A Christmas letter for Latino families

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“What did you ask al Niño Dios (Baby Jesus), my child?” It was the question my beloved grandmother asked me every Christmas when I was a little boy — or “pela’o,” as we said in Colombia.

Christmas is the time of year that I love and miss the most. It brings back beautiful memories of my childhood, especially the time I spent with my grandmother at her house. In the city where I come from, we call our grandmothers “Nonna.” I don’t know the reason. But I love that name. Perhaps because in my mind Nonna is equivalent to love, affection, understanding and sweetness.

According to our traditions, before the image of Santa Claus became popular around the world, the being in charge of bringing presents to children at Christmas time was El Niño Dios. At the beginning of December many years ago (so many that it seems centuries), before going to sleep I would pray to Niño Dios and ask Him for the presents I wanted: a car track, a small soccer ball, a tricycle.

Sometimes, Niño Dios gave me what I’d asked for; other times He did not. My Nonna explained to me, and she convinced me, that Niño Dios knew me well and knew what I really wanted and needed. Therefore, He had brought me a baraja (a Spanish card game) and not the year’s toy car, because He knew that I should connect more with my cousins and the best way was to play cards with them. My Nonna was wise.

I want to reestablish that childhood belief inside me and ask Niño Dios for a list of presents for all families, especially for our Latino families. Latino families go to great lengths to provide love, education and support for our children, for our community, for America. I believe they truly deserve presents.

This is my letter:

Dear Niño Dios,

Although I am no longer the child I was several decades ago, I still remember you and I would like to ask you for some presents again; this time those presents are not for me, but for my beloved Latino community.

First I’d like to ask you to bring this COVID pandemic to an end. This pandemic has wreaked havoc in the world and particularly in our Latino people. Thousands have died and others have become orphans, widows and widowers. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs and their homes. I know that with your guidance you helped scientists discover vaccines to combat this disease so we can get out of this dark tunnel; for that I thank you.

Likewise, I wish all members of our Latino community could have access to health care without fear of expenses. Hopefully you can convince our legislators of our state and the country so that everybody can visit the doctor and receive needed medications. You know that it isn’t fair that many people have to choose between food and health care.

Niño Dios, I’d like to ask that our youngest generation receive a quality education that values ​​them and prepares them for adulthood. Our schools have not received the funds they desperately need to improve the education of our future generation. Principals and teachers work tirelessly to help students, but state legislators deny schools the necessary resources, including transportation, educational materials, teacher training, after-school tutoring, nurses, etc.

Additionally, I ask that our young people have the ability go to university or community college without having to think of the cost. In today’s world, young people must have an education beyond high school to get ahead. I hope you convince our state representatives and senators to support our youth. They deserve it.

My next request is quite personal. I’ve been living in this country for more than 20 years, working as a teacher. All my students are, have been and will always be special; they inhabit my soul and my heart. I have seen how they, their parents and their families have worked hard. Many of them, however, live in fear of what might happen to them due to their immigration status. Several of my students have enrolled in the DACA program, but they know this solution is temporary. At any time, the whims of a capricious leader, as in a previous administration, could end the program and leave them adrift.

My students have built their lives here. Some went to college, some started their own businesses, and some went to work right after high school. They have children, wives or husbands. They need Congress to give them the ability to become residents and citizens. My heart cries when I see that they suffer this terrible situation.

I also ask you for many of my students’ parents. Some left their land and came to this country to give their families a better future. They are extraordinary people. Their families should not fear ICE. I have seen with my own eyes how this situation affects my each of my students. My heart breaks when I observe their sorrow and dismay after they stop seeing their parents. Families belong together. Please, touch the hearts of those who don’t love us to allow our families to live and work in this country without fear.

I understand that to achieve several of these wishes, our Latino community must make itself heard. That’s why, Niño Dios, I ask that you give us the energy to achieve political power. We need more Latina and Latino leaders to form part of  government. I wish that there were more commissioners with Latino blood in our towns and counties, that the number of Latino representatives in the North Carolina Assembly increase dramatically, that in every government entity there were a Latino voice making sure we are heard.

Traditionally, we have been a people who have fought for the benefit of all. We are not a selfish community; we believe that we must work together for the welfare of every soul in our society. That's why I know that if we elect more Latinas and Latinos, our country will be better for it. By actively participating in the political arena, we will achieve great results for all Carolinians and Americans.

Finally, I ask that love and respect spread once more to every corner of our country. I am tired and heartbroken seeing the hatred that some radiate. We are all human beings with feelings and families. I am anguished because I have felt hatred towards other people because of the color of their skin, their religion, their language, their customs, etc. I ask that you help change that mindset. We deserve love and respect. We must give and receive love and respect. Our community needs and wants love and respect.

Thanks for listening to me.

Alirio Estevez is an ESL teacher in Chatham County and an advocate for the Latino community. This column was first published in the December print edition of La Voz de Chatham.

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