Originally Published in Salon
Ela Banergee and Nina Gonzalez - September 7, 2020
Small business owner Nina, an immigrant, employs mostly undocumented workers who can't file for unemployment
Nina Gonzalez, 42, immigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 1997 and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and teenage son. She owns a cleaning business that employs ten other immigrant women, but the pandemic has severely impacted the flow of available work. Note: Nina's name was changed to protect the privacy of her employees.
The reason I came to the United States was to save my life. When I was six years old, my father started sexually and physically abusing me. Eventually he came to the United States and then something happened that got him deported. I was 18 at that time and when he came back home, I said, "No, you're not going to keep abusing me." One night he almost killed me and I ran out of my house.
I had a cousin who was living in San Francisco and she said, "If you want, you can borrow money and come to where I am." And I was thinking San Francisco was another part of Mexico. When I made it to San Francisco at 19, that's when I realized the United States is another country. Two years ago I was able to get asylum. It was life-changing because for many, many years I lived in the shadows and now I feel a little bit more comfortable. I have a social security number, I have a driver's license. I don't have to fear anything.
I started my cleaning business in 2008 and now I have ten girls who help me on a regular basis, Monday through Friday. We used to be very busy. We'd work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but when COVID-19 hit in the first week of March most of my clients canceled the service and said they would reach out when the shelter-in-place order was lifted. A lot of clients sent me links and said, "Oh, you can apply for a loan and continue paying your employees," but they don't understand the situation.