New York official says her majority-Latino district was "left alone" to fight the coronavirus pandemic

Pandemia: Latinos in Crisis
Pandemia: Latinos in Crisis 48:29

New York State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz heeded her constituents' call for help when New York City was caught off guard by one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world. Today, she and a team hand out at least 2,000 meals a day to residents of her Queens district who are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic. 

"We are the epicenter of the epicenter," she told CBS News' Ed O'Keefe.

A Colombian immigrant, Cruz is the first "Dreamer" to serve in the New York State Assembly. On March 17, five days before Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed a lockdown order, her district office became a food pantry for struggling residents. 

"These are really kind people," she said, describing them as people "who will get to the end of the line, and we have no more food and they have four meals, and they'll turn around and give two meals to the person behind them." 

Constituents have not held back praise or criticism. 

"She's doing very good things," one woman said, while another person said they wanted Cruz to be "mayor."

"She does terrible things," another woman said. "She does for illegals, not the people that live here." 

N.Y. official feeds residents amid pandemic 06:41

Three months into the pandemic, Cruz sees food lines winding around the block from her office daily. Many of the people in line are children.

"That means their parents probably had to go back to work," Cruz explained. "Cause I didn't have this many kids on the line before." 

Cruz said she could easily see herself in their shoes, and thinks of her mother as she walks down the line. 

"Had I not become one of the lucky ones, I'd be on a line with my mom," she said. 

As a state official, the assemblywoman felt she had been left alone to help so many of her residents — in the nation's largest city and financial center. 

"When it came time to help my people, they left us alone. They left us alone and had lines of people that were like, 2,000," she said through tears. 

Catalina Cruz is just one of the Latino leaders helping marginalized communities survive the pandemic. Latino communities and communities of color in the U.S. have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, and make up a large share of the essential workforce that has continued to face the risks of COVID-19 firsthand. 

Maria Elena Salinas will look at the struggles Latinos in America have been facing in the CBS News special "Pandemia: Latinos in Crisis," streaming on CBSN Sunday, July 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.