Today is Mother's Day in much of Latin America, and scattered families are displaying their devotion. Forget the potted geranium. They're sending their mothers appliances or cold cash with the flowers and greeting cards.
Money transfers to the region peak this time of year. Phone companies say calls to Latin America will surge this morning. And it's high season for online and catalogue retailers that allow immigrants to ship refrigerators and microwaves directly to homes in Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. For Latinos in the United States, Mother's Day is one of the biggest gift-giving holidays. The day is a boon for companies that cater to the community. AT&T expects calls to Latin America today to near the levels reached on Christmas. Western Union says money transfers are spiking, a spokesman said. "We get super busy," said Carlos A. Castro, owner of Todos, whose store operates a money-transfer station and does catalogue sales for Omnisport, a retailer in San Salvador. He has sold a flat-panel TV, gas range and refrigerator to customers shipping them home in recent days. Rene León, the Salvadoran ambassador to the United States, sent a refrigerator his mother requested, ordering it online through La Curacao, a southern California department-store chain. La Curacao operates a Web site allowing customers to buy items on credit and ship them free for Mother's Day. La Curacao, named for an island off the coast of Venezuela, will double its shipping business this week and deliver about 10,000 appliances and electronics to Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, said Mauricio Fux, the company's senior vice president. Refrigerators are the most popular appliance. "The mother is an institution in most Latin American countries," said León, who is also sending his 66-year-old mother on a weekend vacation to a resort on the Bay of Jiquilisco and transferring a few hundred dollars into her bank account. "Normally the mother is the head of the house. The father is the provider, but the mother is the head of the family in terms of how to run the household, what to buy at the market and how to take care of kids." Mother's Day has been celebrated in Latin America since the early 1900s, after the first recorded celebration of the holiday, in West Virginia, on that date in 1908. President Woodrow Wilson moved the U.S. observation to the second Sunday in May in 1914. In Latin America, the holiday is traditionally a festive time of family gatherings with mariachi singers and ornate cakes. In recent years, it has become more commercialized as faraway children reach out to their mothers in the American way -- by buying them stuff. Latina mothers have come to expect big gifts, said Efraín Jiménez, leader of a Los Angeles group of immigrants from Zacatecas, Mexico. "I need a new sound system or I need a new TV or I would like a watch" is a common refrain, he said. "More typical would be to have a very long telephone call, to write a letter, to visit," said University of Chicago professor Saskia Sassen, author of "Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages," a book about immigration and transnational families. "It shows just how Americanized these Latinos are." Among the most American of practices is sending greeting cards, which mark every major U.S. holiday. According to Hallmark Cards and American Greetings, Mother's Day is the biggest greeting-card-buying holiday for U.S. Hispanics. The companies sell 450 Spanish-language Mother's Day cards, replete with ribbons, glitter and songs. Hallmark said Mother's Day sales for Sinceramente Hallmark, its Spanish-language line, have nearly doubled in the past 10 years and that last year, sales hit several million. For Hallmark's Spanish-language line, Mother's Day sales surpass Christmas and Valentine's Day. For the general market, Christmas is the biggest holiday, followed by Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. "With children being here and parents in the country of origin, it is a huge opportunity, and we see sales just spike," said Arlette Torres, Sinceramente Hallmark's editorial director. The most popular themes? "Mother across the miles" and "Mom, I miss you." (WP)