For two Mountain View parents, being undocumented added to pandemic hardships

Without federal aid, help came from a patchwork of community groups

News

For two Mountain View parents, being undocumented added to pandemic hardships

Without federal aid, help came from a patchwork of community groups

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.

Mariana Gonzalez, left, Lorenzo Villanueva, right, and their son Miguel attend mass at St. Athanasius Catholic Church together in Mountain View on July 25, 2021. Villanueva had completed his house arrest about a month prior. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

Francisco Villanueva prepares as an altar server in the backroom of St. Athanasius Catholic Church before mass in Mountain View on July 25, 2021. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

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.

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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.

Lorenzo Villanueva enters his home from the backyard early in the morning on July 12, 2021. Eleven days prior, he completed his 45 days of house arrest after having been arrested in September 2020 for his undocumented status after a car accident. He returned home after almost a year of being in jail, unable to work and care for his family during the pandemic. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

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.

A display of family photos of Gonzalez' sons on a wall in the living room. She has one adult son living in Mexico, two older sons in California living with their respective partners and two young children at home with her husband Villanueva. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

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.

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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, 11, plays video games while Miguel, 8, eats a watermelon in the bedroom they share with their parents in Mountain View on July 12, 2021. At the beginning of the pandemic, Gonzalez' two older sons were also living in the house with their partners, one couple in the extra room and the other in the living room. Soon after Villanueva's arrest, the two couples moved out. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

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.

Mariana Gonzalez waters the plants in her backyard in Mountain View on July 12, 2021. With her husband's absence during the pandemic, she found peace and hope in caring for the plants. "That's why you see so many flowers around," said Gonzalez. "I would go out to talk to them. I'd tell them 'you are so beautiful. I want to be like you.' That is what helped me lift up from this depression." Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

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.

Lorenzo Villanueva hugs his son Miguel at the end of Sunday mass at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Mountain View on July 25, 2021. Being separated from his father for almost a year during Villanueva's arrest was difficult and emotionally challenging for Miguel. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

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.

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Miguel, 8, lays down on the floor of his living room after jumping on the trampoline 80 times, a deal he and his parents made in exchange for him getting to eat a burger, on July 12, 2021. Ever since the pandemic started and with his father's absence, Miguel has been anxiously overeating, Gonzalez said; Miguel's feet while he rests on his parents bed in Mountain View on July 12, 2021. Photos by Daniela Beltran B.

Light comes in through the bedroom window on July 14, 2021; Francisco, 11, plays video games in the shared bedroom, where he had also been attending online summer class, on July 12, 2021. Ever since the pandemic and with his father's absence, Francisco had been spending more time playing video games with his friends online. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

Lorenzo Villanueva makes breakfast for his family on July 14, 2021. Photo by Daniela Beltran B.

Daniela Beltran B. is a former visual journalist intern at The Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online.

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For two Mountain View parents, being undocumented added to pandemic hardships

Without federal aid, help came from a patchwork of community groups

by Daniela Beltran B. / Contributor

Uploaded: Sun, Feb 20, 2022, 10:42 am
Updated: Tue, Feb 22, 2022, 9:38 am

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.

Daniela Beltran B. is a former visual journalist intern at The Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online.

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