By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa
When Juan Antonio García first came across Raíces del Sur on Facebook, he was skeptical. “I thought it was a scam, but I watched their videos and began following them and realized they were legit.” That’s when he decided to apply in hopes of getting a visitor’s Visa for his mother to visit him in Iowa. He is one of thousands of applicants who live in the United States and have an aging parent in Mexico that they haven’t seen in decades. Raíces del Sur helps reunite these parents with their children. Juan’s mother, Lucía García, lives in Oaxaca. He had not seen her in 18 years, his older brother Salomón hadn’t seen her in 23 years. “We surprised him when she arrived. We took her to his house, and he was sleeping. When he woke up and saw our mother, he nearly fainted.”
A coordinator with Raíces del Sur spent time making the flight arrangements to ensure that Antonio García’s mother arrived safely in Des Moines, among a group of 18 others who met the qualifications. Applicants must be 59 years or older, have a valid Mexican passport, have never been deported for identification fraud, and have at least one son or daughter living in Mexico. “We help them with the paperwork for the Visa, accompany them to the United States, and once their visit is over, we accompany them back to Mexico,” says Raul Renteria, who has worked with the organization since 2019. He found Raíces del Sur on social media and sent a message to the founder and president, Luis Aguilar, asking how he could bring the program to Nebraska. “I help people from all over the US, not just Nebraska.”
The application process most often begins with a son or daughter in the US who cannot leave the country and hasn’t seen their parent in over ten years. “Some haven’t seen them in 30 years,” says Renteria. Once they contact the agency, Raíces del Sur makes sure the parent meets all the qualifications before they submit the paperwork for their tourist Visa. “The process used to take 6 months, but since the pandemic, it has slowed down to a year.” Part of that is attributed to an increase in demand. “Many of us lost family members to Covid, and it makes it even more important to try to see our aging parents.” Once the Visa is approved, coordinators like Renteria book flights and secure accommodations to ensure passengers are comfortable and safe during their flights. “Everyone was so kind and friendly,” says García, who arrived from Oaxaca on November 12. García speaks Zapotec, an indigenous language commonly spoken in Oaxaca and parts of southern Mexico. Her sons and daughter have learned Spanish and English while living in Iowa and serve as translators. “I’m so happy to see my kids, and Des Moines is very beautiful,” she said via her daughter-in-law. She is enjoying getting to know her grandchildren, who have been learning Zapotec. The family, along with 17 other families eagerly awaiting the flight to arrive, were reunited at Cristo Rey church on Des Moines’ south side, where the group of travelers were transported upon arriving at the Des Moines airport. “It was a celebration,” says Renteria, who traveled from Omaha to participate in the event. “Families hugged and cried; it was beautiful.”
Raíces del Sur began in 2018 in California. It served 40 families in its first year and quickly grew to almost one thousand in five years. Most applicants learn about the service via social media and word of mouth. All flights originate in Mexico City, but they transport seniors to any state across the US where they can get a group of ten or more travelers. Upon arriving to the Mexico City airport, the seniors meet with a Raíces del Sur volunteer who makes the entire journey to and from their destination. Visits last 30 days, but the tourist Visa is valid for ten years. However, the organization only provides their services for the first trip. The fees for these services vary and include the cost of the Visa and the round-trip flight. However, Raíces del Sur simplifies and streamlines the process for families, so it’s faster than attempting to secure these Visas on their own. Relatives in the US applying for their parents only need to provide their name and contact number. They do not have to provide personal information, show proof of income, or share immigration status. You can learn more about Raíces del Sur by visiting their website, https://www.xn--raicesdelsur-pcb.com/. If you have questions or would like to begin the process for your aging parent, you can contact Raul Renteria at 402-415-8487, [email protected].
For families like the Garcías, Raíces del Sur brought together four generations who had been separated for two decades, making this holiday season extra special. Since her arrival, the family has gotten together nearly every day, many of them taking time off from work to enjoy time with their mother. “She has 17 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren in Des Moines,” says Antonio García, “She’s never met most of them.” Antonio García is pleased he found Raíces del Sur and took a chance. “We’re so thankful for Raíces del Sur. Without them, my mother wouldn’t be here with us today.”