by Lindsey Tabor, Communications & PR Manager, Hispanic Alliance, with Sharon Purvis
The Hispanic Alliance was born as a network of people within the Upstate’s Hispanic community, along with individuals—educators, pastors, and others—who work in and with that community. That network became a non-profit, and ten years later, the network is more than 2,000 strong and counting. With community teams around four pillar areas—education, financial stability, health, and legal services—the group seeks to connect Spanish speakers in the Upstate with the resources they need.
Q: Tell us about your ongoing interventions and how they’re impacted by COVID-19.
When COVID-19 hit, we knew there would be an immediate need for trustworthy information. We knew that without a vocal advocate, the needs of the Hispanic community could be muted amidst many competing concerns. Though heartbroken to cancel our Community Team events, we pivoted immediately to a massive outreach and communications push. We are collecting data on needs reported by Hispanics and those who serve them through our COVID-19 Community Survey of Needs, as well as our outreach staff’s documentation of community calls. We successfully convened our four Community Teams virtually, and our April Network Meeting had record-breaking virtual attendance. All these sources feed our new bilingual COVID-19 resource webpages, and weekly newsletters to spread the word to the community. For those who lack internet access, we are partnering with local Hispanic businesses and essential services to provide our information flyer to families.
Q: You told me that you’re finding that the Spanish-speaking community is severely under-informed about the virus itself, precautions they need to take, and health, financial, educational and legal resources available in Spanish. What are some things that employers, churches, educators, and agencies who work with this community can do to help disseminate information?
Trust is the most valuable currency of the Hispanic community. An important step for allies is to form relationships with “bridge builders,” people who speak the cultural “language” of both the Hispanic community and mainstream American culture. This may be a bilingual pastor of a Spanish church, or an ESOL teacher, or a Hispanic outreach specialist.
Also, take time to translate. Contract a translator or find bilingual volunteers to translate your most important announcements and materials and then spread the word using media popular with Spanish-speakers. Many are getting their news and information from social media apps and Facebook groups. Local Spanish radio is also a tried and true form of communication.
And remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! Know where to refer Spanish speakers for information and personal guidance in their language. Our Hispanic Alliance Outreach Coordinator (864.256.0760) welcomes calls and is adept at referring folks to the resources in the community that will meet needs and help them feel safe. English speaking “allies” can also find a wealth of bilingual resources at our English COVID-19 landing page.
Q: You completed a survey earlier this year of needs within the Spanish-speaking community. Can you talk about what some of those needs were and how they might be compounded or at least impacted by the pandemic?
“Hispanics in Greenville,” released in early in 2019, revealed that 83% are first-generation immigrants—they were not born in the United States. The majority have a variety of immigration statuses, including 36% who are undocumented. This fact informs the interpretation, both of our assessment results, and how we understand our community’s current struggle with COVID-19.
Hispanics in Greenville may not understand the basics of the American financial, legal, healthcare, and education systems. They just don’t have the experience that natives take for granted. This leads to underutilization and distrust of banking services, lack of access to legal and health services due to language and cost barriers, lack of personal experience with the public education system of their children, and many legal and practical barriers to resources. Lack of information leaves Hispanic families vulnerable to scams, misinformation and rumors, and means that their hard work will not pay off for them in the form of increased stability, the same way it does for those born in the US.
At least 21% of local Hispanics live in a household making less than $25,000 annually (below the poverty level), and only a third of our participants reported saving for emergencies. Any job loss or cut in hours due to the pandemic would leave these families with no safety net. That is what we are seeing with our current survey of needs, as well as requests coming to our Outreach Coordinator—financial worries due to a lost job, and corresponding food insecurity, are becoming more pronounced as we track these needs through April. Hispanic business owners may have less awareness of loans that can help their business, and face greater communication barriers when applying for these through their banks. Our community is at risk, and fewer tools are offered to them to maintain stability.
Q: What else do you want people to know about how the Hispanic Alliance and the Spanish-speaking community is responding to this crisis?
Among the 10 most common industries for our local Hispanic workers are construction, cleaning services/hospitality industry, manufacturing, food preparation, and healthcare. We also know that Hispanics disproportionately keep our agricultural markets afloat (though this is a population that was harder to reach for our assessment). These jobs are either essential services, where Hispanics will be working longer hours, further exposed to COVID-19, or they are industries that have been wiped out, such as our hospitality industry. At the same time many of these Hispanics, whose work was and is keeping the U.S. economy afloat, are prevented from receiving unemployment insurance, aid from the IRS, and help from many locally run agencies who rely on government funds.
Nevertheless, the Hispanic community is leaping into action to keep the entire community safe and moving forward together. We are currently sharing some of these stories in social media format on Instagram/Facebook @HispanicAllianceSC. There is more to come as we continue to find innovative and collaborative ways to meet needs that will continue to exist long after social isolation.