South American migrants celebrate their first Christmas in Chicago

Migrants recently arrived from Venezuela and Colombia enjoy a holiday party at the Salvation Army’s Shield of Hope Center, but many are homesick for loved ones left behind.

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Freddy, who arrived in Chicago from Colombia on Nov. 24, holds the hand of his 11-month-old daughter Valeria at the Salvation Army holiday party. “Here in Chicago people are very, very nice and welcoming and supportive of migrants,” he said.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Christmas is pretty different this year for the hundreds of South American migrants that attended Monday’s holiday party at a Salvation Army shelter in Humboldt Park.

Many arrived from Venezuela and Colombia at the Texas-Mexico border and were sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Now they struggle to pay rent and put food on the table for their young children.

Ellyn Harris, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army, said the party was just another way to “help people in need — wherever they’re at.”

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Guests, many of whom arrived in the United States from Colombia and Venezuela, were served a holiday meal and sang carols in Spanish. Later, children were given presents donated by the community.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Orlanis López and her 7-year-old son, Fabian, like many of the partygoers, are residents of the Salvation Army’s Shield of Hope Center at 825 N. Christiana Ave., the site of the event.

López said that one of the main reasons she left Caracas, Venezuela, was for Fabian, who has Down syndrome.

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“There were many obstacles for us to come here and give another quality of life to my son because of his condition,” López said. “Here he has all the opportunities and the right to go to school like any other child.

“This event is like a welcoming for us, and I feel grateful. On the other hand, this Christmas will be very sad.” López will miss her parents back home.

“The truth is, it can be hard to be so far from your family, your parents, your roots, your land. It is not easy to adapt. It is not easy starting from scratch, but it’s not impossible either. And here we are.”

Thanks to a $5,000 donation from the Chicago Bears, partygoers shared a meal in the Salvation Army gymnasium. They even got a surprise visit from linebacker Matt Adams, who posed for photos with fans.

“It’s great just coming out and knowing that my presence is bringing them joy and seeing all kinds of families coming together under one roof,” Adams told the Sun-Times. “There are a lot of beautiful people here today.”

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Chicago Bears linebacker Matt Adams signs Bears hats for guests. The team donated $5,000 for the celebration. “There are a lot of beautiful people here today,” Adams said.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

After filling up on food, guests sang Christmas carols in Spanish and said a prayer led by Salvation Army Capt. Pedro Arias. Then, children of all ages lined up to receive gifts that were donated by the community.

Adriana and Freddy, who opted not to share their last names with the Sun-Times, attended the party with their 11-month-old daughter Valeria. They arrived in Chicago from Colombia less than a month ago, on November 24.

“Here in Chicago people are very, very nice and welcoming and supportive of migrants,” Freddy said.

But for Freddy and his wife, this year’s Christmas is not going to be a happy one. Above all else, they’re experiencing a lot of uncertainty about their lives at the moment.

“We are thankful, but internally it makes us nostalgic because we know that our family is back home,” he said. “It won’t be the same without being with the people we grew up with.”

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A young child plays with a gifted toy during a holiday party.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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