For Guatemalans in Florida, essential work leads to a coronavirus outbreak
LAKE WORTH, Fla. — The thousands of Guatemalan men who manicure the golf courses and gated communities of South Florida were deemed essential workers, so Alfredo continued taking the journey every morning, until almost everyone he knew was sick.
At 6 a.m., the 39-year-old left his home here, on a quiet street in one of the largest indigenous Guatemalan communities in the United States. By sunrise, he’d be in Boca Raton or West Palm Beach or Miami, trimming trees in the wealthiest neighborhoods between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades.
For the past 30 years, tens of thousands of men and women from northern Guatemala, descendants of the Mayan empire, have enabled one South Florida construction boom after another. Now, asked to work through the coronavirus pandemic, they are among the hardest-hit populations in the state, reporting more new cases each day than any other.
“It’s a crisis within a crisis,” said Samuel Matos-Bastidas, an instructor at the University of South Florida now working as a contact tracer with the state health department assigned to the indigenous Guatemalan population.