The holiday season is often full of gatherings and celebrations with family and friends. Amid the festive cheer, it’s important to acknowledge that many individuals within the Latinx community experience profound feelings of loneliness and grief. These emotions can manifest for a variety of reasons, including being far from home, family, or one’s home country, as well as coping with the loss of a loved one. In some cases, deeper isolation can result from setting physical boundaries with family members to protect one’s overall well-being.
For those who are the first in their families to pursue higher education away from home, the loneliness can stem from the inability to travel back for the holidays. Similarly, for those who have immigrated from another country, the holiday season may remind them of what they are missing, whether it is loved ones, traditions and/or familiar comforts. As the first in my family to seek higher education, I recall my initial holiday season away from my family when I moved to New York City for my master’s program. Unable to afford a flight home to California for Thanksgiving, I felt a profound sadness. However, I attempted to make the most of my situation, appreciating the unique experiences New York had to offer and attempting to divert my focus from what I was missing. During a phone call with my family that evening, as they gathered for their holiday dinner, they expressed their love and appreciation for me. Each family member shared what they were thankful for, and I couldn’t help but quietly cry, yearning to be with them and experiencing a grief I had never known before.
I told them how much I loved them and how desperately I wished I could be there. Despite living in a vibrant city and engaging in exciting activities like exploring New York City and Central Park, I felt the void of being separated from my loved ones. My story is similar to many other stories of first-generation college students. The sacrifices made as you work hard to make your family’s sacrifices “worth it,” pressure to succeed, but also the longing to be with family, to not have everything feel like a “sacrifice.”
Many of us grieve the absence of loved ones who are no longer with us, feeling their absence during these times of togetherness. Lastly, there are those who have family nearby but still experience loneliness within those familial spaces. They may not feel free to be their authentic selves due to family expectations, and as a result, choose to set boundaries to preserve their well-being and experience familial estrangement.
So, how do we address and navigate this loneliness? How do we cope with loss and deal with the isolation? In the face of these emotions, it becomes crucial to find ways to support one another as we navigate the challenges brought up by the holiday season.
One effective approach is to seek out community; friends and neighbors can become your “chosen family” or a “family away from home.” Share your traditions with this new community, helping them understand the values you hold dear during holiday gatherings. I remember one holiday season when I was away from home, and my friends and I gathered to make our own tamales. During those few hours, we didn’t dwell on what we were missing; instead, we savored the excitement of creating delicious tamales together while appreciating the effort that goes into making them.
Another meaningful way to navigate this season is by finding ways to honor loved ones who have passed away. Many individuals find solace in establishing rituals to remember and pay tribute to the individuals they are grieving. This might involve setting out dinner plates, lighting candles, or saying a heartfelt prayer. However you choose to do it, honoring those we have lost can serve as a reminder of the love we shared with them.
Consider expressing your feelings through writing or conversation. Keeping a journal can be a therapeutic way to process your thoughts during difficult nights. If you’ve had to establish physical boundaries and have limited contact with family, be kind to yourself. Alternatively, reach out to a trusted loved one with whom you can share your emotions and seek support. Remember, it’s okay to lean on others during challenging times.