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Colorado Voices: Inclusion in seclusion
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Read the Spanish Version.

When I was asked to write about some of the issues the Latino community is currently facing, it made me think about how to choose. COVID-19, how DeVos blocked DACA students form Coronavirus emergency grant aid, how the President will not permit citizens of the United States to receive a stimulus check if they are married to an immigrant – and then there are the issues the farmworkers have.

We’ve been lucky in Mesa County as our number of COVID-19 cases has been relatively small. The concern here over the virus is so limited that our County Commissioners have asked Governor Polis to lift his executive orders and open the economy. I spoke with four Latinas, who are attending Colorado Mesa University, about what life is like during the pandemic – when you’re still responsible for going to school, working, caring for your family – all while hoping the pandemic doesn’t find your door.

Five siblings, five different grade levels, all with their own schoolwork to complete. This is the reality Maria contends with every day. Between the five siblings, there are only three computers to share, which is not enough when the demands of remote learning required students to Google Meet with teachers throughout the day and complete assignment after assignment online. Not only is there a lack of technology, but the technology often fails as the internet strength bobs and weaves – pushing the patience of all who have come to rely on it. Maria’s younger sister grows impatient every time the computer crashes, the programs stalls, and she loses her work and is forced to begin again. Frustration mounts as unneeded stress descends on the house. With so many people needing to use the same technology in the same place, it is difficult to find privacy or even space to think.

Despite the close quarters and the struggles that come with learning remotely, this is not Maria’s greatest concern. As a college student and one of the eldest siblings, Maria also contributes financially to the household. She leaves her home and her loved ones to continue her work as one of the thousands of essential workers. Washing her hands, using sanitizer, wearing a mask and gloves – she hopes her job, which keeps her family afloat – does not lead to her contracting COVID-19. With a family of seven, two of her family members are considered high risk and she fears what it could mean if she brought the virus home. Her concerns for contracting the virus are based on what she sees every day. Cascades of people, ignoring social distancing, forgoing masks and venturing into stores filled with essential workers who fear for themselves and their families. Maria prays the virus doesn’t find her.

How do you stay focused on school when the news is inundated with story after story about the effects of COVID-19? Another student, Lucia admits it’s difficult to maintain focus and – while she wants to help her community – she is fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with her. Both of Lucia’s parents have worked for Russell Stover for over twenty years, but her mother has been laid off. Her father, no longer working full-time, works just two to three days a week. Lucia’s brother has also been laid off and Lucia herself works just one day a week. The household income has decreased by three quarters.

Adding to the stress and worry are Lucia’s grandparents who are considered high risk due to their age. While Lucia’s family would love to spend time with her grandparents, they don’t feel it is safe. Her grandparents have struggled learning how to use the telephone, so they can maintain a small connection with their child and grandchildren.

COVID-19 does not care what your race, age, gender, religion, economic status or political party are. All it knows: you are human, and it wants to harm you. When I spoke with four Latinas regarding their thoughts about the current medical crisis, they shared some common concerns regarding the COID-19. Jasmin is worried about her mother who is employed as an environmental services aid at their local hospital. If they run out of the safety equipment they need, her mother’s jeopardy will increase.

Jasmin’s sister is employed as a nurse at the county jail – and when she goes to work, her work place has a large wall topped with razor wire around the building to keep inmates in and protect our community. However, the wall and razor wire do little to protect females who work inside jails. Jasmin is aware that her sister is at risk of physical injury and is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Jasmin is concerned about the shortages of protective equipment and the risk for her sister.

Carla is a young lady who desires is to be a teacher someday and is concerned about her family and how the world has changed with COVID-19. Both of her parents are now unemployed and she assisted them in filing out their unemployment forms. She feels her parents are fortunate that her mother has been approved and is now receiving her unemployment check. But her father continues to wait for approval, which is causing him a great deal of stress as he is concerned about paying the rent. Carla feels the internal stress her father and other Latino males are taking on during this time is not only very difficult but also harmful for them.

Migrant workers and their families are also individuals who suffer some of the greatest inequities since they receive no health insurance, dental insurance, eye insurance and they suffer from a high degree of diabetes. In regard to education, they tend to be taught at an equal base verse an equity base (not considering the starting line for these children), which causes migrant children to have a lower percentage in their rate of graduation in high school and even slimmer chance in entering college. Migrant workers are also isolated from the rest of the community, so their support network is less than the rest of the community. And when we look at economics, we find that the migrant worker is paid less than most individuals.

Credit: The Child and Migrant Service in Palisade.

Many Latino immigrants are working in the fields and are considered “essential workers” by our government. As the health and rights of these essential workers continues to be a non-issue, the stability and survival for the continuation of our food systems and supply chain will decrease. As we all continue to live with the contradiction of people labeled as illegal, but also classified as “essential worker” – we must ask ourselves: what is the cost of ignoring their health care needs? Are we willing to see an increase in our industrial burdens (like not having enough meat) if migrant workers are not receiving the health care they need? Quoting The Guardian study, US News & World Report states, “In some areas of the US, Covid-19 is killing Latinos at up to three times the rate that it is killing white people, even as they are among the least able to access care.“

As immigrants continue to work, they are not afforded the same care we give to others, yet they continue to go out each day to make sure our food supply remains intact. So, as we sit and ponder all the inequities and stress individuals are having to live through due to COVID-19, remember these inequities and stress are everyday life for farm workers and their families who are essential to our community. Is it not more positive for our country to follow the path of inclusion versus exclusion?

By Jose Chavez|
THE COLORADO TRUST – A Health Equity Foundation

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