The worst moment for longtime Mission District resident Erica Rodriguez was not when her husband lost his job, nor when her young adult kids (17, 19, and 24) lost their jobs, nor when the family where she works as a nanny laid her off in March. 

The worst moment in this Pandemic was when the Chicago ICU doctor treating her 58-year-old cousin there, called the extended family on Zoom. He told her and other relatives in San Francisco, New York, and San Bernardino that the family had two days to decide to disconnect the ventilator as his organs were shutting down. This was her beloved “primo-hermano” who, during her adolescence in a poor town in Mexico, would visit from Chicago, would help out financially, take them out to “pasear” and encourage them.

He had been in the United States for over 30 years and had come home from his factory job in Chicago 2 weeks ago feeling ill.  He died in a Chicago hospital less than a week later. 

  “I have great economic anxiety, but I know that we are ok. In Chicago, half my cousin’s family got COVID. They recovered but he died. We are healthy, Gracias a Dios, and I live in a good building where the management, Caritas, is very generous. We have enough to eat, we are fine with food, we can go to St Anthony’s and we get food from the building we live in. We had saved a little money so we are ok for rent. I am going to be completely sincere: I do not want people around me so I do not want to go out at all.”

Read: Food Bank Lines: Filled with stories of life and death

She tears up as she talks about her cousin, “I will remember him with honor and love.”  

And then she talks about the unexpected moments of grace that the pandemic has brought her, “ At the beginning, I had days where I felt I could not go on, with the worry and hearing about my family in Chicago. Then I realized I have true moments of gold, these are the gifts of the COVID. When I see my children around the table, when I make them breakfast in the morning, and we sit and talk, I feel a love that overwhelms me. I feel we are in a fortress together and I can go on.  We are safe here together in these four walls.

Really, so many years we passed each other coming and going, going and coming.  Always working. Now we are here, present, with each other. And it is gold. This is the gold I feel inside of me.”

Asked about going back to work, she replies, “I understand the family where I work as a nanny, they don’t want me to come back till the government says it’s safe for child care workers. And I understand them – I don’t want anyone around my children either, big as they are. I have been feeling such profound love for my children, so deep and true, as a mother. What can I do for them?” 

She pauses and continues,  “So today I am looking at four tomatoes in front of me on the kitchen table.  Today, I have four tomatoes and will make tomato soup for my family. And I have three potatoes, so I will make potato tacos with salsa and we will eat together as a family. And be happy.”

Moments of grace and gold in the midst of a pandemic. Illustration by Molly Oleson

This project is supported by a grant from the Pultizer Center. See all of our reporting in the immigrant community here. 

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