The fact that more than six million Americans filed for unemployment this week suggests that work for many has disappeared. While many of these jobs may return, there is great uncertainty about when. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the service industries, food production and sales, as well as hotel businesses that traditionally employ Latinos in significant numbers.
Two Latina women in San Antonio are working hard to be sure their employees will not be in the unemployed lines anytime soon. Veronica Prida and Blanca Garcia have owned and operated their businesses for years, but with the pandemic, they shifted gears after facing dwindling sales and a drop in the demand for their products. For the duration of the pandemic, they intend to do things differently, but most of all, they are committed to keeping their workers on the payroll while maintaining financial stability.
In early March, famed San Antonio fabric artist Veronica Prida had just finished several richly adorned
dresses for young Fiesta Coronation participants. She has a studio and workshop in a small barrio near the
center of San Antonio and has been making dresses for 12 years. Over this period Prida has employed several
seamstresses in her workshop and all depended on the seasonal income associated with making dresses for the Order of the Alamo.
Fiesta, an annual event in San Antonio during the month of April, attracts more than 500,000 spectators.
When the Mayor cancelled the April 2020 Fiesta Prida spent days thinking about what she could do to help her community. After reading about home manufacturing of masks in New York, she sprang into action.
Encouraged by her husband Omar Rodriguez who works in the medical insurance field, she contacted a friend in New York who sent her patterns for making two types of masks: a mask with a filter pocket for medical staff and a plain mask made with two layers of cotton material. She quickly mobilized her team and brought on other out-of-work seamstresses to help meet the pandemic challenge of producing face masks for her community.
Prida contacted her friend, Caroline Matthews, owner of the successful guayabera manufacturing company and store, Dos Carolinas, to tell her about her plans to manufacture masks. Matthews’ company, which had to
shut down production of the popular Latino shirts, donated yards of cotton cloth to Prida for the production
With a grant from the Mitchell Chang Foundation, Prida and her team began mask production and offered their masks free of charge to medical professionals.
Today the women in Prida’s workshop are as busy as ever, as Prida cuts the cotton material at the shop and
distributes it to her team of eight seamstresses who work from home. For all individuals in the medical field, they supply masks pro bono, but the team is covering wages and costs from private sales. Also, for every mask
individually purchased, a mask is being donated to a person or group in need.
Prida noted that the majority of the masks they produced “are being donated to ‘low risk’ medical professional and charitable organizations in our region.” The need for masks just became more critical this week as medical experts suggested that everyone going out in public should use a mask. Prida’s work is ever more important in that her workers can help with the supply and demand of needed medical equipment.
Prida and her team work long hours but she expressed happiness “to have the capacity and infrastructure to serve our community needs as well as provide continued work for our studio seamstresses as well as other local seamstresses who have been negatively affected financially by the pandemic.”
Another Latina entrepreneur, Blanca Garcia, a third generation owner and CEO of Porter Poultry, runs a business founded by her grandfather Benito Romo in 1937. She learned the business from her dad, Benito Romo II (full disclosure, my uncle), whom she calls her mentor, instructor, and great friend. Today, Garcia operates the business assisted by her daughter Gema. Porter Poultry has deep roots in the Westside of San Antonio, dating back more than 70 years. The family owned business is located on Highway 90 near Wolff Stadium. For the first fifty years of operations, Porter Poultry sold mostly eggs, chickens and turkey products.
Since taking the reins of the business 25 years ago, Garcia expanded her inventory and now sells more than a
thousand different items to customers, the majority of whom had small family restaurants and bakery
businesses. The Poultry’s large customers included several taquerias that operated in multiple locations of San
When the pandemic hit San Antonio in mid-March, the majority of her restaurant customers stopped calling. The orders for eggs and chicken products, her main staples of sales dwindled significantly. Garcia told her friends in the Westside of the city that the Porter Poultry would sell their products at wholesale prices and that their operations would shift to drive thru curb service. In a span of a few days, more than a thousand customers flocked to Porter, causing a traffic jam and requiring six Bexar County Constables to redirect cars to park at a local stadium as they waited to be served.
Today Porter Poultry workers are busy, and all twenty-one of her longtime employees remain on the job. Over the last two weeks, Porter Poultry has sold more than ten large truckloads of eggs. The expansion of the products they offer is also one of the key reasons they are successfully operating their business during these difficult times. But Porter Poultry’s success is also a result of deep roots in a community where friendships and associations with thousands of customers matter.
Copyright 2020 by Ricardo Romo. Photos of workman in the public domain, photo of eggs copyright by Barrio Dog Productions. All other photos courtesy of the author and used with his permission.