Following calls from immigrant advocacy groups, state and local governments are increasing efforts to ensure they are reaching Spanish-speaking communities with messages about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, the city of Santa Fe began a series of Facebook Live broadcasts in Spanish detailing services available to businesses and residents during the widespread shutdown brought on by COVID-19.
And during a news conference Wednesday on the pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office tested a simultaneous Spanish translation of her talk. Spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the initiative worked well and likely will continue. Information on the state Department of Health’s website on the pandemic also is available in Spanish, Sackett said.
“One of the big obstacles for the immigrant community is an information gap,” said Marcela Díaz, director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide organization that advocates for workers’ rights and racial justice. “And most of that is due to a language barrier between local and state governments and immigrants.”
Díaz noted a dearth of Spanish-language news media puts the burden of mass communication about public health, the U.S. census and other initiatives on community organizers. According to census data, 34.8 percent of households in New Mexico speak a language other than English at home.
When Somos Un Pueblo Unido hosted an 80-minute Spanish-language broadcast about COVID-19 earlier this month with doctors, state lawmakers, state Labor Secretary Bill McCamley and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, over 13,000 people tuned in.
“We saw how thirsty people are for correct and trusted information from local officials,” Díaz said.
Miguel Acosta, co-director of the nonprofit Earth Care, who spent much of his career working in K-12 and higher education in New Mexico, also said he felt Spanish speakers were left in the dark when federal and state aid recently became available to small businesses.
“Word never got out in Spanish,” Acosta said. “We ask the city, the state and some business support groups if they were going to put out information in Spanish, and they said, ‘We hadn’t thought about it.’
“These are limited resources available to small businesses on a first-come, first-serve basis,” he said. “Intentional or not, the impact is discriminatory.”
Somos Un Pueblo Unido hosted a 15-minute Facebook Live event in Spanish on Thursday with Santa Fe Business Growth Manager Fabian Trujillo to explain grants, loans and other resources available to small businesses.
On Friday, the city hosted a two-hour Spanish-language webinar on its YouTube channel with speakers from the state Economic Development Department and Small Business Development Center.
The city also plans Facebook Live broadcasts in Spanish about the Santa Fe school district’s distance learning program, filing for unemployment benefits, mortgage payments, food aid and navigating social welfare.
Santa Fe Public Schools also is making extra efforts to distribute information in Spanish.
Even before the pandemic, the school district was distributing handouts and recording robocalls in English and Spanish, and it had interpreters available at school board meetings. Now that the district has transitioned to distance learning, in which students and teachers are working together from home via online platforms, all learning resources are provided in both English and Spanish, spokesman David Carl said.
Lunch pickup sites and the district’s tech support help desk also are staffed with Spanish speakers, he said.
“All our communication goes out in English and Spanish,” Superintendent Veronica García said. “We have to do it that way. It’s the only way to ensure everybody receives the same information.”