Monday, June 27, 2022
A Crisis on Two Fronts: Black Immigrants  Face  COVID-19  in California  and  Back Home  
By Manny Otiko  | California Black Media  
Published May 22, 2020

Lyndon Johnson  is  publisher of CaribPress,  Mawata Kamara, who  is originally from the West African country  Liberia and  Chuol  Tut, executive director of the South Sudanese Community Center in San Diego.

California is home to  an estimated 11  million immigrants and many of them are  Black — from Africa, Latin America,  the Caribbean,  Europe and other parts of the world.


According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) at USC, immigrants make up 6.5 percent of California’s Black population. That  figure has doubled since 1980.



From  Silicon Valley engineers  and  Hollywood celebrities to  medical professionals,  small  store front  owners, ride share drivers and  hotel housekeepers,  Black immigrants are as diverse as the general population in California.


They live in small clusters in inland valley towns and in  larger  ethnic enclaves in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles — or  they blend  into  suburban  communities  across the state, according to  data collected by  California Black Media  to support its  Census 2020  awareness  mapping.


But  many  Black immigrants  have  been  uniquely affected by the corona virus  crisis. Like all Californians, they  are  dealing with the  dangers  of the disease and the  economic and social  uncertainties  it  has caused across the Golden State. At the same time, they are worried  about how   the global pandemic is  affecting  relatives  back  in their homelands.



Across the United States  and in California,  large numbers of  immigrants work in the healthcare field. Many  more  are other essential workers, toughing it out  on the front lines  working in  the service industry or in  medical,  transportation  and sanitation jobs.


In California, 35% of all healthcare professionals are immigrants, according to the  Migration Policy Institute.


Mawata Kamara, who is originally from the West African country  Liberia,  works as an  emergency room nurse in San Leandro, a suburb east of the San Francisco Bay in Alameda County. She said that her hospital currently sees about two to three  COVID-19 patients a day.


According to Kamara,  she gets confused  trying to keep up with  the government’s  guidance regarding   the pandemic. For example, she’s currently reusing N95 masks, which used to be forbidden, she says.  She also  gets a stream of emails  with  constant updates — sometimes conflicting news — about the virus  itself,  safety  changes or  how to  treat  the disease.


“The general feeling of unpreparedness is everywhere,” said Kamara.


As an African immigrant, Kamara says she sees the unique challenges that Black people, both immigrants and American-born Blacks, face in dealing with  COVID-19. One of the reasons the disease has affected the Black community is because many people live in multi-generational families, Kamara says.  This makes it very difficult to self-quarantine. Kamara said one of her  African co-workers faced this situation when she contracted the disease and didn’t want to take it back home where she lived with several relatives.


“Self-quarantine is a luxury most people can’t afford,” she said.


Kamara has taken to changing her clothes in the garage  and cleaning her shoes before she enters the home she shares with her daughter.


“I don’t think anyone wants to go to work and bring it back home,” said Kamara.


Kamara is also concerned about her native country, Liberia, which has been affected by the disease. The country currently has more than 210  COVID-19  infections. About half the patients have survived.  Twenty  people have died from the disease.


Liberia, which has a  underdeveloped  healthcare system, was  devastated  by the Ebola pandemic  which started in 2014  and resulted in more than 11,000 deaths. Kamara has advised family members who were  visiting  the country to return to  the United States  so they can  have access to  better  quality  health care.


Although coping with the challenges of COVID-19 is  grueling  for  Black immigrants in California  like Kamara who are naturalized  citizens  or have Green Cards,  it is even more difficult for those who are undocumented. They did not qualify  for the federal  $1,200  stimulus payments  the federal government has been sending out.


There are an estimated two million undocumented immigrants in California.


Earlier this month, Gov. Newsom announced a new $75 million  California state program that will  provide disaster relief to  undocumented immigrants  in payments of up to $1,000 per household.  The  program will  begin on  Monday May 25,  and the money will be awarded on a first-come,  first-serve basis.  See  the list below for organizations  that will be distributing the money.


