Though devastated and grief-stricken in the hours after her boyfriend’s death, Virginia Rodriguez never thought twice about where he would be laid to rest, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. “I knew I had to send him back to Mexico,” said Rodriguez, a 34-year-old Northlake resident who lost her longtime boyfriend Thomas Cruz Morales, 28, in February. “There was no question.”
Rodriguez left her native town of Aguascalientes, Mexico, seven years ago to join her mom, brothers and sisters here. Like many of the estimated 1.5 million foreign-born residents in the Chicago metropolitan area, she knows that when her loved ones die, they’ll want to make a final trip home. For many Mexican immigrants, burial in the soil that they grew up on is a must. Not only for patriotic reasons, but because the trip back will be the last chance to be surrounded by the loved ones they left home to support. “I knew he and his family would want him buried in his ‘pueblo’ so they could see him one last time,” Rodriguez said.
Last year the Mexican Consulate in Chicago helped 646 Mexican nationals take their final trip back home, according to a consulate representative. The consulate works with about 40 funeral homes in Chicago to issue travel visas for the deceased, certify documents and — in special cases when family can prove they are too poor to pay for the airfare — even provide funds to help offset the costs. “I think people know about it through word-of-mouth,” said funeral director Liz Marin Andel of Marin Funeral Home on the city’s Southwest Side. “But they don’t know where to go, and it’s a lot of work, a lot of red tape and paperwork.
According to Marin and other funeral directors, each country has a different policy and forms that have to be translated and certified. They run the gamut from 8 to 20 pages that could cost from $25 to $50 per page to no visa requirements to repatriate to Guatemala and free paperwork to ship a body to Mexico. Georgina Bishop, owner of Caribe Funeral Home on the near Northwest Side, said preparations and cost depend on the final destination and airline fares.
“Usually it costs $2,500 to bury people here, but for about a thousand more they figure ‘I’ll send them to my country,’ ” she said. Bishop and Marin said help from the Mexican Consulate is not automatic. Consulate representatives declined to comment specifically because they don’t want people to think they are entitled to benefits. But they did verify that the Mexican government budgets $100,000 annually to Chicago in assistance, which is doled out in increments up to $100 per family if, in an interview, they can prove economic need. Even if financial assistance isn’t granted to send a body home, the Mexican government will help pay for transportation from Mexican airports to small towns.
“I had to pay the $3,000 to get him to Mexico, but from there the government provided transport to Veracruz, his hometown,” Rodriguez said. “The funeral home and the [Mexican] government really helped in a difficult situation,” said Rodriguez, who lost her boyfriend to suicide. “There’s nothing like being buried where you were born.”
If the Mexican government budgets $100,000 annually to Chicago in assistance, what’s the annual budget for Southern California?