Family and Commerce in the Time of Covid-19



By Jesús Aguado

“The last time we were out selling, we sold one gordita, around ten tamales, and ten atoles (a hot drink made with corn). Then we thought if the situation continues this way, we will lose more than we will make. Maybe we’ll sell 500 pesos worth of food. We could sell the same food the next day, but then leftovers have to be thrown away,” Paloma Espinosa said.

Consuelo Ramírez started selling gorditas and atole on Insurgentes Street in 1963. Her granddaughter Paloma remembers, “We have been selling for over 60 years—my aunts and my grandmother. At the beginning they would make 20 gorditas, 50 tamales, five liters of atole in each flavor (chocolate, guava, and natural), but the production kept increasing.” Now, in these hard times, the family is taking a rest.

In 1980 they were living in the neighborhood of San Rafael, which was then considered the outskirts of the city. Later they were able to buy a house on Homobono, but nobody wanted to live in the new house. They would place all their food products—atole and tamales—in containers which were strapped at each end of a long pole to be carried over the shoulder. These were called “burros.” They continued to work in San Rafael until 1980, when the so-called “paracaidistas” (skydivers) started coming into the neighborhood. This is what they called people who would move into abandoned properties[Rjf1] . It was during this time that the family decided to move to their new home on Homobono. “Twice we kicked out paracaidistas,” said Paloma.

The building on Homobono has three levels and is built on 780 square meters of land. There is an ample carport with enough space for ten cars. The house has the basic necessities sufficient for a traditional Mexican family—water, electricity, cablevisión, and Internet. There are 11 people from three separate families living on the property. Each family follows its own routines and has a separate kitchen, living room, and dining room.

Before COVID-19

The work schedule of having a food stand was intense, starting at 6am and ending at midnight. The nixtamal (corn prepared for the atole, tamales, and gorditas) was taken to be ground at the mill up in colonia Allende and back at the house. It would be made into a dough and prepared for breakfast.

Next, the guisados (various stews and fillings) that are use inside the tamales and the gorditas were prepared. There was roasting of tomatoes and chiles and preparation of different salsas. Then the containers were filled and transported to Plaza Zaragoza, where the customers would often linger until midnight.

When the municipal government imposed measures to control the spread of COVID-19, the stand could remain open until 9pm, but customers were not coming any more. On the last day that the family worked, they sold only one gordita.

In addition to working at their food stand, the family has other jobs. Paloma is a teacher who works from home with students online. Her work takes all day because she needs to respond to each student with questions or concerns. Her mother is a retired teacher, and her brother is teaching as well. Luckily, the three of them are currently receiving full salaries. Paloma’s father has a food business and a hardware store, but because no metal has been coming from China, his work is slowing down.

Paloma’s sister works in a bakery. “The bakery where she works has cut down the number of work days up to 50 percent. As a matter of fact, for her to receive her full salary, they asked that she take her vacation time. She will be the one most affected in this situation. She was going to go to the beach in May and she had to cancel.”

“Yes, there are projects at home: painting a wall, remodeling the kitchen, remodeling of some other rooms, things that we usually postpone for “tomorrow, next week, when I have time…”

During COVID-19

Paloma realizes that the situation is complicated. “I know this will sound bad, but the truth is, we are taking a break. My aunt Rosario has been getting up at 6am for the past ten years, now she gets up at 7, 8, or 9 in the morning. We are taking care of what needed to be done. I remodeled one of the rooms that I rent out; we remodeled my grandmother’s kitchen. I painted my room,” she added.

She also says that the situation has not been so bad economically. However, two people who were renting rooms did leave. They were working in a restaurant and were the first to be let go. Another renter used to work for a hotel and the employees there were having their wages cut by 30 percent. He decided to return to Sonora until he is called back because the economy there has not been impacted as much. Paloma also mentioned that both her aunt and her grandmother have always been very thrifty.

Paloma is worried about what is to come next week because the family uses more water and electricity when staying home. She laughed and admitted, “I don’t understand it, but we eat more.

At present she keeps herself occupied with Netflix, YouTube, Clarovideo, Amazon Prime, and finance books. While cleaning out the storage room, she found some books that were still in their original package. [Rjf2] She wants to rest for a week, and then she will sign up for online courses. She’ll continue reading her finance books until it’s time to start teaching again, which she believes will continue to be online.