In Los Angeles,  Lyndon Johnson is publisher of CaribPress,  a publication that covers West Indian news and events  in Southern California, around the United States and in the Caribbean. He  is originally from Jamaica. Johnson  said the disease presents a unique danger to people from his country because many of them also work in the healthcare field.


Johnson  says some of them are his family members. “One of my sisters is scared to go to work,” he said.


Johnson said he recently participated in a Zoom meeting with members of the Jamaican diaspora  who connected  to talk about  how COVID-19 is affecting them.


The island of Jamaica has also changed its rules to deal with the disease. Jamaica currently has more than 500 infections and nine deaths. Johnson said people coming in from certain countries are automatically quarantined.


The Jamaican economy,  Johnson says,  relies heavily on tourism,  but  COVID-19  has brought  travel to his home country to a halt.  According to the Caribbean Journal,  Jamaica earned some  $3.3 billion in 2018  from tourism.


Johnson  said the  Caribbean Comedy Series,  one of the largest West Indian  cultural  events held  in  the  Los Angeles  area, had to be canceled  this year.  It was supposed to be held in March.


Many  Caribbean community organizations  in California and around the country  organize annual health missions, where they return home and perform healthcare checkups. Those have all been canceled as well, said Johnson.


In San Diego,  Chuol Tut, executive director of the South Sudanese Community Center in San Diego, said there are about 4,000 Sudanese (from both South Sudan and North Sudan) living in the San Diego area. He said they are attracted to the area because of the climate, which is similar to their homeland.


South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. It gained its independence in 2011 after years of conflict with Sudan, a country that is 97 percent Muslim. South Sudan is predominantly Christian.


Tut said the community has been impacted by the corona virus outbreak because many of them work in front-line jobs such as drivers, healthcare, casinos and housekeeping. Currently, many of them are out of work.


Tut said the center, located in East San Diego,  is assisting some of them apply for unemployment benefits because some of them struggle with  speaking English.


“We try to help them as much as we can,” he said.


COVID-19  has also affected the nation of South Sudan. According to Tut, there are currently more than 230 cases and one fatality. Also, the country is a major trading hub with a lot of visitors coming in from neighboring countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Now the government has established a quarantine zone that stops anyone from coming into the East African county.


Back on the  front lines of the crisis  in  California,  Kamara says  she believes we  are not over the worse of the  pandemic.

That’s why she  is discouraged by protestors who are demanding businesses reopen. Kamara said too many Americans don’t realize the dangers of   COVID-19  because of misinformation.

“Until that’s addressed, people won’t take it seriously,” she said.

Undocumented Black immigrants who want to  apply  for  California’s  corona virus emergency assistance program  should contact the following groups  representing their area:

Northern California:

California Human Development Corporation

(707) 228-1338

Covering Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Pleasure, Plumas,

Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma Tehama, Trinity

Bay Area:

Catholic Charities of California

Alameda and Contra Costa:

Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo: Clara:

Central Coast:

Mixteco / Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)

Santa Barbara: (805) 519-7776

Ventura: (805) 519-7774

Community Action Board Santa Cruz

(800) 228-6820

Covering Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz

Central Valley:

United Farm Workers Foundation (UFWF)

(877) 527-6660

Covering Ash, Kern, Kings, Wood, Merced, Tulare and Mono

California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)

(877) 557-0521

Covering Mariposa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tuolumne Yolo and Yuba

 Los Angeles and Orange County:

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

(213) 241-8880

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

(213) 201-8700

Los Angeles Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) (213) 315-2659

Inland Empire:

San Bernardino Community Service Center

(888) 444-0170, (909) 521-7535 Covering Inyo, Riverside, San Bernardino

TODEC Legal Center Perris

(888) 863-3291

Covering Inyo, Riverside, San Bernardino

San Diego and Imperial County

Jewish Family Service of San Diego Imperial County: 760-206-3242 San Diego County: 858-206-8281

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