When It Comes to Keeping People Safe, Latinx Communities Are An Afterthought

The social distancing will impact many areas besides health

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

TThe coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity for the Latinx community to show its resilience and strength in the face of adversity. This community has always had a presence in the U.S. even though there are groups who have arrived more recently. It has built support systems across borders and across generations, so these connections will be important as the pandemic unfolds.

The nation’s largest minority group faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to accessing health care. Latinxs are disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and asthma, yet there’s a documented resiliency in certain health outcomes with this population. Undocumented Latinxs face additional limitations in their access to resources, especially when it comes to health care. In different states, there are organizations where the undocumented population can access various levels of care, and last year California became the first state to provide health care to some of its undocumented population. As the coronavirus continues to spread and impact everyone in the country and around the world, how is the Latinx community faring during this crisis?

There’s worry about how lower-income members of the Latinx community will fare because even when the economy is performing well in a wealthy state like California, more than half of Latinx households already face difficulties paying for basics.

For Latinx immigrants who are in detention facilities when there isn’t a pandemic, there have consistently been reports about a lack of care and medical negligence that have resulted in deaths of detainees of all ages. Some immigrant rights advocates are calling for the release of immigrants and the suspension of deportations. The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it would not arrest undocumented immigrants who do not pose a threat during the coronavirus pandemic.

An issue that journalists and advocates have raised is that the White House and the Centers for Disease Control were delayed in releasing coronavirus guidelines in Spanish. English proficiency among Latinxs has risen, but more than 37 million Latinxs in the U.S. still speak Spanish at home, so having information available in Spanish is important. States, counties, and community groups have stepped in to make current information available in Spanish specific to their localities. But nevertheless, this is another example of the Latinx community being an afterthought to the Trump administration.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, where roughly half of the city’s population is Latinx, Andrea Serrano, the executive director of OLÉ, a nonprofit grassroots organization that advocates for working families, shared her perspective about how her community is reacting to the coronavirus recommendations, such as providing free boxed meals to students and providing childcare and other services:

“Our communities are taking this seriously, particularly Chicano and Native American communities. Our organization is working remotely — using digital tools, phones, and text to continue organizing our communities, especially around paid sick leave and worker rights,” Serrano said.

There’s worry about how lower-income members of the Latinx community will fare because even when the economy is performing well in a wealthy state like California, more than half of Latinx households already face difficulties paying for basics such as food, housing, and utilities.

Karla V. Salazar, the interim president and CEO of Families in Schools, an organization that assists parents in supporting student achievement in Los Angeles, is worried about how Latinxs who are living on the edge financially or “in the shadows” because of immigration status will endure the pandemic. She said that already many Latinx families live paycheck to paycheck, and many do not have jobs that could be worked remotely.

“Choices for these vulnerable communities are either go to work and run the risk of being infected or stay at home without pay,” Salazar said.

Although a majority of Latinxs in the U.S. live in cities and suburbs, ZORA spoke with Alex Ortega, PhD, professor of health policy at Drexel University, who offered some distinctions for Latinxs who live in urban and rural areas and what might happen as the orders to shelter in place and maintain social distancing continue.

In fact, Latinxs are already twice as likely to be food insecure as White Americans. The coronavirus outbreak is already impacting food-insecure seniors and children throughout the country.

Ortega explained that Latinxs in urban environments tend to have access to more health and social services, whereas those in rural areas often face additional barriers to health care and services during nonemergency conditions. Rural Latinxs already have more financial insecurity than their White rural counterparts.

“We might see a spike in food insecurity in rural areas. Food insecurity, income loss, and lack of access to care will be issues everywhere for Latinxs, but in the rural areas, they will likely face additional barriers,” Ortega said.

In fact, Latinxs are already twice as likely to be food insecure as white Americans. The coronavirus outbreak is already impacting food-insecure seniors and children throughout the country. Seniors, who are more vulnerable to coronavirus, may not be able to participate in group meals at community centers and may find their local grocery stores temporarily lacking in food items.

Serrano was particularly concerned about how community members might be impacted by social isolation and not being able to go to work or school. There is research that suggests that some Latinxs experience social isolation already that is associated with poorer physical and mental health in both rural and urban areas.

“We need to be mindful that work and school are an escape for people, and the pressure of isolation, financial stress, and fear will only increase the risk for many. While we need to meet people’s physical needs, their mental and emotional needs have to be at the forefront as well,” Serrano said.

“Latinxs are young, vibrant, and believe in their future. For many Latinxs who escaped to America because of civil wars and violence, they know firsthand how to survive famine and violence,” Salazar said. “They understand that the virus is yet another process to endure, another bridge to cross. But with support from each other, from neighbors and community leaders, and from community partners like Families In Schools, Latinxs will survive with grace and faith.”

Southern California based freelance writer

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