For Alan Contreras, the past year in the COVID-19 pandemic has had its ups and downs. He says he was lucky enough to be able to continue working, but he and his entire family contracted the virus last year.
“We all had COVID, we all recovered, but I know it’s real. I saw it with my own eyes, and it affects everyone differently,” Contreras said.
But despite the hardships, he still supports Gov. Gavin Newsom and the policies he put in place.
“I honestly think he’s doing a great job. A lot of people are against him because of gun laws, the whole masks and closing businesses, but I think he’s doing a great job,” Contreras said. “He’s been helping people from other countries, illegals, and I think he’s doing a great job.”
Contreras’ experience in Woodland mirrors that of many Latinos. In California, a disproportionate number of Latinos have contracted COVID-19, and their numbers account for over half of the cases statewide despite making up about 40% of the state’s overall population.
Latinos also make up nearly half of the state’s deaths from the virus, and Latino communities are most likely to have experienced job loss and suffer economically as a result of the pandemic.
Previously, CapRadio reported that Latinos were one of the groups much less likely to be able to work from home, were more likely to suffer stress related to the pandemic, and were also less likely to be able to access appropriate mental health services.
Latino voters like Contreras make up nearly a third of the state’s voting population, but the past year’s disproportionate impacts on this community may impact their views on and participation in the gubernatorial recall election.
As the recall election looms, advocates worry that the Latino community may not even be thinking about a re-election right now due to other hardships and challenges during the pandemic. And Democrats are concerned that they’re considering voting “yes” on the recall.
“The first question that we need to ask ourselves is do Latinos even know there’s an election happening on September 14?” is how Christian Arana, vice president of policy at the Latino Community Foundation, put it.
“There are plenty of Latinos still out of work, there are many Latino families still asking how are they going to make ends meet? So in the midst of that, how on Earth are Latinos supposed to know about an election, and how on Earth are they supposed to make an educated guess whether or not they’re supposed to vote one way or the other?” he asked.
Arana said he was concerned that there had not been very much outreach to Latinos from either Republicans or Democrats, something he found frustrating, given the power and diversity of this voting community.
“The Latino community is not a monolith. California Latino voters are different from Latino Texas voters, and even in the state of California, Fresno voters think differently from L.A. voters,” Arana said. “Ultimately, whoever makes the best argument and whoever does the best outreach will probably gain a couple Latino voters.”
Some Latino voters may be open to changing their minds.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez runs New Season Worship, a megachurch in south Sacramento. He said while he supported Newsom when he first took office in 2018, after his handling of the pandemic, he switched.
“I was supporting Gov. Newsom in the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I thought he was exercising very nuanced policies that protected the citizenry of California, I actually applauded him publicly,” Rodriguez said.
But Newsom’s stance on church services during the pandemic shifted his view.
“The moment he shut down churches, that was an anti-Latino act, that really was,” he said.
The city of Woodland, about 45 minutes northwest of Sacramento, typically votes Democratic in elections, and a significant percentage of residents identify as Latino or Spanish-speaking. But for every person like Contreras who supports Newsom, there are other Latino business owners and workers who are now having second thoughts.
Sandy Vazquez works out of Barajas Deli in Woodland and owns a check-cashing business. “So all the places that were closed down, they couldn’t work, there were no jobs, and that impacted me,” she said.
She said she has tended to be a Democrat when voting, but Newsom’s shut-downs made her unhappy.
“I just think he did everything wrong, he should have come down with the community and helped us out more but he didn’t,” she said, adding that she did not know if she would be voting in the recall.
For Leslie Carrillo, a cashier worker at El Torito Market in Woodland, she was thankful the past year has been relatively stable for her. The market she works at never closed, and she was able to stay employed the entire time. She said she supports the policies that Newsom put in place last year to protect Californians.
“I feel like his calls weren’t against the Latino community, it was to help do our part to stop the pandemic, so I feel his call was the right call,” Carrillo said.
She said she supported Newsom in his run for governor in 2018, and that she’s already submitted her ballot to support him again in the upcoming recall election. Newsom’s aid for underserved communities and his extension of benefits to undocumented workers were two policies that she believed benefited Latinos.
There are many other business owners in Woodland who say they won’t be voting, or that they can’t vote because they aren’t citizens. Elvira Lopez, the owner of Las Islitas Ostioneria restaurant, said she can’t vote, but that the past year has been tough for her business.
“The economic situation was very poor, and also it drained us emotionally, economically, mentally in every way,” Lopez said.
She said her restaurant had to fully shut down for three months, and even now, business hasn’t fully returned to what it once was.
“I’m not very political, but I think from what I’ve been hearing, I am for Gavin,” she said.
“But I’m not sure.”
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