By Plyfaa Suwanamalik-Murphy
During a day of normalcy and routine, I first heard the news of the slow, but soon to be rapid emergence of the respiratory virus, COVID-19. I can only describe my state of being as unsuspecting of what was to come.
Three months later, in May. San Francisco was in a time of survival with stimulus checks, a time of increased discrimination, and in a hopeful state of gullibility. By gullibility, I mean it seemed as if the whole city was holding its breaths, hoping COVID-19 would disappear overnight.
Soon, everyone I knew was quickly transitioned to “online education.” We only saw the faces familiar to us electronic. All of San Francisco’s schools were closed; I was learning online. After three months of “online education,” I found myself reading more newspapers, listening to the public radio, podcasts and a surfeit of news channels. I was exhausted. I was weary of learning each day of the skyrocketing numbers of coronavirus cases and hearing stories of families struggling with food and shelter. I felt as if I had some kind of responsibility to help our community, our city.
I soon stumbled upon an article and read about the terrible conditions of undocumented workers during the pandemic. I read of workers fired and unable to support their families. These workers paid taxes through an ITN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number: a way for noncitizens to pay taxes on income earned on U.S. soil). Yet they did not receive aid from the government through a stimulus check. These are workers who have helped build the foundation of San Francisco. I often hear people complain about immigrants “invading” our way of life and taking all of the available jobs. I don’t think they stop to consider that most undocumented workers help stabilize our way of life by taking nontraditional jobs. They work and pay taxes, contribute to society, and instead, they are penalized.
My family had received a stimulus check a month before, which helped us through a rough period. I couldn’t imagine the unbearable hardships these workers and their families were facing every day. In modern-day, it is difficult to live in San Francisco. When considering rent and prices for food and essentials, it seems impossible to continue living without receiving an income. Many undocumented workers do not have access to medical care and do not have the means to work remotely. The federal and state government offer limited resources to undocumented workers. Although there is currently an eviction moratorium, it is expected that once it is lifted, homelessness will increase, adding to the crisis we already have.
My heart languished for this community, whose situations were a consequence of xenophobia or our country’s deeply rooted fears regarding specific people, considered “outsiders.”
I gradually began to realize how my music background could help those in need. I decided to use music as a method to fundraise and help raise awareness to the plight of undocumented workers. I asked some members of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA) mariachi group to see if they would be interested in helping me. They agreed. After brainstorming, I thought it would be best to perform an online fundraiser of traditional mariachi music. I had also received inspiration from Cinco de Mayo, which was just around the corner.
I decided to give the funds raised to UndocuFundSF after my orchestra teacher, Mr. Arnold, suggested I look into this nonprofit. UndocuFundSF is a nonprofit located in San Francisco. They give out the donations they receive to individuals in need after verifying their application. Despite the shelter-in-place order imposed at the time, Emma Kositsky and Alexander Haken agreed to play in the mariachi performance. I was honestly relieved; I wasn’t sure if any students even wanted to help. I quickly learned this wasn’t the case. I discovered we all shared a strong determination to make the project work. Although most of us were juggling our course load and studying for our AP exams, I remember everyone dedicating their scarce time to practice, record, and upload music files for the online performance. Once the video was edited and completed, I uploaded it to GoFundMe. I was soon surprised at how quickly people donated. I had not expected there to be so much support. We raised more than $4,000.
A few days later, I transferred the funds to UndocuFundSF.
Plyfaa Suwanamalik-Murphy is a Sunset District native, Ruth Asawa SOTA graduate and SF Board of Supervisors Youth Commissioner for District 4. You can contact her at email@example.com.
Link to fundraiser: https://gf.me/u/ywdwfz
Categories: Voices of Youth