This is all so hard. I had my security, working 30 years without stopping. This is the first time I ever applied for unemployment. I’ve never, ever lived off the government — always off my own hard work.

Editor’s Note: This story by Reyna Gonzalez — as told to Norberto Santana, Jr. — is part of a nationwide series on unemployment gathered by the New York Times to document the lives of Americans without work during Coronavirus. See Santana’s first column on Gonzalez and read our full unemployment coverage HERE.

Yet months ago, when the coronavirus happened, I had to file for employment benefits. Later, my health insurance was taken away. I’m missing my front teeth, and I don’t have the money to deal with that. I’m also diabetic and now have to fill my prescriptions by traveling to Tijuana, where my husband’s family is from. 

Before crossing the border with her husband, Reyna stops to walk through an overpass observing the lines to cross the border. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

I’m desperate. I love my job. I love working. I worked hard as a cook at the Anaheim Ducks restaurant inside John Wayne Airport, near Gate 19 in Terminal C. I was always there. I always covered shifts, worked extra. You know, sometimes the youngsters don’t show up. I’d always gladly stay late. Sometimes 10 hours on one shift. I worked it as if it was my business. 

When you love your work, you love everything around it. You want that business to succeed. Imagine, I’m 55, and the kids in their 20s used to marvel at my ability to work.

I was raised by my father, among brothers, in rural Michoacan, Mexico, and taught to be hearty. When you are brought up in the countryside, the life just makes you stronger.

Reyna and her husband cross the Mexican border through San Diego, CA. Reyna who visits Mexico to get her medication realizes, “this is a trip that I have to make out of necessity. We at times don’t have money for gas nowadays but make it somehow.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

I’ve been at the airport for 20 years. I started working for Korean restaurant owners. It was hard. I worked like a man, loading up heavy airport carts with merchandise. One day, they closed. And the very next day, in the elevator, I met my new boss who started me as a dishwasher at the sports restaurant. Eventually I had a nice job as a cook. 

To many, my $15-an-hour job may not seem like much. But it gave me my independence. It allowed me to pay for my house, my car and car insurance. It allowed me to move around, solve my own problems. 

A few months back, hundreds of us who worked at John Wayne Airport got word to stop showing up to work, that we were laid off because the coronavirus had grounded the airport.

I don’t like having to apply for government aid. Now I hear the company we worked for got special rent relief during this time. What about us?

I’ve been working with my local union to press our governor to sign a law calling on them to give us our jobs back when things turn around.

I’ve looked at other jobs. But I’m going to wait until Oct. 15 to see if the governor gets my job back. It’s not just me. But all of us. We need our jobs. I hope they put themselves in our shoes.

October: Hopes are dashed

The governor didn’t save us. He refused to sign the law that would have given us our jobs back once things turned around. Politicians — they are only out for themselves. 

They need to open the airport back up. Having precautions, taking care — it can be done. Open the airlines, then the work will flow. But if they don’t open, how can we be OK?

Many are losing their homes. I’m lucky. My sons work, they help out. We are very united. We fight together.

I’m so lucky to also have my faith. Every day, I read my Bible. I’ve always been very devoted. As a child, as I went out with cows to milk them, I knew God was out there. I spoke to him. He could hear. He always hears. He is here with us. 

I am asking him for help. Please help me. Whatever you can. Whatever you will. If not at my old job, at a new one.

My friends are really in tough shape. I stay strong for them. I’m there for them. Some can’t read. They don’t have the Bible. So I tell them, stay with it — Echele ganas. Don’t despair — No te deseperes.

Sometimes we all need a push from someone.

October: ‘You are a battler, Mom’

I’m sitting here at the union food bank, next to my friend, Ophelia, trying to comfort her. She’s crying, frustrated. She got the message on the phone and in the mail that we won’t be coming back to work. Her self-esteem is pretty bad right now. She can’t sleep. She feels defrauded. She gave everything to her job.

I remind her that her husband is working and so is her son. Her unemployment check finally showed up.

My sons have really stepped up for me. My oldest, Martin, 35, stops by a lot, always brings food. He does for me what I did for him. He tells me not to worry, saying, “You are a battler, Mom, you’ll come out on top.”

I also have my other kids, Juan, 25 and Ysenia, 37, checking in on me all the time along with my three grandchildren, Nina, Martin Jr. and Marvin.

I’m tired of being at home. This whole experience has awoken me a bit. I’m not as shy as I used to be. I can’t vote as a legal resident but I’ve gotten involved at my local union, Unite Here. Look at me, I’m out here talking to the top union director at the food drive.

I feel much stronger. Like Moses, I’ve been pushed into action. Thinking of him makes me strong.

Holding a bible, Reyna recites to her granddaughter Psalm 91, one of Reynas favorite psalms during this time, “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday,” reads Reyna. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

I would like to try to go to school, maybe learn some English on YouTube so I can get a better job. I’ve been looking at a hospital job, but I need to speak better English. I want to prepare myself a bit more.

I can’t stay at home. I just need God to open the way for me to get another job.

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