Voices of Centro Humanitario: Labor, Barriers and Hope in the Times of COVID-19” is a community memory and oral history project that explores the lives of low-wage Latino immigrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Led and curated by Centro Humanitario’s community outreach team, the project brings together stories of hope, faith, struggle, and job discrimination from families in Colorado’s Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metropolitan area during the first year of the pandemic. The project aims to amplify and give visibility to the voices of immigrant workers little heard during the pandemic and to create opportunities for community listening, dialogue, learning and celebration.
Header image: Angélica Don Diego and Fabián Meraz photographed by Sarahy Plazola.
Centro Humanitario Para Los Trabajadores (El Centro) is Denver’s only day laborer center promoting work, dignity and community. The mission is to promote the rights and well-being of day laborers and domestic workers in Colorado through education, job skills, leadership development, united action and advocacy. They have helped distribute over $6, 000, 000 of COVID relief funds among the Latino worker community in Colorado. During the first year of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a disproportionate incidence of COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations, and deaths among people who were identified as Hispanic or Latina in Denver, CO.
This project features photography from Denver-based artist Sarahy Plazola. Here are a few words from Sarahy about her work:
"As an artist, I suggested that these stories should have a visual narrative, not only because they would look pretty, but also because in that way we can bring the voices to life and keep them alive for several years, to give identity to our storyteller...
…The photos you are going to look at do not directly interpret the words you will hear in the audios. But they are more of an idea, a general emotion that I felt when I was listening to these audios. They represent something of culture, nostalgia, resistance and those narrative imaginations. Some photos were taken in Mexico, they represent the life that we left on the other side of the border, that we still carry in our hearts and souls. And they also reflect me as a first-generation immigrant, who came here as a child and continues to live the legacy of her parents."
Hear the stories of the community introduced by the project curators from Centro Humanitario:
“My narrator is a young, brave woman, devoted to her home. And her priority is to take care of her family and her family's well-being. But also somehow when she shares her story with us, she makes us see those difficult experiences. In spite of having this dream of moving forward, of looking for better opportunities, of having goals, she makes us see how we can see that, in spite of all that, we still have a difficult life, with many difficulties, and we have to adapt to this life. And with the arrival of the pandemic, the differences in immigration status became more apparent and we could see the hardships that everyone was living with. But I want you to join me to see the story of my narrator who by her own choice wanted to remain anonymous.”
“Who is the Meraz DonDiego family? Fabián is a welder, a welder by trade, who has been here in Colorado for about thirteen years. And Fabián tells us that he had never experienced that scarcity, that feeling of need, to the point of telling me how before the pandemic, he had a stable job, a job where he said "every Friday, every Friday, every Friday" and he said "I was a person who could afford certain luxuries, my family could go out to eat on the weekends, we could buy the phones that were in fashion" and then the pandemic came and everything changed.Fabián loses his job. Fabián finds himself in need of temporary jobs and for her part, Angélica, Angélica was a housewife and she too had never experienced such scarcity while living in the United States. And Angélica tells us "the hardest thing for me was to maintain the emotional balance of my family, because adjusting budgets was difficult, but I could do it"
“A person from the community that I have had the pleasure of meeting over a year ago, my narrator who wished to remain anonymous. She is originally from Chihuahua. She arrived here in 2002, from Chihuahua to Colorado. She was very affected by the pandemic, not only herself, but the people she lived with, her daughters, her grandchildren, her grandsons and her And the need made her look for more work, to look beyond just being at home, because she had no money for rent or food. She then found work cleaning houses and was thus exposed to COVID. And when she was exposed to COVID she had to stay at home, but she still tried to take care of her grandchildren.”
"My narrator, before the pandemic, she took very good care of herself. You would always see her with Lysol, not that I want to make an advertisement, and in spite of all the care she took and being a housewife who doesn't go out to work, she had the misfortune of contracting the virus not once, but three times. And this experience that she had is connected to a pattern that we are seeing in the experience of infection in our immigrant worker community, which is the great need to go out to work, which is where her need to go out to work, and this experience of contagion that she lived through is connected to a pattern that we are seeing in the experience of contagion in our immigrant worker community which is the great need to go out to work, which is where her husband got infected and without him having any symptoms. And this shows us that even though our community takes care of itself and tries to be at its best, there is something that goes beyond that, that pushes us to the contagion of people who want to work."
“I remember the interview I did with Mr. Valverde, it was in November of last year. It was a snowy day, it was very cold. I had the opportunity to visit him at his home. He is from Santa Maria del Oro, Durango, he has been living here in the United States for more than 20 years. He is married, has two children, both of whom are already married. He has three beautiful granddaughters, right? But they lived through a situation where COVID disease was present. But the solidarity of the community was also present in his life.”
—Guadalupe P. Martinez, Project Curator—Centro Humanitario Connector
In the following clips, Sr. Valverde discusses his experiences with adaptation, COVID-19, faith, labor, personal matters, and resilience.
“[María] went through something very difficult during the pandemic. She had a family loss and she also had a job loss. She worked in childcare and suffered job loss, as did all the narrators on this project. And the community support is what really impacted her; she had help from some friends with housing issues, but also emotional support from the community. My narrator Maria is an immigrant from Guatemala, she has been living here in the United States for 22 years and she left some of her children in her country. Her faith is why she wanted to tell her story and why she is sitting here today.”
“Paula was working cleaning a medical clinic during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her work, she witnessed fear, and the uncertainty that patients and medical workers could face from the beginning, as our understanding of COVID-19 as a virus and as an agent of change that would affect and continue to affect everyone developed. Meanwhile, Paula dealt with school changes, the advancement of her own education, and the decision to quit her job. She recounts in her story these experiences she had while supporting and caring for her family, and describes her faith and positivity, which turned out to be supportive in the face of the adversity she faced and continues to face.”
“I was also fortunate to hear the story of my partner Patty Grado which gave me the opportunity to see the situation from another perspective and thus have the conclusion that this project is also a way to honor the families of our migrant community and workers.”
“I feel totally identified with these people because, as Marina said, I was also the narrator of my story…I do know about that stress, all that stress that our community went through, but especially the workers who are supporting those people who are going through that. But it's really hard for us as curators to hear those stories and not identify with them and not be thinking. I still have times, that, and we're talking about a year ago, that I think about "How will this couple live? Would they lose their house? Will they be working? Will they have food?" So that stress, it's horrible and it makes us vulnerable and it keeps happening. And that's why at the Centro Humanitario we are offering mental health workshops, emotional health workshops, and that's the way to support our community. And at the same time, I say this for me, it is a way for me to heal too, because it is true that this stress ends up weighing one down too.”
In October 2021, History Colorado hosted the InSights& InPerson community oral history gathering: "Voices of Centro Humanitario: Labor, Barriers and Hope in the Times of COVID-19,” led by the community outreach team of Denver’s Centro Humanitario para los Trabajadores. Click here to watch the presentation.
Search for "Centro Humanitario" or with Object ID: 2022.12.2.1 - 2022.12.2.8
Project Curators and Team
Click on the arrows to learn more about the project team.
“Voces del Centro Humanitario” es un proyecto de colaboración entre el Centro Humanitario para los Trabajadores y el Museo de la Memoria. El proyecto fué parte de la iniciativa de History Colorado Preserving Colorado's Hispano, Latino, and Chicano COVID-19 Stories con el apoyo del National Endowment for the Humanities Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.