When David Gonzalez's father and stepmother contracted COVID-19, he realized the virus affected more than just their health; their jobs and ability to provide for their family were now put in danger.
This was an "eye-opener" for Gonzalez, so he decided to share his family's story and how COVID-19 has affected the Latino community in a short documentary, "The Seeds They Grow," which premiered last month as part of PBS' Latinos Are Essential series.
The Latinos are Essential series features a collection of short films by artists all across the United States, including Puerto Rico. Series Producer Jennifer Maytorena Taylor explained Latino Public Broadcasting developed the project and called for "stories that would speak to the diversity of Latino communities across the country, that would show with honesty the devastating effects of COVID on Latinos and other communities of color — but also the strength, ingenuity, and spirit of those communities to help themselves and others."
Maytorena Taylor, also Gonzalez's film production professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, felt it was important to feature a story from the Central Valley as well as one from the point of view of a younger filmmaker, making Gonzalez "a perfect fit."
In the nearly four-minute documentary, Gonzalez said the pandemic has highlighted essential workers, but his father, Juan Gonzalez, a chef, and stepmother, who was not named and is a housekeeper for a hospital, have always done the work regardless of the title.
He never expected COVID-19 to affect him or his family, he explained, and the news was shocking when his father told him during a video family group chat.
"When they give me that news, I felt like this is over now. I start thinking about my family, I start thinking about this is the last days of my life," Juan Gonzalez said in the documentary. "The worst thing about it is you go to the hospital and they don’t have no medicine for it."
As he spoke to his family more, he saw that their main concern was having enough money to take care of expenses. His stepmother said in the documentary, "For us Latinos, the main worry isn’t, ‘Oh, I have COVID and I’m sick.’ Instead it’s, ‘I can’t work.' 'How will I pay the rent?' The money is a bigger worry than the disease.”
"That was a big eye-opener for me. I didn’t realize the extent to which they had dealt with financial hardships," explained Gonzalez. "Latinos have always done their livelihood for their family but now their lives are threatened."
Gonzalez was unable to help his family during their illness because he was still at UC Santa Cruz, but extended family members brought groceries to their doorstep. His stepmother was able to return to work after two weeks, while his father took more than a month to recover and still struggles with complications.
His family's experience with COVID-19 doesn't change what he thinks about them and the work they do, Gonzalez said. It does, however, make him more appreciative of their sacrifices, seeing the seeds they've planted to make sure their children grow and achieve greatness in the United States.
Other documentaries part of the Latinos Are Essential series highlight a construction and domestic worker from Colombia who find a temporary job cleaning subway cars at the peak of the pandemic in New York City, San Francisco's Mission District and the city's Latino Task Force and PanchoPescador, a self-taught Chilean artist and teacher, who brings art and life to the struggling streets of Oakland.
Gonzalez is one to create from his heart, he said, so he's looking forward to highlighting other issues facing the Latino community in Bakersfield in future projects. He never thought he would be able to share his family's story with viewers across the country, but said he's grateful to be "part of something bigger than myself."
"Through this program, it’s a more closer, personal lens on Latino communities and how COVID has interacted with the community," he said. "Each community is different, but the stories are the same."
"The Seeds They Grow" is available online at https://www.pbs.org/video/the-seeds-they-grow-nmfp7h/