Immigrants Continue to Support Family Back Home Despite Financial Struggles During Pandemic

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By Jessica Easthope

The pandemic, financial struggles and unemployment haven’t stopped Central and South American immigrants from sending money back home.

Every year, more than 270 million migrants living and working abroad send money back to their home countries according to the United Nations.

But as the pandemic, financial struggles and unemployment consumed New York City’s undocumented population, the Wall Street Journal reported the amount of money sent back to Central and South America has surged. The question is, how?

“I try to control it here,” said Juan Sarmiento. “We don’t buy anything extra so we can send something.”

Juan is an example of how families here are putting their own financial pain on the backburner in order to support their loved ones back home.

“They need it more than us,” Juan said, “because in those countries, there are poor people. In the mountains, they live off of what they get on the farm.”

Juan kept his job with a pest control company throughout the pandemic, but with rising food and utility prices, his family had to do without – in order to send money home to Ecuador. He had to send money to family members who take care of his mom. His mother also had a stroke, nearly two years ago.

“She needs attention like 24 hours a day,” Juan said. “She lost her voice. She can’t speak anymore. I see her on camera and sometimes it makes me cry, but the main thing is my family.”

But there is a flipside to this coin.

“The family depends on my money,” said Luzceli Bravo. “And with me not working, there’s no money for my family. It’s terrible. The conEdison bill, no jobs. The bills aren’t waiting. I have to pay.”

Luzceli says she used to send up to $500 a month back to her sister and parents in Mexico. But since work as a cleaning lady during the pandemic is scarce, most months – all she can afford is $15. She says her teenage daughter here is the priority, but the stress and guilt are unimaginable.

“Food and the internet,” Luzceli said. “The internet is very important because the school is closed for one year and my daughter is home, eating lunch at home. Nothing is the same.”

Father Nestor Martinez at Queen of Angels Church in Sunnyside, Queens, hears stories like Luzceli’s all the time.

“Here in the parish, especially in confession, we hear a lot about that,” Father Nestor said. “They’re trying to support their family here and their family back in their country. But it’s very hard, especially at this time during the pandemic because many people lost their jobs.”

And the priest can relate because he’s supporting his parents back in Colombia. Father Nestor says for Latin American immigrants, sending money home is closely tied to their faith.

“Latin America is very Catholic,” he said, “and we have a very deep mentality of honoring and supporting our parents.”

In spite of the hardship that the pandemic has put on immigrants here in the states, Latin American families are determined to not let it reach home.