Hispanic-owned businesses explain impacts from COVID-19, shutdowns, and regulations

Posted at 2:39 PM, Sep 04, 2020

“We started five years ago selling out of our house and now its expanded into this,” Anahi Mendivil said.

She works at Oasis Fresh Fruit & More, along with her mother, Haydee Caraveo.

“When the whole COVID thing started, it was just me, my mom, and my sister who were running and working, No one else was working with us and that's how we were able to maintain a bit of a budget with this less of a profit," Mendivil said.

Mendivil and her family members know the pains of running a business -- especially now during the pandemic. She helped translate for her mom.

“Now that people have been able to come back inside, it's been a little better but we’re just trying to adjust to all the new norms,” Mendivil said. “But sales have not been normal as they used to be.”

Their experience reflects what many Latinos are facing. A new study from Pew Research shows Hispanic businesses were hit especially hard by COVID-19. In May 2020, nearly six in 10 said they live in households that experienced job losses or pay cuts, compared to 43 percent of the overall U.S. population.

“Hispanic businesses however went from a 3.9 to nearly 20 percent unemployment, so it jumped a lot more than it did for whites and African Americans,” Jack Strauss, an economist and professor at the University of Denver, said.

“Less than a year ago,” he explained, “Hispanic businesses in general and Hispanic unemployment nearly matched that of the overall U.S.”

He said one of the reasons this group was hit hard, is because so many Hispanic-owned businesses make up some of the hardest-hit industries.

“Hispanics tend to concentrate in leisure and hospitality, which we all know has been hit very hard by COVID. Their second industry is retail, and then construction as well. All three industries were hit severely hard,” Strauss said.

“We work in the service industry, we are in restaurants, we are in cleaning services, we work in the meat industry, and Latino workers, they don't have the privilege to work from home,” Berenice G Tellez, Secretary of the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Denver, Colorado, said in a group Zoom meeting to discuss the topic. They all spoke about how language barriers played a role in the immediacy and availability of new information to Latino businesses owners.

“Some of them are running on fumes, so to speak,” Pete Salas, chair of the chamber said.

And many Hispanic-owned businesses are family run -- like Oasis.

“We've always tried to keep someone in our family working at all times,” Mendivil said.

Another aspect unique to these businesses, is they provide cultural space for the community.

“Something that really changed also is that people used to come in here on weekends. And a lot of people would be in here and eat and stay a long time and due to this, we have to manage how much people can be in here and how much time,” she said.

“I want to share the Americado experience, which is part of my Mexican culture, with everybody,” Francis Nieve Blanca, owner of Volcan Azul Catering and Food Truck, said. “The impact has been really on the amount of clients that we have, it has totally lowered our clients.”

“I have two jobs and the income for both actually has gone down, and that has impacted my family,” she said.

In a recent Pew Research survey, 70 percent of Latinos said the worst of the problems due to COVID-19 are still to come.

“This impact is going to last probably up to several years,” Strauss said.

However, these businesses aren’t ready to give up.

“We’ve been trying to incorporate new technology which is not very common for us,” Mendivil said. “So we can maybe go into doing deliveries.”

“It’s like my mom said, when money is not enough, you just tighten your belt. It's a saying in Spanish. Apretarse el cinturón, meaning that you just spend less,” Nieve Blanca said.