December 19, 2008

Mexicans Stay in U.S. for Holidays

By Matin E. Martínez
Vida en el Valle

SACRAMENTO — For the past 15 years, the Valencia family has lived in California, and every year they visit their relatives in México at Christmas time. This year, however, will be the first time the Valencias will not go south, due to the bad economy.

Like thousands of Latino families throughout the country, the Valencias find themselves in harsh economic times. Ernesto Valencia, father of the family, lost his job in housing construction more than a year ago.

“Work suddenly started to dry up until the time came when the boss told us he couldn’t keep us on because construction had simply stopped,” explained Valencia, 43, who worked for eight years as a contractor.

The situation was the same for Valencia’s wife, Sara Núñez, who worked cleaning houses and offices. “Nobody wants to hire you anymore because everyone wants to save a little money, too. Now I just clean my own home.”

Under the circumstances, the family decided to stay in Sacramento for the holidays, a choice that saddened the entire family; they were very much looking forward to seeing their relatives in Los Reyes, Michoacán.

“Since we came to California, we’ve never fail going. I was really eager to see my parents and my brothers and sisters, but unfortunately, I may have to wait until next year, if the economic situation improves for us,” Núñez said.

Valencia said it was an annual tradition to prepare for the trip to Mexico, buying clothing and gifts for the whole family there. But this year they can’t even afford to send gifts to Mexico by mail.

“We’re getting by on what I earn from little jobs here and there. Sometimes I worked in gardening, sometimes doing small construction jobs and sometimes nothing,” said Valencia, father of three school-age children.

He added that when he had steady work in construction he earned a salary of up to $4,000 a month, and now he has to do on less than half that amount.

In the Sacramento area, the unemployment rate is around 9.5 percent, the highest in 10 years. Construction is one of the hardest-hit industries.

Besides the lack of money, another reason why the Valencia family decided not to go to their hometown is the wave of violence impacting México, especially in the state of Michoacán.

“The truth is that it scares us a little to go to México because the violence and crime are really rough right now. After seeing what happened on Sept. 16 in Morelia, well, it scares us to go, especially because we live in California and people there assume that because you live here you have money,” commented Núñez.

Núñez was referring to an incident that took place during a public Mexican Independence Day celebration in Morelia, when several people lobbed grenades into a crowd, killing three and injuring dozens.

“How can you get enthusiastic about going when something like that can happen, when they kill even chiefs of police, what can a civilian expect?” Núñez said.

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