NEW YORK – Whether working at service stations, supermarkets, laundromats, food-delivery services or automobile repair shops, Hispanics are serving in countless key roles amid the ongoing severe health and economic crisis in the United States, where official figures indicate more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 68,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
Some 60 million Latinos currently live in the US, making up around 20 percent of the population. Nationwide, there are around 27.5 million Hispanic workers, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.
Seven members of that community who are contributing to the country’s battered economy spoke to EFE about their experiences and feelings at this difficult moment.
Abraham Bello, a 47-year-old native of Acapulco, Mexico, who has lived for 23 years in the US, is not your typical mechanic. He owns a small workshop in Harrison, New York, and also is a pastor at Betel Casa de Dios, a Pentecostal church in the neighboring town of Mamaroneck.
He fixes cars by day and preaches to his congregation on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, now by Internet due to the novel coronavirus.
Mechanics like Bello enable doctors, supermarket employees and truckers, many of whom also are Hispanic, to keep working at their essential jobs.
“Hispanics have helped the economy grow because the majority of us who come from Spanish-speaking countries are hard-working people who have come here only to contribute to this country’s economy,” he said.
Another essential service that is a key part of US culture and also a source of income for many Hispanics is home food delivery.
One of these individuals is Claudia Garcia, a 42-year-old Salvadoran woman who works for DoorDash – a food ordering and delivery platform similar to Uber Eats – and says that in her area of Maryland more than 30 percent of food deliverers are Latino.
“All Hispanics come to this country to fulfill our dreams and our goals … with trust in God we’re going to keep going forward.” Having now lived in the US for two years and studied business administration, she says she tries to keep her mind worry-free and lives by the motto: “While there’s life, there’s hope.”
Ismael Taveras, his brother Julio and his sister-in-law Nancy Cruz own a laundromat in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. All three of these Dominican natives became infected with the coronavirus, and 67-year-old Julio was hospitalized for two weeks.
But they persevered and reopened their business – officially deemed an essential service – as soon they were able to do so.
Cruz, 55, said the laundromat’s hours of operation have been cut in half (now only from 8 am to 5 pm) and social-distancing rules are in place, including one that aims to prevent large crowds by barring people from folding clothes inside the establishment.
“We Hispanics don’t follow the rules. I’ve told them to stay six feet (1.8 meters) apart and they don’t want to. The Americans do, but Hispanics don’t respect the law. And if the police come by and see us, they could shut us down,” she said.
“Our revenues are 50 percent (of what they were before), and there are days when they’re much less, because it was at night when (most customers arrived),” said Ismael, who is considering applying for government assistance to help with the high cost of utilities.
Hilda Morales, who arrived in the US from Mexico 20 years ago, works at a food-packing and processing company in the small town of Vernon, California.
“We’re disappointed. Rather than essential, we feel dispensable,” Morales said, recalling that one of her co-workers recently died of the coronavirus.
A member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), she is calling on her employer to provide workers with necessary protective material and administer COVID-19 tests to help prevent more deaths.
Cuban-American Kenia Gomez works in the health care sector in San Diego – one of the cities most affected by COVID-19 in California – and is one of the professionals on the front lines of the daily battle against that respiratory disease.
A laboratory technician who performs phlebotomies (obtains blood samples from patients), including those affected by COVID-19, she undergoes a ritual when she returns home from work to avoid the possibility of spreading the illness to her three children and her husband, who also is working during the pandemic.
Yet another essential worker during the coronavirus crisis is Julian Arguayo, a native of the agricultural community of Bakersfield, California, who shelves products at a supermarket in Hollywood.
“Working during a pandemic can be difficult and a challenge, but I protect myself with a mask, use anti-bacterial gel and am very careful about what’s around me … Sometimes you’re afraid, but I try to stay positive at all times,” said Arguayo, whose family is of Mexican descent.
Also a UFCW member, he says of himself and other supermarket employees that their work allows people to feed their families during the pandemic.
Luis, a California native who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, is currently working nine hours a day at a Chevron service station located between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Wearing an apparently homemade cloth mask and plastic gloves, he attends to dozens of people who visit the station’s shop for a snack or beverage while filling up their tanks.
“I don’t have a problem (working during the pandemic). Because, you know, people with a strong work ethic we’re going to come to work and we’re going to do what we have to do,” he said.
But he opposes California’s strict lockdown orders.
“They made it mandatory that only essential workers could work; that wasn’t the right way to do it. They could’ve closed sections of the city little by little, for example,” said the 26-year-old, who added that the case fatality rate (a ratio difficult to know for certain because of what experts say is a high number of asymptomatic cases) is not “so serious” as to justify halting the economy.