling to some parts of Mexico, especially border areas where carjackings and highway robberies have become more commonplace.
Just Friday, authorities said three residents of Cleburne, Texas were killed in a shooting spree on buses in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Still, Rodriguez, who left Mexico at age 22, dreams of joining her family 300 miles away for a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and piñatas with her eight older siblings. She used to go home several times a year. Now, her elderly mother discourages her from visiting.
“She said, ‘I’m fine. Don’t worry. But don’t come. It’s very dangerous,'” Rodriguez said.
Rev. Owen Ross is a pastor at a Dallas church made up of 120 Spanish-speaking immigrants and their children. Many haven’t seen in their families in years.
“There’s a feeling of longing, of homesickness for those who have to go so many years without seeing their grandmothers or others when they were used to seeing them once or twice a year, or even more,” Ross said.
Now, in an attempt to fill the void, some churches are offering special services that would normally be held only in Mexico.
One Corpus Christi church offered a Spanish Mass on Thursday to some three dozen worshippers. The Catholic church is also offering funeral Masses, and celebrated posadas, a Mexican Christmas custom that re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s quest to find a place for her to deliver Jesus.
Pouring out of the church after the service on Thursday, the worshippers sang Christmas songs in Spanish and remembered childhood Christmases in Mexico.
Maria Alicia Valdez of Corpus Christi said now that violence is preventing people from visiting family in Mexico, it is key to carry on these traditions in the United States.
“It’s stopping the children from learning more from their roots and where they came from,” she said.
Valdez remembers Christmases in Monterrey when neighbors opened their doors and children played in the streets. When she visited three years ago, though, everything had changed. Cars with foreign plates were barred from the neighborhood, and she was told to leave before dark.
But Ross believes many more would risk the violence if they were not illegal immigrants. Many fear if they leave they will not be able to re-enter.
Antonio Rodriguez Ramiro has American citizenship, but his son doesn’t. Ramiro has stayed behind to work this Christmas while his wife and children are in Jalisco visiting his 20-year-old son.
“I’m very lonely,” he said. “I feel sad. I get to the house, and the house is empty, and it doesn’t feel comfy, because nobody is there.”
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