Mis Ángeles: Living On LA's Margins, There's Not Much Time To Obsess About Coronavirus
About the Mis Ángeles column: Erick Galindo is chronicling life in Los Angeles for LAist. He took on this role after serving as our immigrant communities reporter. Erick came to us last year from LA Taco, where he was the managing editor (and, yes, still he does love tacos.)
Standing inside Benny's Tacos in Westchester feels like an oasis from the constant stream of computer generated coronavirus photos in my Twitter feed. I even stopped clutching my almost-impossible-to-find bottle of precious hand sanitizer for a moment.
Are people there touching their faces? For sure. Is anyone able to work from home in the case of a regional quarantine? Hell nah. Do they have a contagion plan? Not at all.
They just have delicious tacos, burritos and a rotisserie chicken that will take your mind off the end of the world like nobody's business.
I understand that coronavirus is scary. But I get why no one here is freaking out.
I grew up in the black and brown margins of L.A. And for people, especially people of color, on the margins of society, a pandemic is just another boogie-man.
To paraphrase Mos Def, we're not afraid of the damn boogie-man.
It took a famous case to get my dad's attention.
Me: "Coronavirus is getting serious."
Dad: "It's just hype."
Me: "They suspended the NBA season."
Dad: "So they can use the time to practice."
Me: "Tax deadline got extended three months."
Dad: "They extend it all the time."
Me: "Tom Hanks has it now."
Dad: "Is he OK?"
I spent the weekend driving to communities around the 105 Freeway, where I basically grew up, trying to get a sense of what folks were feeling as the rest of the country talked about "self-isolation" and debated the usefulness of masks.
"I don't have time to be scared of all that hype," said Larry Bradley, a Benny's customer who was waiting out back in line to the restroom. "I watch the news but it's something new every year. Why is this one more trouble than the global warming one or the terrorism thing?"
I see Larry's point.
It's just hard to worry about stuff you have very little control over when you're under constant pressure to pay the bills, avoid bad situations and overcome institutional obstacles like racism and sexism.
And the truth is people in these communities, we understand that bad things happen. People get sick and don't have the money to go to a doctor. Many immigrants came here in the first place because conditions were terrible back home: violence, access to supplies, corrupt governments.
It's not ignorance either. I mean, maybe it is a little.
But people in my community excel in a type of common sense. We'll avoid people who cough even when there isn't a pandemic because we can't financially afford to be sick. And my mom's been yelling, "lávatelas bien," to make sure we wash and soap our hands the right way, since as far back as I can remember.
In Paramount, I talked to a young couple who said their names were Liz and Jo Ramirez as we stood in line at the Super A to buy cases of water. Two older señoras were loading up three shopping carts of water.
Liz said they came to "the hood to get water because the Costco had a crazy line." Jo said they aren't worried so much about the virus but about the shortages of supplies happening right now.
But the economics of the pandemic has already hit them. Jo was laid off from his warehouse job since much of what they packed there came from China. And Liz works as a private tutor. She said she's worried that income is going away soon, too. "Hopefully we can get unemployment or something," she said.
In Inglewood, I hung out at a Home Depot for a little while and talked to some of the day laborers who mostly offered to do things for me.
"I can help you move," one offered.
"Do you need help building a shelf?" another asked.
Then one of the older guys asked me in Spanglish why I was so curious. So I said, "Aren't you worried something terrible is going to happen?"
And he said, "Mira. Look around, gordito. Something terrible always happens to us."
I nodded with my eyes and I gave him my only and quite possibly the last little bottle of hand sanitizer in the city.
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