For the past year, I have cared for a 95-year-old woman. I went to her family’s home, watched TV with her, talked to her and gave her medication. We shared stories. I made her food: bread with butter or peanut butter. Noodle soup was her favorite. We made each other laugh.
On March 16, when I arrived at work, the woman’s daughter opened the door and pulled me aside to talk.
“I don’t want anybody to bring the virus into my house,” she said. “Friday will be your last day of work.”
She told me that she needed to have control over her home, her children and her mother.
“I don’t want any strangers coming in,” she said. That included me.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“When everything is under control, I’ll call you,” she said. I haven’t heard from her since.
I considered myself to be part of her family. It hurt. My boss viewed me as an outsider — as a risk to her own health.
I live with my son, Emanuel, who is 6. Right now, we are just trying to survive. In my job, I made $80 per day. My hours were flexible. Sometimes I worked three days a week, sometimes four or five. When the family called me, I would go.
I never made enough to have savings. And I don’t know how I will find another job now. Very few businesses in Miami are hiring. Restaurants are open only for takeout and have laid off many of their workers. A friend told me that working for Amazon might be a possibility. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that working in a big warehouse with lots of other people could be a bad idea during a pandemic. I don’t have any health insurance and I can’t afford to get sick. Who would care for my son, especially now that his school has shut down? It just seemed too risky.
Rent for my apartment is $870 a month. It was due on April 1, but I wasn’t able to pay. I’ve never missed a payment before, and fortunately, my landlord has been understanding. She said that she would give me free time and I can pay her back when I find a job.
My family’s health is more important than anything right now. I am trying to stay positive, but I don’t know how much longer I will be able to live like this.
Last week I ran out of food. A friend who distributes food for domestic workers at the Miami Workers Center told me to come by. Now my son and I are eating canned soup, some small bags of rice, chicken and cans of tuna. They gave me milk, water and spaghetti. This food will last us for a week. It is just enough to get by.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance is raising money to support domestic workers who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. Many of us do not qualify for the federal stimulus that is sending out checks to workers because we are not United States citizens. The alliance’s goal is to raise $4 million for 10,000 care workers, which will amount to $400 per person. Hopefully this money will arrive within a week. While this is a help, it won’t last long. First I’ll buy food, then use whatever is left over to pay part of my rent to my landlord.
The virus highlights how much domestic workers need protections, just like everyone else. Many nannies, house cleaners and other domestic workers are not entitled to severance pay, paid sick leave, health and unemployment insurance or other benefits that would help us survive this pandemic.
Every day I wake up and worry about what will happen the next day, the next week. I don’t know how I will make it through. For now, I am living day to day.
But I keep faith. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe the coronavirus will teach us that we need to change the system that views domestic workers like me as disposable. We still have time to change.
We need everyone to treat domestic workers like human beings. We deserve respect and a seat at the table. Our work has value. Without us, you cannot do your jobs. Just as we need you to survive, you need us.