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Orlando Sentinel

Deep Longing For Homeland Will Never Die

By Maria Padilla

August 1, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Summer is the favorite time of the year among Hispanics to make a pilgrimage back home.

Just about everybody does it: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans. And now more Cubans are joining in as well.

Planes are full from Orlando to Puerto Rico. And, come to think of it, from Puerto Rico to Orlando, as families take the obligatory trip to Walt Disney World.

Many Mexicans travel home by car each year, crossing hot stretches of southwestern desert. In light of this, the Mexican Consulate this year distributed more than 100,000 fliers to Mexican nationals about its Programa Paisano, covering rules and regulations for visiting Mexico.

And more Cubans are taking to the skies to see relatives they have lost touch with on the island after decades of exile here.

Left to their own devices, many Hispanics would travel only to their homelands, with nary a thought about the rest of the planet.

That's because many Hispanics pine for home -- big time, all the time.

In Spanish it's known as an añoranza. In English it's called a longing. Sometimes it's also known as nostalgia. Many Hispanics have a permanent hurt in their hearts about having left la patria, or homeland.

No matter where they live or how many years spent away, home always will be the soil from which they sprang. Hispanics long for home in ways that often are painful to their U.S.-born children.

Many elders and parents have a terrible homesickness for which there is no cure, save for a permanent return home.

They love talking about la isla or the island, or la patria. This añoranza sometimes is articulated in a favorite song.

For many years the theme song among Puerto Ricans of a certain generation was En Mi Viejo San Juan or "In My Old San Juan," which is the hundreds-years old sector of the capital. "My first disillusion, my first pangs of love" were experienced in my Old San Juan,a verse goes.

For Cubans, it is Cuando Salí de Cuba or "When I left Cuba," where, the song continues, "I left my life, I left my love." Mexicans like to sing Mexico lindo y querido or "Beloved and Beautiful Mexico" with the same passion.

It is heartbreaking to listen to these songs, knowing that they speak to a void or vacío of an earlier and perhaps less complicated life.

To us offspring, it also seems to be nostalgia for the way things never were. For those memories get rosier with each passing year.

Many Hispanics are fortunate enough to make it back home while they are still alive. In the late 1960s, many Puerto Ricans returned to the island permanently in a movement known as the "return migration."

Then there are those who return home in a simple pine box. Apopka's murder-suicide couple Maria Laura Vazquez and Jose I. Villagomez recently made their final journey to Mexico in this way.

The Mexican Consulate of Orlando says it helps ship 10 to 15 bodies a month to Mexico. Nationwide, the figure is more than 5,000.

On any given day, commercial air carriers take the dead on their final flight home to such places as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and points in Central and South America.

Nowadays, more and more families are separated by borders, and that means more and more bodies will be going "home" to kin.

But whether it's a visit back home or a trip to be buried, such are the dreams of many Hispanics.

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