COVID-19 and the Latinx Community

By: Corinne G. Santiago

 

It was barely the second week of March when COVID-19, or the novel Coronavirus, reared its ugly head in my home. It wasn’t just a news story anymore; it attacked my older brother’s body and – even though we didn’t yet know at the time – incubated within my grandmother and both my parents.

 

Since the economy crashed in 2008, the return of the multi-generational household – households that consist of two or more adult generations, or including grandparents and grandchildren younger than 25 – has increased steadily. According to the Pew Research Center, a record 64 million Americans live in a multi-generational home with the most likely groups affected being Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics; my household is no different. When 2020 began, my house consisted of my parents, my paternal grandmother, my older brother and sister-in-law, their 1-year-old son, my other older brother, and myself.

 

As a first-generation American on my mother’s side, I’ve made it a point to learn all there is to know about racial disparities when it comes to the Latinx community. This is why it came as no surprise that COVID-19 was no different regarding the hardships and prejudices we face.

 

As the CDC puts it, “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing illness, regardless of age.”

 

Senator Kamala Harris pointed out the disparities at an event sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the United States’ largest Latinx civil rights group. “Twenty-five percent of the deaths from coronavirus have been Latinx, in spite of the fact that Latinx are 18% of the population,” she said.

 

Like other minority groups, as the virus continues to spread, the numbers have made it obvious who will be the most heavily impacted and who will suffer the most hospitalizations and subsequent deaths.

 

“Public health experts say Latinx may be more vulnerable to the virus due to the same factors that have put minorities at risk across the country,” the New York Times published. “Many have low-paying service jobs [in food service, transportation, and delivery, etc.] that require them to work through the pandemic, interacting with the public. A large number also lack access to health care, which contributes to higher rates of diabetes and other conditions that can worsen infections.”

 

Due to the rampant racism and discrimination minorities face in this country, it is increasingly difficult for members of the Latinx community to move up. According to a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “One in three Hispanics and Latinos living in America report being discriminated against when applying for jobs.”

 

In addition to this, many people in the Latinx community are undocumented or struggling through complicated immigration statuses. These circumstances make them ineligible for health insurance and unemployment benefits, causing them to work through the pandemic, regardless of whether or not they’re symptomatic.

 

Although fortunate enough to be working from home, my older brother was unable to take a single day off throughout his illness. Even though he could barely make it up a flight of stairs at times, his commission-based sales job made it nearly impossible to take sick leave that would have put a severe financial strain on his family.

 

USA Today reported that nearly 20% of Hispanic and Latinx Americans live in poverty, “…far above the nationwide 13.4% poverty rate for all Americans.” As the executive director of the Latinx Memphis advocacy group in Tennessee, Mauricio Calvo put it, “People simply cannot afford to stop working.”

 

CNN reported, “In one out of five Hispanic households, at least one of its members has lost his or her job in the last two months. Unemployment is the highest ever recorded.” Senator Bernie Sanders called it the worst crisis in the modern history of America.

 

Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the situation is the Latin community’s mistrust of politics and the media. “Daniel López-Cevallos, a professor at Oregon State University who studies how health disparities affect Latino communities, told NPR that another reason Latinx people are more at risk is that they’re less likely to trust the government.”

 

My household became a statistic when my grandmother passed away on March 31st due to complications from COVID-19. While my parents and brother thankfully recovered, we all suffered the grief of losing someone we were unable to say goodbye to.

 

Due to a multitude of factors, it’s no question that the non-white communities of the U.S. have been hit the hardest and will continue to be hit the hardest by this pandemic. Until people of all colors and classes are able to live in a society on equal footing, we will be unable to be more than just tragic statistics in a long string of injustices.

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