Abuelos y Nietos Juntos: Project aims to reconnect families
WORTHINGTON -- 1,996 miles.
That's the as-the-crow-flies distance between Worthington and San Marcos, Guatemala -- the region of Central America from which many of Worthington's newest immigrants hail. Breaching those many miles is the goal of Abuelos y Nietos Juntos -- Grandparents and Grandchildren Together -- a project that will allow American-born children of Guatemalan ancestry the opportunity to visit the country of their origin and meet their extended families.
The idea was born about a year ago, when Lisa Kremer, then Faith Formation director at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Worthington, was preparing to take her fourth "awareness" trip to Guatemala.
"The first time was in 2002, when I was working on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall," explained Kremer. "We decided to do a spring break trip, and the Diocese of New Ulm has a connection there, so we took a group of college students and adults. Now I've been there four times in the last 10 years, and the deepest thing I've learned is that a lot of times when we think about going to these Third World countries, we think we're going to fix something or help somebody so we can feel good about ourselves. So we've stopped calling them mission trips and started calling them awareness trips, because it's more about understanding. That's what the people appreciate the most -- that we take the time to see what their lives are like."
Before the first three trips, Kremer wasn't acquainted with any of the Guatemalans living in southwest Minnesota, but her work at St. Mary's put her into direct contact with the growing population of immigrants. One parishioner, Isabel Agustin, heard Kremer was going to Guatemala and inquired if she would be able to visit her family in San Marcos. Although she had been warned that traveling to that region could be dangerous, Kremer resolved to make it happen.
"As we made preparations for the January trip and the families were coming with photos and mementos to take to their parents in Guatemala, I was struck by the injustice of it all," related Kremer in a pamphlet she developed for the project. "Here I was able to travel freely to visit their families in Guatemala, and it wasn't possible for them. In the Guatemalan culture, family is everything. They all wanted more than anything to see their families again, but with little hope that would happen in the foreseeable future. One night in particular, as I was driving home, I was praying and the thought came to me (I believe it was divinely inspired) that the adults couldn't go to Guatemala --but it would be possible for their U.S.-born citizen children to travel to Guatemala to meet their grandparents and other relatives for the first time."
Accompanied by Kathy Klos, who works with Worthington's immigrant population through the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and her oldest son, Dustin, Kremer laid the groundwork for Abuelos y Nietos Juntos during that January 2012 trip.
"We discovered that some of these grandparents had never seen photos of their grandchildren," said Kremer. "There was laughter and tears, too, as the families of San Lorenzo shared their gratitude to us and their overwhelming sadness because of the separation of their families. They opened to us their hearts and incredible hospitality."
"They each took a turn, wanted to convey their gratitude about us coming," said Klos.
Upon their return, Kremer and Klos were even more resolved to make the project a reality. A big boost came through an encounter with filmmaker Luis Argueta, who expressed interest in filming the venture and put them in touch with Hugo Hun, the Consulate general of the Guatemalan Consulate in Chicago. Hun offered help in completing the necessary paperwork and paving the way through diplomatic channels.
With a target date of July, arrangements are being made for 18 children, ages 9-18, to make the trip to Guatemala, accompanied by about a dozen volunteer chaperones. The cost for each child is estimated at $1,500, and so far they have received pledges to sponsor six children. The families are also doing some fundraising.
"I feel like God has brought this to us, and (the money) is going to come together, too," said Kremer. "It's amazing how people react when we tell them about this. There's not anybody who doesn't want to see grandparents meet their grandchildren. I just had my first grandson in March, and I can't imagine what it would be like if I had never seen him, if he was that far away."
In order to devote more time to the effort, Kremer resigned her full-time job at St. Mary's and has taken a part-time position at St. Gabriel's in Fulda. Klos is working on the legal details of the operation, and the two women and Argueta are planning a scouting expedition in March to Guatemala in order to work out the final details and do some pre-interviews with the families.
"I met some of the families down there before I met some of the people here in Worthington," noted Klos about her involvement with the project. "Now I'm getting to meet the kids, after I met their grandparents."
When the plane leaves for Guatemala in July, two of Agustin's four children, ages 12 and 10, will be on their way to meet their grandparents on both sides of their family as well as aunts and uncles for the first time.
"They have never seen my children, just in pictures," said Agustin. "They are excited, waiting for the day. They want it to be soon. It gives me goosebumps to think about it."
The organizers of Abuelos y Nietos Juntos hope that their project does more than reunite Guatemalan family members separated by distance.
"One of the important aspects -- besides the primary one of bringing families together -- is to have the opportunity to have a voice in immigration issues," said Kremer. "We just want the immigrants to have a chance to tell their perspective and story, what these families go through."
Anyone interested in learning more about Abuelos y Nietos Juntos or wanting to donate to the effort can contact Kremer via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or at St. Gabriel's in Fulda, (507) 425-2369; or leave a message at the St. Mary's rectory, 376-6005.