Liz Alarcón: COVID-19 is still impacting families and communities throughout the world. But here in the US, the toll has been worse than anywhere else. And nuestra gente has been on the frontlines of it all. As our country got back to work, Latinos pivoted from being first responders during the lockdown, to being essential for the reopening. Our community is overrepresented in the service and food industries, both of which have been the hardest hit and the first to get back to work as the country returned to some kind of normal. And Latino small business owners, they, too, have been getting the country running again with little help to get through. To talk more about the issues our community is facing, we’ve invited Sergio Gonzalez to the Pulso podcast. Sergio is the Deputy Director of The Immigration Hub, an organization that helps fight anti-immigrant narratives and dangerous immigration policies.
Sergio Gonzalez: This is nothing short of catastrophic on our communities. It’s catastrophic, it’s not bad, It’s not concerning, It’s not troubling, It is catastrophic in terms of our public health and how the infection rates for Latinos and immigrant communities. Are much higher than the rest of the population. But then there’s this economic side to it. And, um, the fact that so many small businesse sare being disproportionately impacted, whether it’s the salon or it’s the restaurant. Latinos really were fueling the small business economy in this country. 34% of new small businesses in the last decade were being opened by Latino owners. And that includes a lot of immigrant owners. Immigrants tend to be entrepreneurs and small business owners, you know, the dry cleaner that you take your clothes to, or where you might go get your car repaired. And so the small business in particular, have really been decimated. And so you have these small businesses and the people that they employ who are being really hurt economically. And then you have an administration that is doing everything but helping people, right? This is like a perfect storm for, Latino and immigrant communities. There are so many people who right now. Are at a point of desperation. We’re not necessarily seeing these stories in the news, but some people have been unemployed for months. They haven’t been receiving a paycheck. I was talking to a friend in Colorado, he’s 24 year old, Latino, and he was laid off three months ago. He’s also an immigrant. He worked as a cook And he has two kids and he hasn’t been paying rent for the last four months. His landlord has given him a reprieve, but as landlord, let him know that, he didn’t know he was going to be able to afford that because his landlord lost his job. And so now he may, he has to figure out where he’s going to live and where he’s gonna live with this, where he’s gonna take his kids.
Liz Alarcón: As Sergio shared, we all know someone who has been personally affected right now. How could we not, when more than 7 million people in the US have gotten this virus and more than 200,000 people have died because of it?! The challenges of Covid-19 hit us close to home here at Pulso. One of our staffer’s family in particular is really feeling the strains that this pandemic is causing…
Pulso Staffer: My family’s from Jalisco Mexico. My uncle was the first to migrate to the US and worked as a construction worker and waiter until he saved up to open his own Carniceria. He built his own business from the ground up. The rest of my family followed to help make his dreams come true. And in search of a better financial situation. My mom and I were the last to join our family here, so we came in 2002. She brought me when I was just seven years old. So, Mexico is a distant memory to me. He came at a time when Latino businesses weren’t very common and so, so this was kind of like revolutionary in our city. We were like, Oh my gosh, we now have our own carniceria. Yeah. Like it takes you back to your country. It takes you back home. I feel like my uncle’s carniceria is the American dream, right. It’s coming to the United States, starting your own business and being successful at it. He has more than 40 employees. Most of them stay for years. He has employees that have been there for 10 plus years. That was my first job throughout high school. Luckily we are an essential business, So while not everyone has been so blessed as to keep their jobs, my family has been really busy these last few months, but at the same time, you know, being an essential worker means being more exposed to COVID-19. My family’s exposed to this virus every day. So customers can go and buy groceries and other necessities but I know that even though they are exposed, they’re still so grateful to be able to have a job to go to so they can, you know, pay their bills and put food on the table, because I know for a lot of immigrants that their jobs aren’t considered essential. And to add to that, they’re not getting stimulus checks, even though most of them pay taxes. My stepfather, who is an American citizen, didn’t get a stimulus check for himself or for my American born brother, all because my mom is undocumented. It’s discrimination at this point. to have to deal with the pandemic and the uncertainty of your immigration status, to add discrimination on top of that, I mean, this is what undocumented immigrants are having to go through during this pandemic. Many undocumented immigrants live in fear of even the things that should be a public service. How many are afraid of calling the police even when they are victims of a crime? How many are afraid of going to a hospital or calling an ambulance? I mean, imagine being exposed to a virus every day of your life, but refusing to get tested due to the fear of getting deported, it sounds like a horrible nightmare.
Liz Alarcón: I have no idea what it’s like to live with that fear. First, I was born here in the US, privilege number one. Second, Pulso was a fully-remote team since before the pandemic started, thank goodness for that and, I also have health insurance, yet another privilege. I’m about as lucky as it gets when it comes to living in coronavirus times. But less than 16% of Latinos in the US have the luxury of working from home and a quarter of our community doesn’t have health insurance. We talked to someone who can speak to all of these challenges. She’s an immigrant from Honduras living in Miami, Florida. Here’s her story.
