Hispanic family celebrates Christmas amidst struggles, heartache

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By Alice Du Pont

As Christmas approaches, the Becerra family in Greensboro is looking forward to it with mixed feelings. The family has faced hard times for a year, but they are not feeling sorry themselves.

“I don't feel in the mood to celebrate anything this year. I'm just grateful to my Lord Jesus for my family and especially for allowing my husband to have survived a stroke," said 47-year-old Maria Becerra.

On Dec. 6, 2007 Gregorio Becerra, 56, suffered a debilitating stroke. After six days in the hospital he was released. The stroke has left him partially paralyzed on the left side and has affected his eyesight. Since he cannot work, the family lives on his disability checks.

"They are very humble people. They have seen some hard times and sometimes Maria gets depressed. But even with their problems they are thankful," said family friend Priscilla Vidal.

Maroa began cooking for Christmas celebrations Monday. She cooked tamales, pozole with pork, dried peppers, mole and garlic with cilantro and cabbage toppings and bunuelos.

The family moved to Gadsden County nine years ago and Gregario began working in agriculture, mostly tomatoes, pulling plastic and picking tomatoes. The Bacerra children, 17-year-old Yesenia, 13-year-old Cecelia and Luis, 7, have adjusted well to the family's reversal of fortune. Yesenia is married and has a 3-month-old daughter named Guadalupe. Her husband is in Mexico.

This year the family will not attend mass but will instead stay at home, Maria said, to be together as a family. One of the family members will be missing from the celebration table and his absence has caused the family, especially Gregorio and Maria, a lot of sadness.

According to Maria, Gregorio Jr. went to a club for the first time last year. He also had his first, second and maybe his third drink that night. He was driving his car for the first time outside Gadsden County. With no designated driver, Gregorio began driving back to Greensboro.

"You know, he is a young boy who never caused any trouble. He is a good boy, but that night he had too much happy and turned over in the car," she said through a translator.

When authorities arrived, they learned that Gregorio did not have his immigration papers in order. Vidal said someone translated the immigration papers incorrectly to the family and they were misinformed about their status. Currently, Vidal and others are trying to help the family secure the proper papers, but it is too late for Gregorio; he was deported four months ago. He now lives in central Mexico with his aunt, Maria's sister. The senior Gregorio and baby Guadalupe are the only family members with legal status while the others must navigate the system again.

But this year the family will stay in, singing traditional songs, praying and sharing the meal. They will not take part in the nine-day Mexican celebration that began Dec. 16. The tradition, according to Maria, has been somewhat diluted. The family gives gifts, but Santa Claus as American children know him is not a part of the celebration.

"We've mixed the tradition. In Mexico it is all about Jesus Christ. Here the children get more gifts than in Mexico," she said.

The older girls said they didn’t want much for Christmas, but Luis was hopeful Santa would bring him one gift.

“Pistola. I want a pistola," he shouted.