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Editorial | Island Voices

Column: Pandemic effects hit immigrants hard

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  • Kachusy Silander

    Kachusy Silander

There is no denying that most people in Hawaii have been on edge since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As the economy has come to a virtual stop, its impacts, such as high unemployment and access to essential government services, have been worst among immigrants, especially the members of the Chuukese community, of which I am a member.

As we are being assimilated into a new environment, seeking employment opportunities is not that easy. In most cases, we have taken any low-paying jobs in order to survive. This includes positions such as security guards, cooks and food preps at fast-food restaurants and other eateries. Obviously, jobs like these are paid with the established minimum wage.

However, due to the high cost of living in Hawaii, and especially because of the pandemic, we do not make enough to make ends meet. Most of us live from paycheck to paycheck. Indeed, there are many Chuukese people who have become homeless because of evictions, even though there is a law that protects them during the pandemic whether they know it or not.

Had there been a living wage instead, the problem could have been much easier to cope with. Unfortunately, we can expect more to become homeless in the coming months.

Most members of our community make use of the city transportation system (TheBus) for going to work, running errands, taking care of medical appointments, and so forth. With the virus scare, it affects our comfort riding on a bus, knowing that the probability of getting infected in a crowded space is quite high. On the other hand, not riding TheBus is a blessing in disguise, for it keeps us at home and makes us safer.

Accessing any government service is limited, for an office can only be reached by phone or through its website. This presents another issue because not everybody has a good command of the English language, and getting a certified language interpreter or translator is not that easy. The difficulty in navigating a website is more compounded, for not everyone can operate a high-tech computer.

Recently, some of my friends have expressed their frustrations over the arduous process of applying for unemployment benefits. In the application process, trying to reach someone at the office by phone for some clarifications was nearly impossible.

Recently, some businesses have begun to operate, but it doesn’t mean that all business activities will occur at once, for there are some businesses that depend on others. It is now obvious that most of the business service activities have been dependent on the visitor industry. Most of our people are employed at these businesses and will need to start looking for other jobs that are very difficult to find right now.

With all of the impacts that our Chuukese community is experiencing because of the coronavirus pandemic, I urge Hawaii’s political leaders, including our representatives and senators of our state Legislature, to remember our Chuukese people and other immigrant communities when they make allocations of federal CARE Act funds to those in need.

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