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Voces Oral History Center Interview with Genoveva Islas

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0:00 - Preamble -- Introductions 6:43 - Navigating Non-Profit Work During a Pandemic

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Segment Synopsis: Genoveva talks about her work as a public health advocate in California, detailing how her nonprofit’s main drive is to help low income, disadvantaged community members have the ability to live healthier lifestyles. A big portion of this work is ensuring community members have access to healthy foods and recreational spaces. Reflecting upon COVID-19 and how it intersects with her work, Genoveva notes that it highlights the lack of societal investment in healthy lifestyles that have resulted in larger numbers of people with chronic and underlying diseases that are at a compounded risk when contracting COVID-19.

In California, Latino immigrants and low-income communities are the most affected by COVID-19, losing their lives at a higher rate. The advocacy at Cultiva La Salud has shifted, given the conditions of the pandemic, to include much more direct service to community members rather than more broad scale federal policy. This more direct service, funded by an investment, has been directed at elderly Latina immigrants and includes services such as free masks, grocery shopping, financial assistance among others. Genoveva also shares how things have changed personally for her at work, sharing that one main shift has been being separated from other staff members. Another big change has been constant worries about exposing her clientele, given they are elderly and at higher risks, as well as Zoom fatigue.

Keywords: Coronavirus; Economic Impact; Healthcare System; Latinx Community; Low Socioeconomic Status; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); Remote Working--COVID-19 (Disease); Rural Community--Access to Healthcare

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease)--Prevention; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); Social Interaction--United States

20:32 - Physical and Mental Health Concerns

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Segment Synopsis: Genoveva talks about how her physical and mental health concerns have shifted with the COVID-19 pandemic. One of her main physical health concerns now is making sure that she is active and doesn’t overeat while she is sedentary at home.

Additionally, she has postponed many preventative healthcare, such as dentist appointments, due to fear of contracting COVID-19 and potentially exposing the elderly Latina immigrants she is working with on a daily basis with Cultiva La Salud. Genoveva also discusses how the pandemic has affected her mental health, sharing that it has been difficult to maintain social relations and accurately read things like tonal inflections and body language on virtual platforms like Zoom.

Keywords: Health Services; Latinx Community; Mental Health; Social Distancing; United States; Zoom

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease)--Prevention; Quarantine--United States; Social Interaction--United States

27:26 - Online Advocacy: Benefits and Drawbacks

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Segment Synopsis: Genoveva discusses the transition to online forms of community advocacy spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some significant drawbacks to online advocacy are that there is a smaller window to share remarks, speakers must remain muted for the entire meeting until it’s their turn to speak, and requests to make public comments have to be submitted very early on. These changes affect the amount of powerful, direct engagement that is needed when advocating for change.

On the other hand, one significant benefit of this transition is that the amount of people you can bring in for comments into council or board meetings is almost limitless, and participation is much easier. While the openness of participation in online platforms is beneficial to advocators, it also opens the doors to unwanted participants who join meetings to cause disruption.

Keywords: Coronavirus; Remote Working--COVID-19 (Disease); Zoom

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Internet and activism; Non-profit organizations; Social Interaction--United States

31:51 - Shifts in Education and School Resources

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Segment Synopsis: As a member of the school board, Genoveva talks about how education has shifted because of the pandemic. The area that her school board oversees is mostly low income and Latinx, so it has been very challenging to introduce distance learning within a context in which most students lack technology at home. In order to try to overcome this barrier, the school board deployed over 60,000 devices, such as tablets, hotspots, and laptops, to students that were in need. Additionally, there is an added barrier because most Latinx parents in the area don’t have much experience navigating the internet, and older teachers who are not easily adaptable to the new online learning environment.

Genoveva also shares that her district continues to provide school meals from Monday through Friday that include food for the entire family. The state government also implemented Pandemic EBT, a program for children that were already on free and reduced lunch, which provides students with extra funds in their CalFresh cards that sum up to around an additional 365 dollars.

Keywords: Education--Online-Learning; Financial Impact; Inequalities--Education; Latinx Community; Low Socioeconomic Status; Spanish language

Subjects: Education, Bilingual; Latino Americans; Latinos (United States); youth

43:16 - Changing Family Dynamics

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Segment Synopsis: Genoveva speaks about how COVID-19 has changed family dynamics, emphasizing that one of the main shifts has been her concern for her mother. Genoveva’s mother is very independent and continues to run errands while wearing a mask, so Genoveva is constantly checking on where she is and what risks she’s taking on a daily basis. She also talks about how one of her sons has stopped smoking because of the pandemic, and how stress and tension has been more prevalent in interactions with her husband or in email.

Keywords: Mental Health; Pandemic; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); Remote Working--COVID-19 (Disease)

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease)--Prevention; COVID-19 (Disease)--Safety measures; Social Interaction--United States

49:51 - Realizing the Severity of the Pandemic & Immigrant Narratives

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Segment Synopsis: Genoveva shares that, from the beginning of the pandemic, she was very conscious of how deadly it was due to her background in public health. This weariness was compounded in the moment she learned hospitals were at full capacity in Fresno, where she is located. As a public health professional, Genoveva is critically aware of the United States’ failures in trying to stop and mitigate the virus, emphasizing her anger at the prioritization of the economy over the health of the community. She stresses this moment is pivotal in realizing there must be more investment in public health and community engagement.

Genoveva closes the conversation with emotional remarks countering harmful stereotypes about undocumented immigrants coming to take resources from citizens, highlighting how in the context of the pandemic, undocumented essential workers have sacrificed their health to continue providing services to others while being paid meager wages.

Keywords: Economic Impact; Essential Worker; Facility--Hospital; Latinx Community; Low Socioeconomic Status; Public Health Measures; Stimulus Check; Undocumented; United States

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease)--Prevention; COVID-19 (Disease)--Safety measures