“Heaving Mass of Humanity, Revolt!” by Kc Tejeda

These good, old, white, dead immigrants of yore are the apple of New York’s eyes. Officialdom in the guise of government and non-profit groups praise their mythic toil and docility in eulogies stained with the purple afterglow of recycled verbiage. Living and breathing immigrants, like their predecessors, are only as good as the exploitation wrung from their labor.

In a pandemic, democracy is a dead ideal walking.The usual niceties—respectable, ideological—fall by the wayside. No more can the power structure conceal the brutal reality of exploitation and oppression beneath the saccharine overlay of celebrations honoring the immigrant not as a member of a class but as the ahistorical beneficiary of noblesse oblige, as supplicant of charity and pity, as the modern-day pieta in human form. Not, in other words,  as brother and sister of the heaving mass of humanity yearning to break free. 

The New York City Health Department has a new coronavirus map, showing ZIP codes with percentage positive tests among people who’ve been tested for COVID-19.


Now, graft these ZIP codes for positive tests to household income.


An analysis of the available data from reporters at The City finds that working-class, immigrant neighborhoods in Queens are the hardest hit by the coronavirus. “In general, the service sector fields put workers in close touch with New Yorkers,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director for the Center for an Urban Future, which recently analyzed the impact of the coronavirus crisis on jobs outside of Manhattan. “When you are in the office and when you have the luxury of closing the door, maybe you have a little better insulation than serving someone a meal, driving a cab or working at a nail salon.”

“In the three Queens neighborhoods, more than 2,601 people tested positive, or 9 per 1,000 residents, the new city data shows. That’s far higher than the citywide rate of 5 per 1,000 residents — 38,904 people as of March 31In those neighborhoods, people who work in food preparation and serving, personal care and service — including childcare workers and aides to the elderly — as well as in the construction and janitorial industries make up 38% of the working population, according to Census Bureau data.”

Even as socially-valued professionals with high salaries see their workplaces shutter or move to remote work to prevent the disease’s spread, the immigrant workers from “shithole countries” continue toiling in construction, food service, childcare, home health aides, and janitorial services jobs. According to the CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, Mitchell Katz, “we know that in Queens, many families—because of poverty—live together in very close quarters. So that while we are practicing as a city, social distancing, you may have multiple families living in a very small apartment. And so it’s easy to understand why there’s a lot of transmission of COVID occurring.”

These same workers crammed into small apartments with exorbitant rents have to grapple with a rentier class evicting workers who are positive for COVID and hellbent on extracting whatever profit they can amid a looming housing crisis, in which,  one survey projects, 77 percent of tenants are going to struggle paying rent in April.

In these circumstances, what is to be done? In the working-class, heavily immigrant neighborhood of Elmhurst in Queens, NY, a doctor says: “The only beds we’ve been able to free up are people who have died.” Never has the clarion call to choose either “socialism or barbarism” rung with more urgency. 

—Kc Tejeda

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