Mexican-American Creates Services for an Aging Population

Mary A. Gloria was inspired to found the Pan de la Vida Foundation by her Catholic faith and her Mexican heritage. As a devout Catholic, Gloria believes in Jesus’ teaching to help those in need. As the daughter of immigrants, she grew up around newcomers who spent their days working on behalf of the community, harvesting crops, and tending gardens.

So in 2003, she created Pan de la Vida (Bread of Life) to help at-risk seniors in her own community of Queens Creek, Arizona, with chores, bathing, general care, and even a community garden. “When I came to Queens Creek, I knew there were a lot of people that were seniors already,” she explains. “And so I went around just asking questions: Would they like to have someone come in and help?”

Soon, 76.4 million baby boomers will become elderly, creating an unprecedented demand for home healthcare workers. The number of home health aide positions alone are projected to grow by 48.5 percent from 2012 and 2022. Meanwhile, the native-born population that typically fills such jobs — working-age women with less than a bachelor’s degree — is shrinking, meaning Immigrants, who are twice as likely as American citizens to fill those jobs, will become ever-more critical in caring for our elders. Already in 2014, 24 percent of home heath aides were foreign-born.

Many of these needed immigrants, however, are living in fear in the current political climate. Gloria recalls working at a community center in Phoenix, and hearing people fearful of even going to the store. “They kept hearing in the news that they were going to do a raid here or a raid there, and they would say, ‘Don’t go to Food City because there is going to be a raid there.’ ” Part of the problem, she believes, is toxic political rhetoric regarding immigrants. “They started creating hatred amongst the people, started saying you know, ‘These people just come and take from us,’ ” Gloria says.


Immigration policy matters because we are all human.

In her experience, this just isn’t true. And the data supports her impression. Immigrants in Gloria’s congressional district, in a suburban area east of Phoenix, make up less than 10 percent of the population yet paid $611.5 million in taxes in 2014, a third of which went to state and local governments. The district boasts 3,255 entrepreneurs, many of whom create jobs for U.S.-born workers. In fact, in this part of Arizona, immigrants are 48 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than are native-born Arizonans.

Like many new immigrants, Gloria’s family has struggled to build a life in America. Her father and grandmother came to the United States in a wagon, fleeing the aftermath of the Mexican revolution that ended the 35-year regime of Porfirio Díaz. “There was a lot of hunger. My father later related to us that they had been walking down the street and they could see dead children, dead adults, and dead teenagers.” He later returned for her mother, bringing her across the border on the back of a motorcycle.

“Immigration policy matters because we are all human,” Gloria says. “We have a right and a lot of people explain that we are in our own country because this area used to be part of México and then the United States bought it for very little.” Seeing undocumented parents deported without warning, with little regard to their spouses and children, is “horrible,” she says. She’s seen a mother of a 3-year-old picked up by authorities for driving without a license and placed into removal proceedings without her child. In another case, a divorced father who lived with, and supported, his children was placed in detention. The immigration authorities “took good men, men who come to church,” Gloria explains. “They’re good men, it isn’t like they are out drinking.”

But, she says, the current atmosphere may eventually change for the better. Pointing to history, Gloria notes that Italians, Japanese, and Chinese people also suffered from discrimination. “Everybody went through it, even the Irish, I guess,” she says. “So I am just praying that this will end, so that more people won’t have to go through this.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…