A Haitian family finds love and support when Mexicans help them settle in Dallas

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A Haitian family managed to settle in North Texas after receiving help from local Mexican families who made donations through a Facebook group.

Berno Cherestan traveled with his wife and daughter from Chile for more than a month and crossed the border in Del Río in July.

Cherestan, 30, and his wife Bennia Celestin, 32, both from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, decided to leave their country in 2017 due to increasing violence and lack of jobs. They emigrated to Chile and had a daughter two years later.

But the high prices and bad economic situation in Chile, as well as the racism that the Cherestan family had experienced, made them rethink the future of their daughter Bernie, who is now 2 years old. They left for the United States on June 8th.

“People only treat you badly because of the color of your skin, because you speak differently, and I always looked at my daughter and thought that they would treat her the same as me, even if she was born in this country (Chile),” Cherestan said . “So I spoke to some friends and we decided to go to the US without knowing what to expect during the trip.”

Cherestan recalls that the hardest part of the trip was crossing the border between Panama and Colombia.

“If I knew everything we had to go through, I wouldn’t do it again,” he said. “I had to carry my daughter on my back in my arms the whole time, in the dark, in the middle of the jungle, without water or food. I thought we were going to die. “

“Nobody will help you,” he said. “We were on the verge of being attacked. We couldn’t rest, not even for a minute. Fear always haunted us. “

The family arrived in Tapachula, Mexico, a month after they left Chile. They made their way north and crossed the border between Ciudad Acuña in Mexico and Del Río. You were soon arrested by U.S. law enforcement agencies at Eagle Pass.

They were later taken to a detention center with other migrants. They never knew their exact location because the authorities never informed them, they said.

Cherestan recalls being there for two weeks, surrounded by other Haitians and people from different countries. There he found out about a Haitian who was helping other Haitians move through a church. The family got bus tickets to Dallas, so they moved to North Texas without knowing anyone.

They were taken to the home of a Haitian family that was providing temporary accommodation to newly arrived migrants and were able to sleep there for a few days. This house belonged to a Haitian family who provided shelter to recently arrived migrants until August.

Eight days later, Cherestan got a job washing dishes in a restaurant in Grapevine. There he met a Mexican couple who originally came from Veracruz. While they were talking, they offered his family to sleep in an extra room in an apartment near the restaurant.

“I told them that we have only just arrived and that everything is very difficult, and that we live in a place with many people and that our daughter does not have much to support,” said Cherestan.

The family accepted the offer and later a neighbor found out about the family’s situation from below. Ángela Villegas Martínez, 32, originally from Michoacán, Mexico, said the family story “broke my heart”.

“So I came up with the idea of ​​asking the Mexican community for help,” said Villegas Martínez, a resident of Grapevine.

Villegas Martínez reached through a Facebook group “Mexicanas in Dallas“Or Mexican women in Dallas. She uploaded a picture of the family and asked for donations of all kinds with their consent.

“It was amazing to see the number of people calling us, texting us, and contacting us to donate. From a mattress to tables, chairs, clothes, food, toys, everything; it was a great blessing, ”said Villegas Martínez.

It seemed unreal for the family to get so many things. They could not believe that so many people were helping them who they did not know and who did not come from their country.

“For us, one of the best gifts they gave us was to have a table and chairs to sit down and have dinner with our daughter with dignity. Aside from all the clothes and toys our little girl got, I have to remember how she jumped for joy, ”said Cherestan.

Berno Cherestan (left), Bennia Celestin (center) and Bernie Cherestan (right), 2, are sitting at the dining table in their apartment in the south of Dallas on December 12, 2021. Of all the donations they received, the kitchen table made the most sense, Berno said. (Liesbeth Powers / 20056654A)

Villegas Martínez remembers a person who gave the family a huge white teddy bear and how she gave it to her girl.

“Her little eyes were wide open. She was very excited, she couldn’t stop hugging the bear, it was so cute, ”said Villegas Martínez. “I couldn’t stop crying and I was so grateful for the whole community and their willingness to help this family.”

Some wanted to hand over their donations in person, and that is exactly what Gabriela Rosas, 45, originally from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, and now in Fort Worth, did.

“When I saw the mail, I called my sister and we decided to put together a food donation because we felt it was very important that they had plenty to eat. Since we were further away and people wanted to donate, my sister and I decided to pick up the food in different houses of other Mexicans and then we met Angela and Berno to give them the food, “said Rosas.

Other people in the community offered to borrow a pickup truck so they could move larger furniture since the family does not own a vehicle.

There are several reasons Haitians choose to immigrate to the United States, from poverty and natural disasters to political violence. Thousands of Haitians arrived in Del Río in September to seek asylum, but there was disagreement about who could and could not claim the benefit.

After President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July, Haitians were allowed to apply for temporary protection status that allows them to be legally in the US, but this benefit only applies to those who arrived before July 29th. Cherestan and his family have been able to apply since they arrived on July 25th. Therefore, unlike many others, they were not deported to Mexico or returned to Haiti.

According to the 2019 census, there are approximately 3,000 Haitians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“I just want the same thing all immigrants are looking for, a better future for my daughter. I want her to go to school, study and live in peace, ”said Cherestan.

His wife hopes to learn English soon so that she can resume her job as an accountant. Her main language is Creole, she doesn’t speak much Spanish.

Cherestan speaks English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Creole.

With the help of the Mexican community and Cherestan’s salary, the family moved to their own apartment in South Oak Cliff. He’s hoping to go to school and get a degree as a plumber or an electrician, as he studied that in Haiti and would like to work in those fields again.

“We should always try to help others, regardless of race, skin color, where they come from, how they came, nothing. The important thing is to help others because you never know when it will happen to you, ”said Villegas Martínez.


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