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"A critical situation": Latino businesses on the brink of bankruptcy due to the pandemic


The president, Joe Biden, was not greeted with fanfare like his predecessors. The historic security deployment due to the assault on the Capitol hit the service industry, in which many Latinos work, and which is already in danger from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. We talked to some of them.

WASHINGTON DC— Since age 11 Steve Ornstein has worked with plants and flowers, helping his mother.

In the almost 48 years he has been in this business, he has

never seen anything like what this industry is experiencing

with the coronavirus pandemic.

To the months of sacrifices and uncertainty there was now added a presidential inauguration that instead of celebration and source of income was a militarized and somber event.

"From heaven to earth"

is how Ornstein describes the difference between this and past takeovers.

His company, Edge Floral Designs, organized events for hundreds of people, built installations and flower arrangements, from traditional centerpieces, to huge shrub installations like the ones he built for the handover of power between former President Barack Obama and his successor,

Donald Trump, who this year it was his turn to cede power to Joe Biden.

["Unity is the way."

Biden takes office as president and vows to leave behind a "non-civil war" to fight the pandemic]

But the 46th president was not greeted with the hype, cymbals, and flower crowns like his predecessors.

The deadly assault on the Capitol on January 6, and the unprecedented security deployment it caused, changed the rules of the game and hit the service industry, in which the majority of Latinos work, hard.

The Latino community is also precisely the most affected by the coronavirus. 

This year, everything was different.

The mayor of Washington, DC, Muriel Bowser, and the governors of Virginia and Maryland, asked not to visit the city.

They fenced a 4.6-mile (7.4-kilometer) perimeter around the Capitol and the White House marked by continuous security checks.

Up to

25,000 National Guard soldiers traveled from across the country to guard the city

along with the forces of the Metropolitan Police, the FBI, ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Weapons Agency) and the Department of Homeland Security , among others.

The Takeover Committee carried out almost the entire celebration virtually.

This is an anomaly in the history of the country.

For decades,

the handover of power from one president to another meant a business


for the city:

every four years, governmental and non-governmental organizations, for profit and non-profit, organized receptions, galas and dances, attended by thousands of people who spent

thousands of dollars on food, drinks, transportation, decorations, and flower arrangements. 

Ornstein says he has organized dozens of political events, from a charity concert that Barbara Streisand gave in the late 1980s, through the inauguration of Bill Clinton, to that of Trump in 2017. Those transfers of power

“can be described like an excess, especially with the minimal and concise that everything is now, ”he


At this flower shop 40 minutes by car from the capital,

half of the staff are Hispanic,

from Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras.

Ornstein's right-hand man, Costa Rican Juan Carlos Madrigal, is in charge of all the props and designs for the events.

In the myriad of political celebrations that have adorned over the years, Madrigal says hydrangeas and red and white roses are always popular, as they are the colors of the United States flag.

"Unfortunately, due to the protest that took place in the Capitol,

security became very strict and they canceled most of the events that we had planned to organize

, whether in hotels, which were the receptions, the galas that were after the inauguration" Madrigal says.

"Yes it has affected a lot." 

Biden's inauguration went smoothly in a militarized Washington DC

Jan. 20, 202100: 57

In the days before and during the previous inaugurations they held up to 15 events and employed 30 to 40 people, recalls this Costa Rican.

This year that staff was reduced to 10.

"It's a huge difference four, eight, 12 years ago compared to now ... I've never seen this before," he


But it's not just the inauguration that wasn't;

The coronavirus pandemic meant a "very strong" change for the business, because "after having so many events on weekends, sometimes we don't have a single event," says Madrigal.

“The situation is very critical, very complex.

Not only for the workers but also for the employer, because he cares that the employees are well ”. 

"It would have been cheaper to close, but they are like my family," says Ornstein, who explains that he requested loans from the Payment Protection Program, (or PPP) due to the pandemic, as well as personal loans.

You will soon run out of savings.

“I take it personal.

I care about my employees.

Unemployment assistance is not enough ”.

It's hard to see how some of his colleagues haven't been able to keep working, says Madrigal.

"Here we feel like part of the family, we worry about each other, and now, not having them here, one worries about them ... that is also critical." 

The day the National Guard ate pupusas

Politics touches every aspect of life in Washington.

An event of the magnitude of the inauguration of a president meant that "the restaurants had rows of blocks and were completely full those days," says Ana Reyes, owner and manager of the iconic Salvadoran restaurant El Tamarindo in the northwest of the capital. 

