The pandemic has picked on Hispanics. This group, comprising 14.2% of Utah’s residents, has had far more than its share of infections. And Hispanic people make up an outsized share of the workers hardest hit, such as those employed in restaurants and the service industry.
The pain doesn’t stop there. Entrepreneurs have faced obstacles as well.
“A lot of Latino businesses are sole proprietors — one-member LLC or 1099. They usually start that way,” said Silvia Castro, executive director of the Suazo Business Center and member of the state’s multicultural COVID-19 task force. “The other type is family businesses — husband and wife, then the kids get added.” Castro is also a member of Gov. Gary Herbert’s COVID-19 economic response task force.
The Salt Lake Tribune spoke to four Hispanic business owners about the pandemic. Some struggled for months and are just now recovering, while others closed for good.
Yamil Claudia Jurado Granados, VYL Auto, Inc
A small group of cars sit in American Fork on land owned by Jurado, collecting dirt as each day passes. She can’t sell them because the pandemic forced her to choose between renewing the business license for her used car lot or paying her bills.
She chose her bills.
The ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis has challenged this independent woman in ways she never envisioned, especially after a few tough months in 2019.
She’s been selling used cars since 2017, but last October moved locations so she could eliminate about $2,200 she was paying in rent. The 48-year-old and her three youngest children left her apartment for a commercial property that had no kitchen or shower. She also got divorced in December.
But 2020 was going to be her year.
Business increased in January. And then in February, Jurado could tell customers preferred to fix their cars rather than buy a new one as COVID-19 cases started to spread and layoffs increased. Not long after, nonessential businesses were required to shut down.
Since then, she’s suffered a severe panic attack that sent her to the emergency room. A freak accident caused a small brain contusion that left her unable to speak for a month and a half with daily, severe headaches and memory loss.
“All the goals I had … came crashing down with the pandemic,” said, Jurado, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. “This year has been where everything has piled on.”
Jurado has not sought help from the federal or state government. Instead, she resorted to selling food on weekends.
Her ex-husband has helped her with some expenses and threw a few odd jobs her way. She’s received some help from her church.
Jurado hasn’t given up. She’s working on renewing her business license. She’s also saving money to take a dental hygienist course.
“That’s the plan — to keep moving forward,” Jurado said. “The pandemic can’t stop us, as a family or society. We have to learn to live with it.”
Corina Covarrubias, Covacor Marketing
Covarrubias’s business was booming.
The Mexico City native who just received her green card in April said she was bringing in about $10,000 every month marketing for various small Hispanic-owned businesses.
But when COVID-19 started rampaging through the state, her clients no longer had much need for her help. Covarrubias couldn’t make in-person presentations anymore due to social distancing guidelines.
All of a sudden, Covarrubias’s income plummeted to $1,500, not enough to account her monthly expenses.
Covarrubias moved her office to her home and fell behind three months in rent. She applied for various assistance programs, but didn’t get any of them. She received letters telling her she didn’t qualify for this aid or that aid had run out of funds. She worried that seeking help would jeopardize her legal status.
“After 33 years it took me to get my green card, believe me that I don’t want to lose it for getting assistance for COVID or for these kind of situations where I know in my heart that I’m going to survive, that I’m going to make it eventually,” Covarrubias said.
Applying for certain types of federal assistance might make an undocumented person ineligible to seek permanent resident status in the United States, per the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Services like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were included to the law in late February.
The law doesn’t apply to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship via the naturalization process, which includes a green card to becoming a lawful permanent resident.
Her savings depleted, she told her children that they may have to visit the food bank, something she had never done before.
“Everything is gone,” Covarrubias said. “I have no money left.”
She was sick with pneumonia for weeks in March and April, and couldn’t see a doctor until May. Soon after she started doing some work via teleconference, she got sick again. She was convinced that this time it was COVID-19.
“I had all the symptoms,” Covarrubias said. “I didn’t get tested because I was then going to be a statistic.”
Through it all, Covarrubias tried to stay positive. And while there’s uncertainty over her immediate financial situation, there isn’t any about the status of her business.
“I won’t close my job,” she said. “I won’t close my business because it’s just a license that I have to pay every year.”
Mendoza supports herself mainly by selling sweet gorditas at a swap meet and various stores. In just two weekends, she’d earn almost enough to cover her rent.
On the side, Mendoza helps small Hispanic businesses with promotion by recording interviews and demonstrations and streaming them live on her Facebook group, Escandalo Utah.
But she lost nearly all her business when the pandemic hit. The swap meet closed. She lost five locations where she could sell her gorditas, leaving her with just one — a Mexican store.
The only thing she could do for her promotion business was make videos from home. But she didn’t have a suitable place for that. It needed significant repairs, so many that she looked for other places.
“I lived a very frustrating life at a time when I didn’t know where I would live or if I would return to my house,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza felt forced to fix her home so she could have a place to earn money. She sold her car so she could make the necessary repairs.
“I had to remodel a little so it looked presentable,” Mendoza said. “Maybe not elegant, but presentable so I could do my work.”
Mendoza, who’s originally from Zacatecas, Mexico and has lived in Utah for 16 years, doesn’t qualify for assistance from the state or federal government because she is undocumented. A recent report states Utahns like her have missed out on a total of $154 million of emergency aid due to their immigration status.
But Mendoza did find a way to earn a little extra. She bought groceries and supplies for friends who were either too scared to venture outside, or had gotten infected with COVID-19.
Mendoza wore a mask and tried not to touch anything as she dropped off what she bought at their doorsteps. She got paid in cash that often smelled of rubbing alcohol, and would clean it again when she got home.
Things are better now for Mendoza. She’s recently been able to sell her gorditas at more stores and promote more businesses through her Facebook videos.
“I’m moving forward,” she said.
Bertha S.S. Lopez, Latino Spa and Holistic Center
Lopez is more than a spa owner. She’s a purveyor of social experiences, too.
Much of what Lopez does involves providing free classes or demonstrations on topics including skin hydration, reductive massage and nutrition. At times, outside vendors or companies hosted chats about alkaline water or reiki healing.
“We had different topics, so it’s social,” Lopez said. “So people were constantly there. Always asking what was happening, what was new. Very active.”
Classes that span weeks cost money, Lopez said, but she looks at offering the free ones as a type of advertisement for her spa. She’s been successful in converting some of those attendees into clients.
That ended in March. No more classes. No more free demonstrations. The communal nature of her business, of her life, was suddenly taken away. She missed it greatly.
“That’s part of life,” said Lopez, who has been in Utah 20 years and is originally from Peru. “That’s part of a person.”
During the months she couldn’t work or host people in her home-turned-spa, Lopez took some online classes related to her profession. She only just started holding paid reiki classes again in July.
Fortunately for Lopez, her household didn’t struggle with money. Her husband works as a certified nurse’s assistant and her oldest son’s job was easily transferable to the house.
No member of Lopez’s family has tested positive for COVID-19, she said. And while her mood suffered during those first few months, she never let her situation get her down.
“I don’t want to focus on the bad,” Lopez said. “I know it’s really bad. It’s very serious what is happening and all that. But I don’t want to think about that. I’d rather occupy my mind with something else.”