The annual Christmas holiday is close, where worldwide cultural and religious celebrations take place. But Christmas might not be the most wonderful time this year for some families, like Areli Sanchez, 25, a senior student at The University of Texas at El Paso, who says this year she is afraid it will be the first time not spending Christmas with her family in Ciudad Juárez.
“We would cross when I was little all the time, like every weekend to Juárez and we would stay there and I sometimes would get upset when we wouldn’t go to Juárez because I love going with my family,” Areli says. “But then all the holidays we would always, always go and we would stay really late and came back in the early morning for all holidays.”
The decision of Areli’s family not to spend Christmas on the other side of the border was driven by fear due to the family truck being stolen in front of a church parking lot. The family had attended a wedding in Juárez on October.
“My parents got really scared, they don’t want to go to Juárez for a while and so that means we are not going to go for Christmas or for the holidays which is the biggest holiday we celebrate,” Areli says.
Because of this fear, Areli’s parent’s decision is set, but why can’t her family from El Paso come and celebrate with them? According to Areli, not all of her El Paso family has passports. She explains that few of them have passports but the majority do not and some of her cousins and aunts do not want to leave the rest of the family behind.
Areli also says her family is a humble one. “We are not like a rich family or anything like that so they did not have enough money for my aunts and her kids to have the whole family to have a passport.”
“I have approximately 4 years I have not seen my mom”
The holiday season for Miguel Martinez, 22, who works and studies at Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez in Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Administracion (ICSA), has been rough in the last four years without seeing his mom and siblings.
Miguel says he has not been able to cross because he was caught by U.S. Customs and Border Protection studying in the United States with a tourist visa instead of student visa, two weeks before Miguel was about to graduate in Riverside High School in 2015. As a result, the entrance to the United States was denied for him.
Part of Miguel’s family is in Kansas, where his mother resides with his stepdad and his two new siblings which he hasn’t met yet.
“During this time, she has had two children, so I have two little siblings of mine that I don’t know yet, and those are one of the reasons why I want to go back, to see my mom and see my little siblings,” Miguel says.
It’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas for Miguel since it’s not the same without all his family together, “It makes me feel very sad, it’s not the same, before we were all together and I would love this time of the year, I enjoyed it the most and now is very nostalgic and melancholic” Miguel says.
The relationship with Miguel’s family is great. Despite the circumstances, they always keep in touch and communicate with each other either through facetime, calls, photos or messages. According to Miguel, they are not distant.
A Christmas message
Both Areli and Miguel feel a nostalgic emotion of not being able to celebrate a Christmas beside their family this year.
“It’s really unfortunate because it’s all you want to do, even if it’s not the holiday, you miss your family, you want to see them and if you can’t, that’s a huge stressor,” Areli says. “When are you going to see your family again, you want to be there for their important moments or what if they just need you or you need them? It just sucks that you can’t be with each other.”
Miguel’s Christmas wish is for him to be able to cross again and reunite with his family after not seen them in a very long time. He would go crazy, he says, if he could cross again.
“I know there are thousands of cases like me and it’s very difficult, but do not lose faith, just keep going. Those people who have a similar situation have a good time these dates, even though they do not have their families nearby,” Miguel says.
Story and photos by Ingrid Giese.