Despite COVID-19 threat, Mexican Americans make annual holiday pilgrimage to Mexico

Lines of Mexico-bound cars wait for the chance to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at the DeConcini port of entry in the twin border cities of Ambos Nogales on Dec. 17, 2020. Inspections by Mexican customs officers has increased crossing times as more Mexican Americans head to Mexico to spend the holidays with relatives, despite restrictions on non-essential travel at the border.

PHOENIX — As COVID-19 infections and deaths surged in Arizona ahead of the holidays, Angelica Cueto and her husband loaded their Suburban SUV with gifts and set out east, across New Mexico and then south, over the U.S. border to their final destination: Mexico.

The 54-year-old industrial electrician and U.S. permanent resident has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades, moving from job to job across the Southwest. But the years away have only intensified the pull of her homeland and the family who remain there, she said.

Cueto especially misses her elderly mother, who has a visa to visit the U.S. but is unable to travel because of her age.

For hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, the annual pilgrimage to Mexico in December to visit parents and family is a sacred ritual that even a global COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. border restrictions to stem the spread of the virus have been unable to stop.

Many paisanos have already traveled or are finalizing plans to make their trip home, altering holiday plans and taking new precautions, despite pleas from U.S. and Mexican officials that they stay home this year. Under current border restrictions, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are free to travel through land ports of entry.

Last month, more than 5 million Americans defied similar government recommendations to stay home and traveled through U.S. airports the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday rooted in the tradition of sharing a meal with family and friends. Health officials blame that travel increase for the December surge in coronavirus cases.

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For the extensive Mexican diaspora in the U.S., the draw of spending Christmas in Mexico is equally strong.

“This is the only time of year we get together, all my sisters,” Cueto said. “When I think of December, I think of making tamales, all the family together, our husbands spreading the masa on the corn husks, putting in the meat and my mother laughing — I miss that more than anything.”

But Cueto said she knows the holidays this year won’t be the same.

Her family has made some difficult decisions: Everyone who plans to have Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, dinner at her 84-year-old mother’s home must quarantine for a week. There will be no hugging or making tamales. The family instead has settled on a potluck dinner. Rather than gather at one long table, each household group will sit at a separate table.

“My mother needs us,” she said. “Every year you arrive and you find your mamá older and you realize that all her daughters went flying off but there she is. When you were little, your mother was with you, helping you. I know these are hard times but I won’t stop seeing my mother.

“We’ll keep our distance, but at least we’ll be together,” she concluded.

Source: Yahoo News



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