Julia: Well I work in a garment embroidery factory, I’ve been working there for more than 20 years. I feel ok, but now with this virus going around, I am a little scared. It has been quite ugly because I expected this to be a couple of months and the rates would go down but every day the people who are infected are growing and so it is scary. It scares me going to the supermarket … it scares me to go outside! I try to take care of myself as much as I can, I try to take all possible precautions so that this virus does not reach me. I feel a little scared because we all used the same things. We use the microwave, we use a fridge, we touch everything, we use the bathroom, we all use everything. Yeah, I am prepared with my chlorine with my napkins with my gel with everything but still, it’s scary. They told us from one day to the next, today half of you work, tomorrow the other half work, and then that they were going to open in two weeks but they did not open, then they told us to apply for unemployment, and that took more than a month to communicate with the unemployment office because their page is very full. I was home for four months. I felt good because I didn’t go anywhere. I was home alone and now that I leave to go to work, I am a little scared.
Liz Alarcón: In 2020 in the United States of America, for many, fear is not enough to merit protection. Working in high-risk jobs where contact with others is unavoidable, is the reality for so many Latinos. Add to that the pressure to keep working because you have no financial safety net, and you find yourself here; with no choice but to put your life at risk during a global pandemic. A pandemic that is literally taking our lives. Official stats from the Center for Disease Control, or the CDC, show that Latinos are hospitalized and dying from the coronavirus at four times the rate of white Americans, To date, almost 40,000 Latinos have died because of Covid-19. I asked her, What would happen if she, ni Dios lo quiera, were to get Covid-19 at work?
Julia: If any of us gets the virus, we’d have to pay for our own expenses and we don’t have insurance, we don’t have anything. I really am not very demanding but at least, even if it was a couple of weeks that we would have been paid, it would have been nice, but they gave us absolutely nothing
Liz Alarcón: While undocumented people work around the clock to support all of us in this time of need, who’s supporting them? Despite being core members of our country’s economy, undocumented workers have been demonized by cruel politicians, and left out from legislation that could help ease the strain of this virus on them and their families. Congress passed two relief packages worth more than 2 trillion dollars to aid unemployed American citizens and struggling businesses…yet no financial relief has been given to tax paying, undocumented Americans. Luckily, immigrant rights groups are organizing to advocate for them. Back in April, the Immigration Hub spearheaded a letter where more than 30 Latino leaders and organizations, including Pulso, signed on to demand that Congress take bold action. Here’s Sergio from the immigration hub again to talk about what’s being done to help undocumented Americans.
Sergio Gonzalez: I really do applaud house Democrats, because they passed the heroes act, which is a very, very robust, robust coronavirus relief bill. And it includes all the things we asked for in that letter. It ensures that people, regardless of their immigration status have access to testing and to treatment. It drastically expands funding for testing and treatment, which helps the Latino community. It also ensures that. Immigrants and immigrant families and mixed status families. So families where you might have an American parent, one American parent and an immigrant parent, um, or you might have a US citizen, child and immigrant parents. It ensures that everyone has access to financial assistance, to cash payments. And that’s so critical right now because one of the things that’s really important is just to ensure that any family has access to financial assistance. Right. So people can afford the basic necessities of life, which has a roof over their head and food. And the other other piece that we asked for, which was extremely important, is extension of work visas for certain immigrant populations, which include people that have temporary protected status. It includes DACA recipients. 200,000 DACA recipients are in essential industries. And if they lose their work authorization that, you know, they, then all of a sudden the doctor or the nurse is unable to go to work and care for patients and help deal with the situation that we’re in.
Liz Alarcón: We know we can’t count on this administration to take care of our people right now. Thankfully, many organizations are stepping in to provide assistance for undocumented workerswhile we wait for the Senate to act.
Sergio Gonzalez: The National Immigration Law Center has a website called protect immigrant families.org. And, it is a really good place to go to kind of figure out what you might, what options, if you’re, if you’re an immigrant, what options you might have for, um, support and assistance. So I’d say that’s number one. Number two is some states and cities have included in their own budget to address coronavirus money to help immigrant families. So California’s a place that is doing that. New York is a place that is doing that. So I think without kind of listing every state, I think it’s important that people are aware what resources they can get through potentially, you know, their city or their state, whether that is, you know, testing, treatment, or even some financial assistance.
Liz Alarcón: This crisis is one of the most serious challenges our community has faced, from small businesses to individual families, no one is immune to the effects of Covid-19. We don’t know when the pandemic will end, but what we DO know, is that we’re going to take care of each other like we always do. We’ll keep helping the fam with that unemployment form, picking up extra masks for tia Sol, and cope with laughter, which always gets us through.