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Mexican Government Steps in to Help Wildfire Victims

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The Mexican Consulate of San Francisco meets Mexican nationals who are affected by the fires at the Roseland Village Neighorhood Center in Santa Rosa. (Alyssa Jeong Perry/KQED)

A mother wipes her baby’s nose and a man wraps his arm around a loved one as they all huddle in the crisp fall morning to wait in line outside the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center in Santa Rosa.

Some arrived there the night before, and all because of a Facebook post that said the Mexican Consulate of San Francisco would meet on Oct. 19 and 20 with Mexican citizens affected by the fire.

“When I arrived here at 7 a.m. this morning, there were already about 100 people outside,” says Chalene Lopez, who teaches Zumba at the Sonoma County community center that caters to the low-income Latino neighborhood. “Some of the families that have been evacuated for at least over 11 days were here at 11 p.m. last night.”

But once those in line finally get inside Roseland, the wait is far from over. People fill folding chairs that snake around the perimeter of the large open space. Maricela Rico-Casero is one of a couple hundred Mexican nationals who is sitting patiently. She says she’s a U.S. permanent resident who has been in the States for 29 years, but she is also a Mexican citizen. She and the other six members of her family lost their home in the fires.

"Well, I'm here because I'm trying to get the Mexican Consulate to help us a little bit financially,” Rico-Casero says in Spanish. “A little bit of money will help us out a lot right now."


According to a 2017 report on Hispanic demographics released by Sonoma County, 86 percent of Latinos living in the region are of Mexican descent. And those who are undocumented do not qualify for U.S. federal assistance to rebuild their homes or to pay for temporary housing. So that’s where the Mexican government steps in.

Liliana Ferrer is Mexico’s consul general in Sacramento. She, along with four other consular officers, came from the state capital to provide help at the community center because San Francisco’s consulate was inundated with requests from the Mexican community in the area.

“In coordination with the Consulate of San Francisco, we are assessing to see how best we can provide aid and support to the community that is most in need or lost their homes,” Ferrer says.

Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a small emergency fund late last week, according to Wilma Gandoy, consul for protection and legal affairs at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco. She says financial aid was depleted after it was distributed to 138 people by the middle of the week.

So the consular officers are at Roseland evaluating how much more money is needed to help their citizens. They set up a long table with laptops in one area of Roseland. People like Rico-Casero show their Mexican identification and relive the trauma of the fires by telling officers what they have lost.

“Most of the persons [here] have lost their homes and their jobs, so housing and work are the primary needs of these families,” says Gandoy.

After these assessments, the Mexican Consulate of San Francisco and Sacramento will go back to the Mexican government to request more aid.

“Then we can provide a check per household and it’s up to the family to see how to use it best,” Ferrer adds.

And for Rico-Casero and her family, losing their home of five years and their life's dreams has been extremely difficult.

"We haven't had much peace, but we're moving forward -- little by little," she says.

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