The custom of giving and receiving at the holidays has gotten a bad name, but the spirit of generosity is not lost. TRIN YARBOROUGH talked with Southern Californians new and native, young and old, about how they acquire extra holiday money, how they spend it and on whom. Often it's mom, and for immigrants the money may be spent mostly on family back home, where the toys from America may be the only ones they get.
CAROLYN MARTINO: 5th grade, Grant Elementary School, Hollywood
I was in Kmart with my mom, Angela Lotto, when she saw this special something that she pointed out as really nice. It costs more than $100. I can't say what it is because if she reads this before Christmas, she'll know what I'm hoping to get for her. She's a really special mom who treats me great. If I get in trouble she yells at me but only a little, and if I'm sad she cheers me up by making funny faces. She's a sound effects editor but she's been sick and unable to go to work for several weeks now, and I want to get her something great for Christmas. I'd love to surprise her with that thing she liked so much. But I'm only 10 years old, so how could I earn enough money?
I have a neighbor who's my friend, and I asked if I could sweep her porch for a quarter. Then I raised the price to a dollar. Then I asked if I could get paid in advance so I'd have enough by Christmas. All the time I kept looking for other jobs like that. About a week ago, I got the idea to start a neighborhood video service. So far I have only three members, but it's growing. I take each new member a start-up kit--a membership card with a raccoon sticker and a bar-code on it, so it looks official, along with a list I wrote out of 90 videos I have. My mom's been collecting videos for years so we have some unique ones, plus newer ones like "Independence Day," my top renter right now. I charge $2 a day and I pick up and deliver free--although since my bike got stolen I think I'll start adding a buck for delivery.
So far I've only made $20. I just hope I make enough.
And after Christmas if I keep earning money, I might someday rent out a big space, buy a lot more videos, change my name to Cari and call it "Cari Videos."
MICHIKO TAWA OTELLO: Burbank, mother of four
Each child in his or her own way has done something special or sweet that makes me glad to go out to work so I can buy them something they really want this Christmas. They help around the house without even being asked. They're not troublemakers. They're very understanding, and although they've told me some things they'd like, they always add: "But Mom, if you can't get anything, that's OK." At least that's true of my two oldest boys, 17 and 14. My younger kids, a boy, 8, and a girl, 6, still believe in Santa Claus!
My oldest son likes music. The second one is hoping to be on his school golf team next year and is always practicing on the public course near us. The youngest boy loves any kind of video game, just to see if he can beat them, and my daughter loves dolls, especially the "101 Dalmatians" dog that drinks and wets. So a few weeks ago I started working part-time for a lawyer, doing bookkeeping, computer entries and answering phones. Before I married, the only work I did was cleaning part-time, so now that I'm a single mom I need to get office skills so I can help support my children.
Right now I'm saving half of everything I earn toward their Christmas presents. This will be our first Christmas since I was divorced two days after Christmas last year.
SANDOR GONZALEZ: Inglewood
I come from a family of 13 children, but my wife Ana's mother has only three children and they all love their mom a lot. Ana's father died when she was little and the family had hard times. Now we try every month to send $100 back to Ana's mother in El Salvador. The money is also for Ana's sister and 3-year-old nephew.
This Christmas Ana got a part-time job at an artificial flower factory in Gardena, putting prices on the flowers. She has to be at work at 7 a.m. Our two older kids, 12 and 9, go to school and I stay with our 3-year-old until it's time to take him to the babysitter when I go to work. Ana gets off at 4 p.m. and picks up the baby.
We've been working and saving until the last minute, and now we're going Christmas shopping. We always send toys back to El Salvador for the children. We know it's very hard to be little and get no presents at Christmas. Little boys always want toy cars that make some kind of noise, so that's probably what we'll buy for Ana's nephew. We'll mail everything on Monday through an agency that delivers to Mexico and all over Central America. It's expensive--$5 per pound--but it will get everything there on time for Christmas on Wednesday. Or we might shop at Curacao, a store from El Salvador that opened a branch in Los Angeles and where you can pick out something here and have the store in El Salvador deliver it. We hope that together with Ana's brother, we'll have enough to buy her mother a butane stove that she needs very badly. But it costs $500, so we may not have enough.
On Christmas Day, Ana and I and our kids will have dinner at my mother and father's house here, all 13 of us children, all their wives and husbands and--well, how many grandchildren is it? More than 20, I know, but I can't count them all.
TIEM DANG: Redondo Beach, restaurant owner
We always work hard, but this Christmas there is a special urgency. We have three children, a daughter, 17, and two sons 15 and 12, and each year I get each just one small present, like a pair of jeans. And I tell them I want no Christmas for myself. That is because we try to send every single extra penny we can to my family in Vietnam. Especially my sister, Tiem Phung, and her husband and five children, because they are very, very poor and they are treated very badly because her husband worked for the United States during the Vietnam War. My children understand and are happy to help their cousins there.
My brother-in-law worked four years as a secret commando during the war, not for the South Vietnamese government but directly for the U.S. government. He had to do dangerous things like jump at night from helicopters behind enemy lines, hide, find out information. Then in 1973 he was assigned to work in an Army hospital in Danang.
When the communists won the war in 1975, he managed to avoid prison by hiding awhile in his home town and becoming a rice farmer. He destroyed all the papers that proved he had worked for the U.S. side. But everyone knew. So even his children are treated badly at school, and when he needs to deal with any government matter he has many troubles.
When the United States passed the recent law allowing Vietnamese to come here if they spent years in prison for working for the United States, my brother-in-law applied. To get the Vietnamese government to do the necessary paperwork he had to pay them $2,000, which we sent. And then after many bureaucratic problems both here and there, the United States said he could not come after all because he worked for it not five years but only four. So we need help trying to straighten all this out. In the meantime, we spend very little at Christmas so instead we can send it to them, who need it so much more.