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Author: Binh Ngo

Francisco’s Story: Strength in the Time of COVID-19

Francisco has always hustled and made sacrifices to keep his family safe and financially stable. Before COVID-19 hit the Bay Area, Francisco and his wife were eager to save and make their big vacation plans a reality. Since Francisco was often working during weekends and holidays, his four young children were especially excited to get away and visit extended family in Oregon. At the time, it was difficult to imagine how quickly their plans and lives could change due to the coronavirus.

“We thought it was something that can be controlled. We didn’t think it would come here since it was something that felt so far away. But sometimes life brings us surprises. Good ones or bad ones – we never know and we can’t always be prepared for what’s going to happen.”

When the shelter-in-place order was instituted in March of this year, their world as they knew it turned upside down. Francisco’s wife was laid off from work and schools closed down, forcing their children to stay home and inside. That’s when their family began to struggle. Francisco and his wife did their best to educate themselves and their children about the pandemic with the limited information they had at the time. As a local chef, Francisco is considered an essential worker, so he was the only one who left the house to work and buy groceries.

A few days after his birthday in April, Francisco broke out in a fever.

He was sweating, shivering, and shaking all over – to the point where he was no longer able to walk, taste food, or even talk. He searched his symptoms on Google and determined that somewhere and somehow he had become infected with COVID-19. His wife also started experiencing mild symptoms a couple of days later. To avoid spreading the virus to their children, the couple locked themselves in their room, fearing for their family’s future.

“My fever was the highest during the first four days. It was really hard. My wife and I cried because we couldn’t be close to the children. I was already thinking the worst. How are my kids going to manage? What’s going to happen to my family? It was the worst four days of my life.”

Fortunately, Francisco gradually started to feel better and regained his mobility after weeks of bedrest. Although the darkest days have passed, Francisco continues to worry about his family’s livelihood amidst the coronavirus and economic crises.

COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that financial stability is fragile – especially for immigrant families in America.

Francisco is no stranger to hard work and perseverance. As the sixth of nine children, Francisco started working at the age of 12 to support his family in the fields in Yucatan, Mexico. Pulled by the promise of prosperity and pushed by a desire to help his younger siblings continue their education, Francisco decided to drop out of school and migrate to the United States when he was 18 years old. 

After his original plan to go to Oregon fell through, Francisco settled in San Francisco to pay back the coyote who helped him cross the border. He took on multiple odd jobs at once and worked his way up from a dishwasher to a chef. Now, in his free time, Francisco enjoys enticing his family with different types of dishes, taking his wife out on dates, and spending quality one-on-one time with each of his four children. 

Francisco feels both fortunate for and proud of the life he’s built for his family over the past 23 years. He’s always tried to do the right thing and live life with dignity and respect. Like millions of other immigrants, Francisco pays taxes on the income he earns. Yet when his family needed it most, the federal government excluded them from critical financial relief from the CARES Act due to their immigration status.

“We are all human and need to be treated the same. It is upsetting because we also pay taxes. Although we are not from here, we still pay taxes, but never qualify for anything. We deserved that help too. But that’s not how things are and what’s left for us to do but accept it? We are strangers. We are invisible. That is how we see it – we are invisible.”

In times of struggle, Francisco found strength in family and community.

When the federal government turned its back on them, Francisco leaned on his community and loved ones for support. His two oldest daughters took care of their younger siblings while he and his wife were ill. His younger brother dipped into his savings to help them pay rent. His employer continued to offer health insurance, meals, and other resources. After Francisco and his wife tested positive, even the City of San Francisco followed up to ask how they were doing and offer food assistance. 

Francisco first heard about the MAF Immigrant Families Fund from his son’s school. He and his wife each applied and received the $500 grant for immigrants left out of federal coronavirus relief. They used MAF’s grants to pay utility bills and make late credit card payments. Although Francisco couldn’t benefit from many emergency relief programs because of his status, he’s grateful for all the support he did receive.

“There are many things you can’t do and can’t apply for when undocumented – especially during the pandemic. To get the stimulus check, you have to have papers. To get a loan, you need a social security number. I can’t travel to see my family or even get on an airplane. We are locked down. But I don’t want anything from the government except respect and equal treatment.”

The financial devastation of COVID-19 simply can’t be overstated. While the impact of the global pandemic is far-reaching, the Latinx community has been hit disproportionately hard. Since he has experienced the coronavirus himself, Francisco is now a resource for his community and advises others on how to take care of their health during this unpredictable time.

Francisco also understands that economic recovery won’t happen overnight and that it’ll take a long time before his family can feel the relative stability of pre-COVID days. But he’s determined to continue pushing forward and taking care of his family through this crisis. After all, everything he does is to ensure that his children won’t have to struggle in the same way he has in the past.

“I was stressed a lot. I was worried. But when I don’t know what to do, I always think of my children. I want to be healthy for them. I want to see them grow up and see what they can achieve in life. That is the reason I stand here today. I keep going to do what is best for them.”