By Liliana Bernal
In front of hundreds of people, Caritina Hernandez Maldonado, an immigrant who left her hometown of Puebla, Mexico, 13 years ago, merged in a long-drawn welcome embrace with her mother Sofia Maldonado Perez after decades of separation.
Tearful reunions like this spread through Brooklyn Borough Hall on Tuesday evening during “Roots of Puebla,” a family reunification program that brought parents and grandparents from the state of Puebla, Mexico, to visit their children and grandchildren in the Tri-State Area.
“I feel so happy,” said Hernandez in Spanish. “Since last year, [when] I found out through the [Mexican] consulate about this program, I saw the possibility to bring my mom.”
Hernandez had to wait for her mother to recover from a blood clot that she said almost cost her her life to apply to the program.
“We have the opportunity to be supported by the governor of Puebla, and I’m very grateful they brought us — because otherwise, I won’t see my children,” said Maldonado, who made the journey to meet two of her grandchildren.
Ana Flores, executive director of Mi Casa es Puebla in New York and New Jersey, the organization that selects the families, said that immigration status and money are the main two reasons that the 74 families reunited at the event have been separated for up to 30 years.
“They normally come from rural communities in Puebla, Mexico,” Flores said, adding that the state government of Puebla pays for the cost of the visa and the plane tickets. “They are here for three weeks to hug again their loved ones.”
The program receives applications from immigrants who are involved with their communities as community leaders and parents who are involved with their children’s schools or volunteers who are doing community work with nonprofit organizations.
Roughly half a million Mexicans live in New York, a significant portion of them from Puebla. Most of them have settled in Sunset Park, where people joke that they now live in “Puebla York.”
The “Roots of Puebla” family reunification program is the result of a partnership between the Government of the State of Puebla’s Office of International Affairs and the Pueblan Migrant Support Institute.
Last year, more than 600 families reunified in New York and Los Angeles through the program.
“While some people are talking about building walls, we want to build bridges,” said Flores. “That’s the reason we are doing this program.”