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Christmas and the holiday season are very special for many Latinos and Latinas. It’s usually that one time of the year when your abuelitos, primas, and tios who live far away are able to gather to celebrate—eat delicious food, drink and catch up. But COVID-19 has turned the holiday celebrations upside down.

Most of us will stay at home and won’t be able to meet with loved ones in order to keep each other safe and while it might feel a bit lonelier this year, there are still many reasons to stay positive, thankful and hopeful.

But for many people in the Latino community, spending the holidays away from family is not new.

María José Montijo, a Puerto Rican musician living in Oakland, California, says music has always been a part of her life, especially during the holidays. She wasn’t able to travel home and be with her family in Puerto Rico for Christmas for some years. Becoming part of a local Puerto Rican Bomba community in California helped her not feel so lonely, she says.

“It’s kind of like a chosen family that is really rooted in the culture of where I’m from, so it’s kind of evoking my good times in my childhood,” she says.

Salvador Navarrete is a Venezuelan doctor who has been living in Cleveland, Ohio for almost five years. As a health care provider, he has missed many celebrations with his family, but this year Salvador will be able to spend Christmas with his wife and three children. Salvador recommends that one thing people can do to feel closer to their loved ones during the socially distant holidays, wherever they are, is to surround themselves with things they had growing up, like a Christmas tree, or listen to some music their family used to play during the holidays.

“Make sure you have it on those days, so you can close your eyes and transport your mind,” Salvador says.

Arleene Correa Valencia, a Mexican artist in California, says that the pandemic is making more people experience a little bit of what it’s like to live as an undocumented person in the U.S., like her and her family.

“Citizens and people who have the freedom to travel and to go places will never truly understand because even though we are in these lockdowns and limiting all sorts of socialization, there’s still a sense of freedom,” she says. “Whereas for us, there’s absolutely none of that.”

Arleene said it’s important for people to be grateful for what they have and that life will eventually return to normal.

Estuardo Cifuentes is a gay Guatemalan man living in Matamoros, Mexico while seeking asylum in the U.S. He was placed into the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program last year. Estuardo founded Rainbow Bridge, an organization that helps other LGBTQ migrants in Matamoros. This will be his second Christmas away from his partner of nine years, who is back in Guatemala. But his boyfriend might be able to visit him soon for Christmas and the New Year.

“We’ll for sure be together, but also celebrate the holidays together and take advantage of the time that we have together,” Estuardo says of his potential plans with his partner if he’s allowed to travel to Mexico.

In this episode of Latino USA, we speak with Latinos and Latinas who are used to not being able to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones, and we learn some tips on how to cope with these socially distant holidays.

Illustration by Alex Charner. 

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