Vaccines and weather show how language barriers leave Spanish speakers out in the cold

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Two weeks before the frigid explosion struck, leaving many North Texans without power or water, Gloria Núñez Estrada, 75, was getting ready to go shopping.

Before leaving her house, she caught a short report on the local television station Univision.

In Oak Cliff hay un evento de suscripción para vacunarse, announced the news anchor. “In Oak Cliff, there is an event where you can register for the COVID-19 vaccine. “

News segment informed Estrada of ongoing COVID-19 vaccine registration at its premisessupermercado.

Alejandra martinez

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KERA

Gloria Núñez Estrada completes COVID-19 vaccination papers, in the parking lot of a supermarket in Oak Cliff with the help of community volunteers who helped translate, on February 3, 2021.

Pero para registrarse era el problema. Nomas sabían que uno quería español y ya no le contestaban. No regresaban la llamada, Estrada said in Spanish. “The registration for the vaccine has been a headache.”

She had been calling the county registration phone number for weeks. Sometimes waiting over two hours to reach someone and when someone finally answered them, they didn’t speak Spanish.

Estrada suffers from high blood pressure and asthma. She lives alone and does not drive. And like many in her Oak Cliff neighborhood, she doesn’t have internet at home.

Y aparte para come caminando. Yo no manejo, says Estrada in Spanish. “And besides I had to walk, I don’t drive.”

Estrada felt this was her only chance to register and that’s why she left on foot and walked 15 minutes to the store to queue.

Enrollment hubs meet people where they are

Outside the Super Mercado Monterrey in Oak Cliff, tucked away in a corner of the parking lot, volunteers from El Centro College are helping people register for the vaccine.

Some volunteers are bilingual and can help translate necessary information into vaccine registration forms. They also enforced social distancing and distributed hand sanitizer.

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A nurse at El Centro College examines Rosalba Carrion’s documents before handing them over to nursing students for scanning. “Si no nos enteramos por los amigos pos no sabemos y aquí cerquita estaba.” Carrion says she found out about the event through word of mouth.

In a city like Dallas, bilingualism is crucial. According to PolicyMapa data and mapping tool used by the city of Dallas, 1 in 5 people in Dallas speak only Spanish or it is their preferred language. In Oak Cliff, that number is 1 in 3.

Many Spanish speakers in the city depend on Spanish television for vital information.

Like Estrada, many people online have also picked up the local Spanish news segment or found out that it is happening through friends or neighbors.

Dallas resident Cruz Lopez also attended the event. She signed up, her brother and two other family members.

Pero como para uno de Mexicano ya vez que habla nomas español. Lo tiene que estar repitiendo por que si no, no van a saber tampoco, Lopez said in Spanish. “We only speak Spanish. If the news channels or officials don’t repeat the information, we won’t know.”

Lopez said in his immediate entourage that there were only Spanish speakers and news of these events did not reach those who needed to be informed the most. She learned about the recording by word of mouth.

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A line of Oak Cliff residents begins to form around 5:30 p.m., just before the registration site closes on February 3, 2021.

Community leaders believe there is still work to be done

Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia has visited many vaccine registration centers. She said the county has the information in Spanish and English, but understands that this does not remove the many barriers the community still faces: language, mistrust and digital connectivity.

“Sometimes people want to ask more questions than there are,” Garcia said. “People asked, can I register my sister? What if I can’t go to the date on the day they give you? How can I change it? “.

According to her, there is a huge need for in-person registration and she is happy that the county is rolling out it now. Garcia said it was a problem that the Dallas initial only made the online registration.

The county’s early outreach efforts towards Latinos had a few issues, such as broken website links and Spanish ads that weren’t properly translated.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people have been turned away. We are trying to improve the system as much as possible,” Garcia said.

Since then, Dallas County has set up a bilingual hotline to register for the COVID-19 vaccine: 855-466-8639.

The county has also started partnering with organizations and community leaders who know how to reach Spanish speakers. That said, Garcia can hopefully be a way to reach this community that is often wary of public officials, but is more receptive when information comes from a trusted, community-led organization.

Another thing that could help is training the county’s translators, according to Dr. Mayra Jimenez Thompson, who works in the Hispanic Wellness and Preventive Care unit at UT-Southwestern.

Earlier this month, Thompson participated in a city panel that addresses COVID-19 vaccine reluctance among Hispanics.

She said the way you send messages goes a long way and recommends words to us that can be understood by the general population.

“Not only in English but in Spanish we sometimes use medical terminology that is difficult for the everyday population to understand,” said Thompson.

Some advocates say there is little hope that things will change if this continues to be a recurring problem.

“This is not the first time that we have seen Latinos and Spanish speakers neglected,” said Antonio Arellano, interim executive director of civic engagement organization JOLT.

Arellano sees this as a big government failure, especially since it is common knowledge that Latino-Texans are already at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

“I mean here we are in the middle of a pandemic and we have another massive weather event and we are again failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable,” he said.

This situation leaves community groups like his to fill the void.

This week, JOLT and other groups, like The Concilio and LatinxDallas, translated and shared information on weather, power outages and water warnings.

According to Arellano, the vaccine communication problems, and now the weather, show the need for more diverse voices in government.

Do you have any advice? Alejandra Martinez is a Report for America body member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at [email protected] You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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