SALINAS, Calif. – Three boys sat at a wooden table in the sunlit dining room of their two-bedroom apartment in North Salinas. Two $5 boxes of pepperoni pizzas were stacked on the kitchen table as the brothers devoured slice after slice.
As 3-year-old Jesus, the youngest boy, finished his pizza, a pepperoni fell on the table. He grabbed the pepperoni, held it above his head and dropped it into his open mouth.
Meliton Salvador, the boys’ father, watched as his children enjoyed the meal. A maintenance worker at a Watsonville mushroom company, Meliton is the single source of income for the household. It includes himself, 19-year-old Resi, 11-year-old Aldo, 7-year-old Hugo, 3-year-old Jesus, and his pregnant wife, Constanza. Fast food, plus coupons and deals, help keep the family fed.
“Right now my biggest motivation is my kids,” Meliton said in Spanish. “My young ones don’t know where the food is coming from. They’re just like baby birds with their beaks open so food could fall in their mouths. They don’t know if there’s money or not – they still get hungry, so every time I wake up, I keep that in mind.”
While many Americans have worried about the flow and availability of food given the widespread closures of businesses and coronavirus outbreaks during the height of the pandemic, families like the Salvadors worry about affording food at all.
Meliton’s company laid off 15 of its 60 employees, he said. The layoffs at Fitz Fresh began shortly after California’s shelter-in-place order took effect. Meliton fears his job could be next.
Roughly 61% of Hispanic adults say they or someone in their households have lost a job or taken a cut in pay because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Pew Research survey April 7-12. In contrast, 50% or fewer of black and white adults reported a job loss or pay cut amid the pandemic.
Adults without a bachelor’s degree remain more likely to report job or wage losses in their household compared with college graduates, according to the Pew survey.
“My mom and I are concerned about him (Meliton) getting less income mainly because he is the one who contributes to the household expenses and rent,” Resi said. “This summer, I don’t know if I can find a job because of the pandemic, and I don’t want him to worry about me financially. So I’m stressed out.”
Meliton immigrated to Soledad, California, in 1996. His native language, Mixteco, an indigenous language, is not widely spoken in the U.S. The obstacle limited Meliton’s job opportunities in his younger years. His Spanish is still developing.
Besides her stepmother and father, Resi and her brother Aldo are the only two people in their household who speak Mixteco. And they don’t speak it well, Resi said.
Still, Resi regularly translates for her parents.