The daily struggle at Plaza de la Raza is no more

By Bernardo Montoya
Isidoro de Jesús Cortez arrived at the planters of the Plaza de la Raza, as he’s done every morning, right in the heart of South Omaha. For the last seven years, this 62-year-man full of life, arrives at this location, like many others, to see what luck has in store for him as he searches for a place to work at.  
 He can wait for many hours or even days until someone offers him a few hours’ worths of work or maybe a few days of work if he’s lucky.  
 
“The first time I did it because my son brought me here. But he moved to California with his new wife, and I preferred to stay…” said Cortez while he waited along with three other people he knew, all with the same goal: find a job.  
 
The noon sun was shining bright on that day, and as the hours went by – which felt like an eternity – a single small job opportunity came to be – a “chamba” – to carry some furniture for someone who was moving. 
 
It was a short but active job, and everyone returned to wait for another job to show up. But then, a patrol car from the Omaha Police Department parked in front of them. Officer Ruteena Alcantara slowly walked towards the group and let them know they couldn’t remain there due to the preventive measures to avoid COVID-19 contagion, ordered by Omaha authorities. 
 
She took out a yellow roll of tape and cordoned off the planters, benches, and bicycles on the plaza, since everything in the area is considered as a public park, and it’s forbidden for people to use them as a place of gathering. 
 
“They’ve really done a number on us!” said Isidoro with great concern. “They’re telling us we can no longer remain here looking for a job,” he added. 
 
Most of the people seen in the plaza are Latino immigrant men. The plaza has been a place of gathering for those who struggle every day to make a living, and they see this as a fast and dignified way of achieving it. This is even more important during the pandemic since the unemployment rate in the State has gone sky high, and Omaha is not the exception.  
 
Despite all of this, officer Ruteena had to do her job. 
 
The wind had cut off the yellow tape as if it was a sign of the injustice of the whole thing. The officer reinforced the cordoned off area with more plastic yellow tape around the restricted perimeter of the plaza, and it remained that way. 
 
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. There are no jobs, and now there’s no plaza where we can find something to work on. May God have mercy on us! I have no idea how we’re going to carry on…” said Isidoro, crestfallen and upset as he walked away from the area. 

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