Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 25, 2013

Never going home for the holidays?

LAKE LEELANAU — For many, Christmas is a time for holiday songs, presents, family feasts and sacred ceremonies.

But it also can be a painful reminder for some that they can’t go home for the holidays — or perhaps ever.

So said Beatriz Cruz, who works with Parenting Communities. Cruz is an advocate for Hispanic families and makes home visits to eight Leelanau County families, although the number has been as high as 37 when her agency’s funding was higher. She doesn’t ask about the families’ legal status, but some talk about not being able to go home.

“I ask them, ‘What would you do if your parents fell ill or passed away?’ They tell me, ‘We came to this country knowing we might never see them again.’ I can’t imagine that,” she said. “It’s not like they’re coming here not knowing what they’ll go through. Maybe the knowing helps them a little bit, leaving everything behind and never returning.”

Cruz knows firsthand what they go through. Before her husband gained legal status, he couldn’t return to Mexico for five years, she said.

“I know during the holidays, it was very sad and depressing for him,” she said. “We were all celebrating and happy; my brother and parents were here. He had no one, so he was always like the Grinch.”

Cruz recently translated for a local Hispanic woman who illegally crossed the Mexican border 11 years ago, leaving behind three siblings and her parents. Three other brothers live in Florida.

The woman lives with her farm laborer husband and two children, ages 4 and 8, in a small, weathered apartment on a windswept road outside Suttons Bay.

“If it was up to me, I would go back,” said the woman, 36, who sat at a small kitchen table. “But it’s not just me now. I have to think about my two children.”

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