When the pandemic started in March 2020, Mariana Gonzalez didn’t know if she would be able to keep the Mountain View home where she had lived with her husband and children for more than a decade.
Gonzalez has lived in the city since 1999, and her husband, Lorenzo Villanueva, has since 1986. They are among the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States who, without a green card or work visa, do not qualify for unemployment benefits. Without a valid Social Security number, they were not eligible to receive aid from federal COVID-19 economic relief packages.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, the couple and their two U.S.-born sons, Miguel and Francisco, have relied on local organizations for help with rent and school expenses.
In the summer of 2021, the family allowed the Mountain View Voice, a sister publication of Palo Alto Online, into their home to chronicle the struggles they experienced and the support they received during the pandemic.
Like many workers, Gonzalez and Villanueva lost income when stay-at-home orders took effect in March 2020. Gonzalez, who works as a house cleaner, saw half her jobs disappear. Villanueva was laid off from his job as a waiter in the restaurant industry.
The family faced a particularly challenging time later that year when Villanueva was detained by police officers after being in a car accident in September of 2020 and law enforcement officials learned of his undocumented status.
Villanueva spent the next eight months in jail. He was released in May 2021 after one of Gonzalez' clients offered her a no-interest loan to hire a lawyer.
"When I left work she gave me a check for $5,000," said Gonzalez. "She said, 'Use this to get a lawyer, so that these children have their father and he doesn't get deported.'"
The family hired a lawyer and then, after the money ran out, worked with a public defender until they secured Villanueva's release.
Throughout the pandemic, the family has relied on a patchwork of local aid organizations to keep a roof over their heads. The MV Solidarity Fund, a Mountain View-based grassroots group founded during the pandemic to help local Latino families, contributed $1,000. The Community Services Agency helped the family with $4,100 — the equivalent of two months of rent — paid directly to their landlord. The Mountain View Whisman School District gave them aid to help buy food, totaling about $365 per child.
They also received help from Gonzalez' older sons from a previous marriage. One of them loaned his mother a car so she could continue working after the family vehicle was lost in Villanueva’s accident.
Miguel and Francisco, who at the time were at Castro Elementary in second and fifth grade, respectively, switched to online learning when schools shut down. Miguel began falling behind in his classes, and with the absence of his father, he started showing signs of anxiety and depression, Gonzalez said.
Francisco, who continued doing well in school, became more quiet. He spent a significant amount of time on screens, between remote learning and socializing with friends through video games. Her children used to be more extroverted, talkative and happy before the pandemic, said Gonzalez. The change in them was evident.
Gonzalez said she became depressed during this time.
"I had to find a way to get myself out of this state, because I had no one to tell me, 'You know what, everything will pass, be strong,'" said Gonzalez. "I would look at my children and think, 'If their father is not here and something happens to me, what would happen to my children?'"
She had to balance working and caring for her children. Fortunately, Castro Elementary School provided the boys with a space at Monta Loma Elementary to attend their online classes. Gonzalez was able to go to work without leaving the kids alone at home, which was a significant help for the family, she said.
Gonzalez has continued her house-cleaning job, although her hours have decreased significantly since the pandemic started, and the children are back at school attending in-person classes. Francisco is now in sixth grade attending Graham Middle School, and Miguel is in third grade at Castro Elementary School. "They are good, thank God. Since they returned to school they are more tranquil because they see their friends," Gonzalez said.
Villanueva got two jobs in the service industry after being released, but has recently lost both due to staffing cuts. He is looking for a job, and he and Gonzalez are living off their meager savings from the months when he did get a steady income, until he finds another job, "one he likes," Gonzalez said.
Despite the difficult year they had, they said they are doing well and recovering together.
Editor's note: The Mountain View Voice agreed to use pseudonyms for the family due to the parents' undocumented status.