Program helps reunite Aurora residents with relatives from Mexico
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media December 9, 2013 9:18AM
2249: Julia Martinez Rios of Chihuahua was reunited with her mother and four sisters who live in Aurora as part of the Abuelitas (Grandmothers) Program. Pictured from left are Juana Zepeda, Julia Martinez Rios and Lucia Martinez.
Updated: January 11, 2014 6:13AM
Julia Martinez Rios had not seen her elderly mother in a decade.
“I had feelings of joy but at the same time sadness for the time missed,” a tearful Martinez Rios said.
On Sunday, 32 relatives from six different states in Mexico separated for years from loved ones shared both laughter and tears at the Sacred Heart Parish Hall on the East Side of Aurora.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Illinois-based Mexican social clubs coordinated 30-day visas and then invited members of Aurora’s Latino community to welcome the group and their families.
The Abuelitas (Grandmothers) Program, facilitated through the Republican senator’s office, has reunited more than 2,000 people with Mexican-American relatives in Illinois since 2005.
Although Kirk was unable to attend Sunday’s event, the families did not hesitate to express their gratitude and appreciation for the reunions when they were introduced.
Lulu Blacksmith, who serves on Kirk’s Latino Advisory Board, walked around the room to meet with each of the families.
“There really are no words to describe the feelings here,” she said. “It is very emotional for them because they have been separated for so long and they don’t know when they will meet again.”
Martinez Rios, the eldest of five daughters, traveled from Chihuahua, the furthest among the entire group, to see her 83-year-old mother and four sisters who live in Aurora.
“I am the only daughter living in Mexico,” she said through an interpreter.
Martinez Rios made her first trip to the U.S. on a humanitarian visas when her mother was in the hospital.
“My mother’s health is too delicate for her to visit Mexico,” she said.
She said her Christmas in Aurora with family will be her happiest in a long time.
“I have had 27 years without spending a Christmas with my whole family,” she said.
“I have no words to express what it will mean to celebrate Christmas together with our family,” Juana Zepeda said. “My sister helped my mother when we were young and our father died.”
Ana Nino coordinated the application process for Club Cuitzillo of Aurora.
“Julia was very happy when she found out her visas was approved so she could finally see her mother,” Nino said.
The Mexican social club has helped to facilitate reunions for 134 people from Mexico.
Juan Jose Serrano was reunited with his mother from Michoacán for the first time in eight years and his wife was reunited with her parents from Durango for the first time in 10 years, a reunion that happened in time for their wedding day. The Sandwich couple has two young children who met their grandparents for the first time.
“We planned our wedding day hoping they would be here. I thank God for the program and that they were here with us,” Serrano said.