Words into Actions
By Krizia R. Lopez, Founder, Puentes Community Translators and 2019 IIE Centennial Fellow
The world has changed dramatically in these past 6 months. Now that we understand more about COVID-19 and how it spreads, we are better equipped to build effective plans for handling the pandemic as we learn to adapt to the new reality. All in all, 2020 has been a year of reflection for all of us, both as individuals and as a society.
Personally, one of the most important insights I’ve gained is seeing firsthand all the critical ways a global pandemic or other large scale catastrophe can absolutely ravage the poorest, most under-resourced, and most marginalized communities economically, educationally, health wise, and more. Even in developed nations, food shortages, equipment shortages, mass fatalities, and lack of coordinated responses can occur. At the heart of any emergency response is the moral imperative to ensure all people have equal access to the assistance they need. As an IIE Centennial Fellow, I am grateful to have the opportunity to help make that vision a reality through my project, Puentes Community Translators.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the massive emergency response needed in Elmhurst, the closing of all education programs in NYC, shutdown orders on most businesses, mandatory stay-at-home quarantine, and the local community’s lack of widespread online accessibility, I had no choice but to put my original vision for Puentes on hold. Instead, I pivoted towards taking direct actions to help with the coronavirus response, assisting local nonprofit organizations with translations and assembling a small roster of translation volunteers in the area so we could scale more efficiently. I’ve also remained proactive in maintaining my community ties, although doing it remotely over Zoom is more of a challenge. For example, recently, I gave an updated presentation at the District 3 Community Board Meeting, where I was able to connect directly with the District Youth Affairs & Culture representative as well as Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
Since the pandemic, many other urgent and important community issues have arisen, including the protests against police brutality and discrimination, the growing frequency of ICE raids, the lack of access to online classrooms/resources for most kids in the area, and a huge spike in financial strain in this largely low-income immigrant neighborhood. Some of the translations we’ve done include informational leaflets for COVID sanitation guidelines, statements by activist organizations condemning police discrimination, and working towards fully translating the websites/resources/social media of local community support nonprofits such as the Queens Community House. Now more than ever, low-income and low-information families are extremely vulnerable. Any assistance we can offer with ensuring important information/resources are widely accessible means we are doing our part to break down language barriers for immigrant communities that are in desperate need of these resources.
2020 is a unique year and time to study and highlight the vastly unequal ways in which marginalized and non-marginalized communities are impacted by large-scale societal disruptions. I’ve seen that impact firsthand through my work with Puentes, and I would like to capture those insights more rigorously.
This fall, Puentes will be launching a project called the Language Access Impact Report. We will document the experiences of low/non-English speaking immigrants in NYC as they navigate language barriers during COVID and record the measurable impact these barriers may have had on the broader community by gathering evidence through interviews, surveys, and a review of socioeconomic data into a single impact report. We hope this information can be used by community/policy leaders to build better emergency preparedness plans in the future.