They wanted a better life for their children in the US. They weren’t ready for the American economy

Amid the rhythmic buzz of an electric razor and the boisterous chatter about politics at Caribbean Cutz in Miami Gardens, hairdresser Cristiàn Batista, 44, has only one thing on his mind.

“Providing a good future for our children is our priority,” he says.

He and his wife, Teolina Gonzalez, are from the Dominican Republic but now live in Hollywood with their five children after embarking on a life-changing journey.

“We wanted to give our family a good future,” Cristiàn said. “But we couldn’t do that in the Dominican Republic.”

Today, as Christmas approaches, the family faces challenges meeting their financial obligations. Cristià works overtime most days; his average weekly wage recently dropped from about $1,000 to $550. His wife is at the checkout counter at a store almost every time she is away from the family, but they still need help paying their monthly rent of $ 2800.

With Christmas approaching, this family doesn’t even have money to buy presents.

Magaly Alvarado, the director of Hispanic Unity, a nonprofit that helps immigrants gain citizenship and who has worked with the Batista family, nominated them for Wish Book.

“Cristiàn is a very hardworking and optimistic man,” Alvarado said. “His story is wonderful to share.”

Cristiàn Batista (center) with his five children: Steicy, Cristal, Nashly, Erick and Lesly outside their Hollywood home.Cristiàn Batista (center) with his five children: Steicy, Cristal, Nashly, Erick and Lesly outside their Hollywood home.

Cristiàn Batista (center) with his five children: Steicy, Cristal, Nashly, Erick and Lesly outside their Hollywood home.

The couple met around 2000 in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They fell in love and soon their first daughter, Steicy, was born. Two years later, a son, Erick, arrived and a daughter, Cristal Marie, followed.

Teolina’s father was already living in the United States and he sponsored her to stay in the US in 2010. She got a job as a cashier at a clothing store.

She petitioned for Cristiàn to come to South Florida, and shortly after he arrived, a fourth child, Lesly, was born. Nashly, who is now four, followed.

Batista was already certified to cut hair in the Dominican Republic and got his current job at Caribbean Cutz with the help of a friend.

“I learned hairdressing when I was 13 years old,” Cristiàn explains. “I was committed to the same thing in Santo Domingo.”

An economic struggle for this immigrant family

Although Cristiàn brought a strong work ethic from the Dominican Republic, it was the starkly different economic landscape of the US that most deeply shaped his experience.

Initially, Caribbean Cutz barely got any customers or had the money to buy supplies.

“We balanced our budget (at the store) by buying cheaper supplies,” he explained.

Recent inflation and a lack of clients have caused his modest salary to drop dramatically. Teolina earns even less than Cristiàn, so it is difficult to make ends meet.

Teolina Gonzalez and her 4-year-old daughter Nashly at Caribbean Cutz.Teolina Gonzalez and her 4-year-old daughter Nashly at Caribbean Cutz.

Teolina Gonzalez and her 4-year-old daughter Nashly at Caribbean Cutz.

Complicating their finances, the parents support his two older children, who hope to enroll in college and improve their language skills.

“We covered Steicy and Erick’s expenses,” Cristiàn explained, “so they can learn English instead of working.”

Last month, Teolina’s phone broke after Nashly broke it while playing. She uses the phone at work to communicate.

“When I’m away, I have no means of communication with my family,” Teolina said.

Through Wish Book, Batista and his wife hope to get new phones for themselves, as well as a computer for the children. Meanwhile, their younger children hope to get a dog and presents for Christmas.

“The children need a computer to go to school,” Cristiàn said, “so they can do their homework.”

Cristià’s mother has helped the family by sending goods from the Dominican Republic, mainly medicines, but economic instability at home limits her support.

“Living in the United States is harder than I thought,” Cristiàn said. “It is not how it is portrayed in our countries.”

How to help

To help this Wish Book nominee and the more than 100 other nominees in need this year:

▪ To donate, use the coupon found in the newspaper or pay securely online at www.MiamiHerald.com/wishbook

▪ For more information, call 305-376-2906 or email [email protected]

▪ The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture and accessible vans

▪ Read all the Wish Book stories at www.MiamiHerald.com/wishbook

Victoria Clariá contributed to this report

This story is the result of a collaboration between the Miami Herald and the Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media at Florida International University

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