After violence in Michoacan tore his family apart, Jose Angel Mendoza was separated from his mother and hasn’t seen or spoken to her in more than two decades.
But on Saturday, Mendoza and his loved ones were one of 43 families gathered in a San Jose auditorium, waiting to be reunited with his mother after nearly a lifetime apart. Tears flowed as his mother, Bernarda Arroyo, slowly got off a bus that sunny afternoon, waited in a separate room and was finally able to walk into the building and scan the room for her son.
And after 25 years, Mendoza immediately spotted his mother and ran into her open arms, crying as he struggled to come up with the first words to say to her after so many years. All they were able to do was hold each other as onlookers joined them in tears of empathy. Trying to make up for decades of lost time, Mendoza wouldn’t let go of his mother’s embrace.
“It’s been 25 years and I don’t have any words to express how I feel,” Mendoza, 49, said through tears. “I can’t even see my dad because he was too ill to travel. This is all just so overwhelming for me.”
Arroyo, 76, will be in the U.S. for just three weeks, which she’ll spend visiting her four sons and three daughters who live in different parts of California.
The Mendoza family’s emotional reunion was made possible thanks to a program called Palomeras Mensajes. Palomeras Mensajes works primarily with the state of Michoacan in Mexico in an effort to help older adults and aging parents receive their passports and visas for a three-week visit to the U.S. — in some cases, the last chance to see loved ones. Funded by the families and the municipality of Huacana in Michoacan, the program has reunited about 100 families in the last three years.
Ruben Gonzalez, mayor of Huacana, said applicants must file paperwork to show they have clean records and are over the age of 60. He hopes “the program continues to grow every year with more improvement and places in the United States to host the program.”
More than 40 families reunited Saturday in San Jose at LiUNA’s Local 270 hall. The local union worked with the Mexican Consulate and other partners to help facilitate the event and the reunification of the families.
“I am collaborating with Palomeras Mensajes and Pueblos Unidos to facilitate a celebration for the families and I was in touch with the mayor of Hucana and the Mexican consulate to make this happen” said Enrique Arguello, the union’s business manager.
Similar to the Mendoza family, Maria Morales had been separated from her mother, Francisca Castaneda, for 25 years. She applied for the program after seeing it on the news in Mexico. Morales, 48, could hardly speak when she explained that her father had passed away before their visas were approved.
And this might prove to be her last chance to see her mother, who like Mendoza’s mother, is in her late 70s.
“I was very happy because I’ve been wanting to see my daughters and it’s almost been a year since we found out information about the process. I plan to come back if God’s willing,” said Castaneda, 77.
Families carried roses and hand-written signs as they continued being reunited with their loved ones Saturday, the room filled with tears, laughter and excited cheers. Many children met their grandparents for the first time.
The local labor union and its sponsors hope to continue expanding the program, which began in 2016, to reunite more aging Mexican parents with their families in America.
Contact San José Spotlight intern Arianna Ramirez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @ariaram98 on Twitter.