NE Ohio immigrant family provides its own social net

By: - October 23, 2020 12:10 am

Miguel Arriola at his home Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. Arriola and his family have struggled with multiple issues regarding the COVID-19, one issue in particular being safe housing for family members. Photo by Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal.

“You don’t have the social net that other people have.”

That’s how 27-year-old Miguel Arriola sums up the immigrant experience during the pandemic.

Arriola’s father came to this country from El Salvador at a young age and worked hard to establish a life in Northeast Ohio.

“Immigrant families, they kind of need to create a structure within themselves so that they can operate fiscally. We have multigenerational homes, kids and grandparents living under the same roof, so that we can make ends meet,” Arriola said.

But during the pandemic, it’s up to Arriola to keep his father, who has an autoimmune disease, safe. And that means reevaluating the family’s living situation.

“COVID kind of turned that on its head because now what was our way of being stable through any given situation was actually destabilizing our situation. So we had to rethink how we would operate.”

Arriola graduated from Cleveland State this spring with a computer science and engineering degree. But a once promising job market has all but dried up.

Arriola’s wife, fresh out of her podiatric medicine residency, got a job in Nashville, but he can’t afford to leave his part-time job at a Cleveland bank to be with her.

His brother and his family are living in a house Arriola owns, but they’re just scraping by financially.  

“Our family split into what is now three different homes,” Arriola said.

Arriola’s father moved with his wife in Nashville, where they thought he’d have less of a chance of getting sick.

They retrofitted the house with clear Plexiglas panels in several rooms so his father could still interact with his loved ones.

But on the day Arriola was interviewed for this story, his wife tested positive with COVID-19.

“They’re trying to stay separate, but my dad’s anxiety isn’t letting him separate. He wants to see if she’s okay. He wants to see if she’s doing well. But if anything he’s the one we’re most worried about.”

With all this resting on his shoulders, Arriola is still thinking about other immigrant families who may be in worse situations.

“There are people who are in a position where they don’t know what’s going to happen after the pandemic is over.”

As a first generation American, Arriola said COVID-19 takes the biggest toll on the most vulnerable.

“If there’s anything that’s been humbling me, it’s the cumulative experiences that everyone has been going through during this period of time.”

When you mix in the political vitriol with a presidential election that’s just weeks away, Arriola wants people to “remember to love each other.”

“I think as a nation right now we’re coming to terms with a lot of our issues. So that makes me hopeful that we can actually put the work in what’s necessary to make a better future for ourselves and our kids.”

That means being open to have real conversations outside your own bubble, whether it be with someone from a different country, culture or socioeconomic status.

“It’s conversations like these that bring us closer together as a nation. So the more these conversations happen, the more people will realize what’s going on in the world and the more people are going to want to change it.”

Mark Arehart was among seven journalists who participated with Ohioans in October in Your Voice Ohio online dialogues to gain understanding of concerns people have in the 2020 election.  He is a reporter for WKSU public radio. 89.7 FM, in Northeast Ohio and can be emailed at [email protected]

About this project

This is one in a series of stories on issues Ohioans say are most important in this election year. More than 50 news outlets are collaborating in the project under the umbrella of Your Voice Ohio, the nation’s largest sustained, statewide news media collaborative. In five years, Your Voice Ohio has brought more than 100 journalists together with more than 1,300 Ohioans for discussions on addiction, the economy and elections. Your Voice Ohio is managed and coordinated by the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic engagement organization. The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes designs and facilitates the dialogues and digital forums. Retired Akron Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger directs the media work and can be reached at [email protected].

Five Ohios

For the Your Voice Ohio 2020 Election listening project, the state’s 88 counties were divided into five regions identified by John Green, emeritus director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, as having political and demographic similarities.

How participants were selected

Six people were recruited to participate with three journalists in each regional dialogue designed and facilitated by Kyle Bozentko and Sarah Atwood from the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a St. Paul-based non-partisan, non-profit research organization.

There was an attempt to make each dialogue demographically representative, though that was problematic in some regions, particularly in the Southeast where there were broadband challenges. Overall, the dialogues were representative of Ohio, based on Census data obtained by former Akron Beacon Journal data reporter David Knox.

A pool of about 1,000 volunteers was created through invitations published by Ohio news outlets and from advertisements on social media. To encourage a diverse group of volunteers, $125 was offered to those who answered basic demographic questions, participated in a test call, and then completed the two-hour online dialogue.

For the conversations, participants were granted anonymity with the understanding that what they said could be used in news stories without their names. They were asked afterward if they were willing to be quoted by name and participate in a follow-up conversation with a reporter. Most agreed.

Participating journalists were recruited from the more than 50 Your Voice Ohio news outlets. One reporter attended all five sessions and wrote the central narrative, a regional reporter in each helped identify themes and nuances. A third is guiding the Your Voice Ohio journalism and has attended all sessions since 2016.

Finding help with your ballot

There are organizations that attempt to provide fair representations of candidates and issues so that you can cast an informed ballot. 

Below are some of those resources:

  • Ballotpedia is a national organization that compiles information about federal and state candidates and some local races and issues The Ohio page is the place to begin.
  • Public radio stations in Ohio, led by WKSU FM 89.7, and with the help of Eye on Ohio and Your Voice Ohio, attempted to ask federal and state legislative candidates questions on your behalf. The questions were formulated after asking Ohioans in a statewide poll to name their most important concerns, followed by dialogues to gain better understanding of those issues. Unfortunately, candidates have been slow to respond. Those who have answered the questions can be found at this site, and new answers are added as they arrive. Disappointed that your candidate isn’t represented? Tell them that you’d like answers to questions that come from the more than 50 Your Voice Ohio news outlets that are attempting to represent your concerns.
  • As a part of its Civics Essential series, Issue Media Group news outlets in Ohio provided this primer on voting for judges. In the story are links to organizations offering appraisals of candidates for state and local judges. Outlets in the Issue Media Group are Soapbox Cincinnati, Freshwater Cleveland and The Hub Springfield.
  • Also as a part of the Civics Essential series, Issue Media Group news outlets in Ohio provided a guide to casting an informed vote on local issues. This story contains links that may be helpful.



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Mark Arehart, WKSU
Mark Arehart, WKSU

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.