My Latino Essential Worker Family Is at Greater Risk of Contracting COVID-19 (OPINION)

Jul 1, 2020
4:36 PM

A worker wears a face mask in the doorway of the shop wear she works, with a sign reading ‘No Mask No Entry’ posted below, amid the coronavirus pandemic, on April 10, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As I get ready to work another shift delivering pizzas, I make sure that I don’t forget my red hydro flask and face mask before leaving home. While most deliveries are contactless, there are still some that require a face-to-face interaction.

I am an essential worker. So are my parents.

I deliver pizzas not because they are essential foods but because I need to make sure I’m financially stable to pay off my student loans and help my parents out. I live with both of them and my little brother who’s a senior in high school.

My dad is 52 and has been a gardener for more than 30 years now. My mom is 50 and was a preschool teacher up until my family opened a gardening repair shop a few years ago, and began to run the business.

My family needs the income to be able to keep our business and have enough money to pay for our living necessities.

I know that we are at greater risk from contracting COVID-19 because we cannot stay home. We must go out to work like many other Latino families.

An Economic Policy Institute study found that only 16 percent of the 60 million Latinos in the U.S. can work from home—we disproportionately work in the service industries that are considered “essential.”

According to recent data provided by the city of New York, Latinos had the second-highest rate of coronavirus deaths, with 259 per 100,000, behind African Americans, who are averaging 265.

Illinois state figures show that Latinos make up about 25 percent of coronavirus cases while making up just 17 percent of the population.

In California, Latinos ages 18-34 are 68.6% of total deaths within that age group, even though they account for only 45% of the state population. While Latinos ages 35-49 are 73.7% of deaths within that age group, making up 41.5% of the state’s population.

Since their arrival to the U.S. from Mexico, my parents have worked hard to meet their goals and support their families. They were both born in ranchos and started working from an early age. My mom is from Nayarit and my dad is from Zacatecas.

After moving around with their siblings and cousins in Inglewood, my parents settled in together and raised my three brothers and I, in Southeast L.A. We have lived in areas of Paramount and Downey, predominantly Latino communities, since I was a little kid.

My dad has worked as a gardener from sunrise to sunset, usually seven days a week, for the past 30 years now. He does maintenance in wealthy neighborhoods, which include West L.A., Malibu, and the Valley. What used to be a two-hour drive home has become a 40-minute drive due to the stay at home orders.

Gardening has been a job that has historically been done by immigrants. They are faced with going into service-sector industries like landscaping, carpentry, construction, plumbing, and many others that are usually not done by white Americans.

I work 20 hours a week Friday through Sunday and am also a full-time student at California State University in Long Beach. From attending class virtually through Zoom during the week to delivering pizzas Friday through Sunday, it has been difficult to juggle responsibilities and my emotions during the pandemic.

Meeting deadlines has added weight to the stress and anxiety that the fear of the virus has caused. At the beginning of the quarantine, I feared continuing to work delivering pizzas and putting my family at risk of getting infected. Thankfully my work is not far from home, and I only deliver to places that are 10 minutes away from our location. As the months have passed, I have learned to be cautious but to have faith that I will be ok while doing deliveries and attending customers.

Although most deliveries are contactless, there are some where I must have person-to-person contact and receive cash payment. Those deliveries have not been bad since the customers have been generous, but they are the ones that I feel most at risk with. As I go back into my car, I sanitize my hands and arms before touching anything else in my car.

Apart from being cautious with customers and my family, I have had to accept that my parents must continue to work, since gardeners are also “essential workers.” It helps knowing that aside from they having low contact with others, they work outdoors.

I am the grocery shopper of our household, and I take the risks for them as the youngest adult in my household. I’m the middle child of my siblings.

The undocumented community also is being affected by the pandemic yet are not receiving the help they need. The food vendors and tenants of the MacArthur Park area in Los Angeles are having a difficult time getting help from the government due to the lack of accessible relief funds, I learned from interviews I conducted.

On March 17th, the Los Angeles City Council voted to end street food vending, causing food vendors to relocate or find new ways to make money. California has offered economic assistance to undocumented immigrants through a new state relief program.

“If I can tell you how many people I know of in this area that applied [for the state relief program], 50-100 people, and out of those 100 about two of them got it,” said Jose Felix Cabrera, a community organizer for Inquilinos Unidos and Comunidad Empoderada Los Angeles.

In a way, working on assignments this semester has been one of the main things that have helped keep me motivated.

As soon as Monday comes around again, I go back into “student mode” or into quarantine and try to keep myself distracted. Writing, working on music, and working out have all helped me cope with the anxiety and stress that I have had to face recently. Writing to beats was that stress-reliever before the pandemic, and I am thankful that I will have more time to focus on it this summer break.

But my parents and I will keep working, even if there is a second-wave.

“Unfortunately many of us depend on our jobs to pay our bills, we have no other option, it’s what we depend on,” my dad told me.


Guillermo De Lira is a journalism and public relations student at California State University, Long Beach.