SUMMER 2009 EDITION

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Immigrants affected by hard times

COLUMBIA — Cristina Mendez's dreams are starting to fade because of economic turmoil.

"Everyone's dream is to be able to give their family a roof to live under, but the economy has lowered so much that this is one dream that won't be coming true for a while," Mendez said.

Mendez, who has lived in the United States for 16 years and is working as a custodian at MU, has always been able to send her family in Toluca, Mexico, $100 to $150 a month for farm supplies or medicine. She can no longer afford to send money.

"Yes, not being able to send our families as much money as we usually did is affecting them,'' Mendez said. "Now, when they get sick or they need money, there is nothing much we can do."

The recession is hurting Mendez's family in Mexico and in Columbia.

"I have two daughters that are 15 and 13, and I have a boy that is 9 years old,'' Mendez said. "By having to cut down on spending money, they lost the opportunity to be able to visit their grandparents in Mexico this summer, and not even movies or going out to eat with friends or even with us is a possibility."

Centro Latino helps the Hispanic community with its struggles. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave the center $1,000 to help Hispanic families pay rent, said Sandra Zapata, a health promoter at the center.

"We also receive a donation of bread from Panera Bread every Tuesday night," Zapata said.

In some cases, donations have run out.

"People are not only searching for places to give them food, but they are also applying for food stamps," Zapata said.

In attempting to support their families, the unemployed are struggling to find any job.

"In the Latino Center, I have noticed that phone calls dealing with people looking for jobs have increased as workers become more desperate to find a job," Zapata said.

Many are feeling that desperation.

"The economy has affected us, like a lot of other people," MU custodian Norma Camarena said. "We are having to cut back on our spending, such as going out to dinner, clothes; we have to spend the least possible."

Camarena's husband's work week as a landscaper has been shortened.

"I know people that have not lost their jobs, but they have cut their hours of work,'' Camarena said. "For example, my husband, before the recession, used to work the whole week from Monday to even Sunday but now is only being able to work one or two days a week."

Workers find themselves unable to get jobs in Columbia and are moving to other states where work is available.

Camarena said she knows some who have moved to look for work.

"Also, a lot of people would move from state to state looking for a job to be able to send some money back, if they decided to stay,'' Camarena said. "Most of the people that decided to stay are working various jobs on different days of the week."

Zapata has noticed the same trend at Centro Latino.

"I have also noticed that instead of going back to the countries, people are choosing to move to different states, such as Texas, to seek more job opportunities," Zapata said. "I have cases of wives that their husbands have been unemployed for more than two weeks."