Meet the lady behind North Carolina’s immigrant-owned mask-sewing enterprise

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Mercado is “humble,” stated Siembra NC organizer Laura Garduño Garcia, and unlikely to debate her many contributions to the local people. Mercado first turned a member of Siembra in February 2019 when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out a sequence of raids throughout the state as a way of retaliating against newly elected Black sheriffs who determined they’d not collaborate with the federal immigration company. Mercado’s household was personally affected by the raids and certainly one of their family members was deported. Ever since, the textile employee has been within the combat for immigrant rights. Extra just lately, she and her husband have centered on mutual help to help members of their group who’re undocumented and uninsured through the pandemic, offering them with groceries, masks, and different necessities. 

Earlier than she launched into stitching extra masks, Mercado talked to Prism in regards to the circumstances she and her husband confronted at a North Carolina textile plant, the success of her small enterprise, and the significance of sporting masks. Right here she is, in her personal phrases:  

On the plant the place I labored, I knew a number of individuals who obtained sick. I labored with my husband on the plant and one of many issues that we did not like in regards to the working circumstances was that we have been informed that precautions have been as much as particular person folks. In different phrases, every particular person needed to be accountable for the cleanliness of their space or for the precautions that they’d take. There was by no means a code or a system or a observe that the corporate had. They by no means took anybody’s temperatures. Not one of the protocols modified after COVID-19. There was not one distinction within the plant’s practices pre-coronavirus and after coronavirus.

It was very irritating to me that there was no distinction within the sanitizing practices on the plant. They have been taking such a danger and for us, it was an pointless danger to take. We turned bored with at all times feeling like we have been placing ourselves in danger. We have been continually apprehensive; my husband turned sick with fear and nervousness from having to consider getting sick, about risking his well being and the well being of the household.

We determined we might really feel most snug doing earn a living from home—for the well being of our kids and my grandchildren. We determined as a household that we could not take that danger [of going to the factory] as a result of my husband has sure circumstances that put him at larger danger of problems from COVID-19. On the plant, they by no means enforced that individuals needed to put on face masks; hardly any workers wore face masks. In truth, it was extra of a stigma; it was a hostile work atmosphere. Once we wore a face masks, we have been usually made enjoyable of and ridiculed.

My comadre is the one who motivated me to enter mask-making. She actually inspired me and I don’t assume I might have executed this with out her. My husband and I’ve at all times had our personal [sewing] machines in our residence as a result of prior to now, we did upholstery and reupholstery work. In that approach, this has been a extremely pure enterprise. To this point, the enterprise goes nicely and it’s as a result of this has been an effort of many individuals. [Marín Baena] is the one who has helped us make so many gross sales. She has been key in getting the variety of gross sales to go up. I simply didn’t know [the pandemic] would final this lengthy. I believed we might all go into “quarantine” after which after that there can be a vaccine and we wouldn’t want to fret about masks anymore. Right here we’re, nearly a yr later, and we’ve extra orders than we ever thought.

I would like folks to know that our firm is a gaggle of immigrants desperate to work and get forward. The whole lot we do is finished with love and made in North Carolina. I additionally need folks to know that it’s crucial for [essential] employees and common, on a regular basis folks to put on masks. I’ll share a narrative about my family for example: My brother had COVID-19 and he didn’t understand it. My sister visited with him they usually talked for a very long time after which she obtained COVID-19. Had my sister worn a face masks, she may have been protected. It’s not simply that we wish folks to purchase our face masks and help our household; we wish them to assist stop the unfold of COVID-19.

Tina Vasquez is a senior reporter for Prism. She covers gender justice, employees’ rights, and immigration. Comply with her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit information outlet that facilities the folks, locations and points presently underreported by our nationwide media. By way of our unique reporting, evaluation, and commentary, we problem dominant, poisonous narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to construct a full and correct report of what’s taking place in our democracy. Comply with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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