Ana Reyes, left, owner and manager of the Salvadoran restaurant El Tamarindo in Washington DC, on January 19, 2020. At her side, her mother Betty and her son.Juliana Jiménez

Since 1982, when Ana's parents -José Isidro and Betty- founded it, this restaurant has been

a meeting point for the city's Hispanic community,

particularly for its large Salvadoran population (some 20,000 according to the Census, the second largest concentration in the United States). 

For the Reyes family, the number of clients and businesses, since they also


for meetings and events, decreased a lot this year.

However, the day before Biden was sworn in as president, they received a surprise order: 500 food orders for National Guard soldiers staying at a nearby hotel.

"It is an honor to take care of those who are taking care of us,

" Reyes told Noticias Telemundo while preparing the last orders together with his parents, sister and 12-year-old son. 

However, it has not been easy.

In comparison, for Obama's first inauguration in January 2009, Reyes says that "the atmosphere was a party throughout the city, like a festival."

That contrasts with the streets in the days leading up to January 20: fenced in with 7-foot (2-meter) fences and barbed wire, streets devoid of residents and tourists, many blocked from passing vehicles and dotted by Guard security checks. National. 

That cars could not move freely affected many businesses, including restaurants, where so many Latinos work in kitchens and as waiters.

Due to the pandemic, many of these sites have not attended in person for months to avoid crowds in closed areas.

Therefore, they depended on addresses and orders to take away, but that became impossible with the closure of the streets.

Many were forced to adapt again.

Militarized and many empty streets: this is what Washington DC looks like two days before Biden's inauguration

Jan. 18, 202102: 44

This was the case at Immigrant Food, a restaurant that opened in late 2019 a block from the White House, a couple of months before the pandemic broke out.

Its mission is to

highlight the contributions of immigrants to the country,

gastronomic and of all kinds, in direct opposition to the anti-immigrant policies of the Government of now former President Donald Trump.

Being located within the security perimeter, they could not send addresses and instead had to serve at tables outside the premises to the few passers-by who wandered in the freezing January temperatures.  

But nevertheless they took advantage of the occasion and created a plate to honor the new Administration, this one much more welcoming to immigrants.

This is evident both in the executive orders that President Biden signed on his first day, as well as in those who comprise them, beginning with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Chef Enrique Limardo, and his right-hand man, Mile Montezuma, created the

Madame VP bowl


a dish inspired by Harris' Jamaican (by his father) and Indian (by his mother) ancestry,

a fusion of rice, chicken, curry, sweet pineapple, bananas and jalapenos.

Both cooks are Venezuelan.

They have managed to keep afloat all these months of pandemic

"doing something different, being creative,"

says Montezuma, "that's what people want."

They have offered kits to make Christmas arepas or anchetas with Christmas food from different parts of the world. 

Kamala Harris, a source of inspiration for young Afro-Latinas

Jan. 21, 202101: 48

At Edge Floral, innovation has also saved them.

Its owner, Ornstein, is a lover of vintage cars;

loves to repair them and give them a new life.

From that love arose the

Blooming Bus,

a Volkswagen van from the 70s that they renovated and now carry flowers and take to places in the area. 

"It's the same concept of a

food truck

(a food cart, like tacos), where you don't have to wait for people to come to you but you go where the people are," Ornstein explains.

So far this has helped them survive, but the second round of loans was barely available due to the pandemic, they applied early, he says.

[New round of PPP loans: information on how to apply and who will be able to receive it]

Juan Carlos Madrigal explains that other industries, such as construction, still have jobs, albeit reduced, but the flower and event industry

depends precisely on people being able to get together in large numbers.

And it is not only that people cancel events to prevent infections, or that they do not have money to celebrate funerals, birthdays or weddings (which can cost between 10,000 to 100,000 dollars), because millions have lost their jobs, or their businesses have also received a hard knock.

It's that if sanitation protocols prohibit large gatherings,

your events will continue to be smaller in both quantity and scale, and your income will be drastically reduced.

"Before there were events for 300 people, now there are 10 ... If before 50 centerpieces were sold, now three are sold," says Madrigal. 

“Let's hope that with the new group of people that arrives there will be a change,” he says regarding the Biden Administration, “but I think the most important thing is that there is work.

Any other ruler can come, but if there is no work that affects absolutely everything ”


Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2021-01-25

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