Every year between September 15 and October 15, the United States observes National Hispanic Heritage Month. This is a time to recognize, honor, and celebrate the accomplishments of Hispanics for their contributions to the United States. Such recognition is even more significant this year as COVID-19 has revealed there are many people who are heroes for the essential work that they do, and many of these heroes are Hispanic.
When the coronavirus outbreak started, many of us were advised to work from home and avoid contact with others as much as possible. As a new mother, I was fortunate enough to take parental leave in March just as the virus was declared a national emergency and we started to see a rapid increase of COVID-19 positive cases and deaths. Even now that I am back from leave, my office has instituted a work from home policy that allows all of its employees to stay home as much as possible.
That’s an option that many members of the Latinx community do not have. As of 2019, the Hispanic population of the United States rose to 60.6 million which constituted of 18.5% of the nation’s total population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 1 in 5 Hispanic workers have the flexibility to work from home. Hispanics make up a large number of essential workers in the food and agriculture (28%) and also in the industrial, commercial, residential facilities and services (40%) sectors. Unfortunately, many who work in such areas do not have as much flexibility as some other occupations to work from home, and must make a difficult decision between going to work and putting their health at risk … or potentially losing their jobs … their means to put food on their tables. It is an impossible decision to make sometimes, but if there is one thing our Latinx heritage has taught us is that we can be resilient in the face of adversity.
Like many other immigrant stories, my father came to the U.S. looking for a safe place to raise his family. During the late 80s and early 90s, our home country of Peru had seen horrible civil unrest and violence. Many innocent civilians were killed and many more went missing. This was not the life my father wanted for us. Therefore, he made the difficult decision to leave his home, other family, and a career as a banker to find refuge in the United States. With the help of a local legal aid organization, he was able to secure lawful status and bring his family to the U.S. Although he was a college educated man, the language barrier and cultural differences made it difficult for him to find work in his field. Driven by his desire to provide a better life for his family, my father took many jobs at once (that would now be considered essential) in the hospitality, manufacturing, and retail sectors. He would often work multiple shifts just so he could help his children attend college. When the 2020 pandemic hit, he was a maintenance worker at one of the biggest retail stores in the country. Unfortunately, there was no option for him to work from home given the nature of his job. He took his job very seriously and wanted to do his part to ensure our community had products on the shelves to keep going and that customers had a friendly face that could greet them despite the chaos. It was not easy to convince him to make the hard choice to stay at home, but his health and age would have put him at high risk while continuing that job.
I am proud of the work my father did to help our community amidst the pandemic. To me he is a hero even if he has not won a Pulitzer Prize, made a scientific breakthrough, or negotiated a peace deal. As an immigration attorney, I have been thanked many times for helping clients get their work visas, green cards, and citizenship. Now, it is my time to thank others for the incredible work they do to keep our families safe and secure. I am especially grateful to my fellow Latinx brothers, sisters, friends, and colleagues who deserve recognition for putting their health on the line each day to keep us going.
Later this fall AILA will offer trainings on diversity and inclusion and implicit bias as part of the 2020 Fall Virtual Conference and the 33rd Annual California Chapters Conference. More details will be coming soon.