This story is written by a guest author. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent an official stance of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or the University of Utah.
We need to share our stories because our stories break barriers. This is mine.
I was born in Los Angeles, California, to immigrant parents. They fled El Salvador in search of an opportunity known as the American dream. My story isn’t unique–– there are many in this country like me, first-generation Latino American, trying to make something of themselves. Trying to make the sacrifices that preceded us worth it by making our own sacrifices to enact change. I am proud of who I am and where I come from. I am proud of my parents, and all they sacrificed to allow me the opportunity to become a living embodiment of the American dream.
But my heart is also sad at this time. Not just because I can’t see my friends, go to my favorite restaurants, and see all the Broadway shows coming into town. I am sad because so many members of this same community I belong to are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
In Utah, Latinos make up 14.2% of the population. Yet, we are seeing 37% of the state’s cases among our Latinx community—it may be even more among those who only speak Spanish. This disparity isn’t exclusive to the Latinx community. American Indian, African American, Pacific Islander, and Asian populations are also being excessively affected in our state. In Utah, our Brown and Black brothers, sisters, siblings, and friends who make up 20% of Utah’s population are collectively nearly 50% of the positive COVID-19 cases.
“For those of us that claim positions of privilege—my invitation to you is to think about how we can build a future where we can all have a rightful opportunity to pursue an education. To make a career jump. To make something of yourself.”
I think of my parents, tías y tíos, and cousins, many of who were and are frontline workers. Not the fancy doctors and nurses, but the custodial workers, the farmers, the grocery store employees. They are also risking their lives every day to keep some form of normalcy in our society. I think of the homes they live in, where abuelita and cousins all live together in small apartments. I think of the shared meals in small dining rooms and the late nights of waiting for your older sibling to come home from work. All the many different ways this virus can enter the homes of frontline-working families.
I sometimes feel so disconnected from that life. My partner and I get to work from home, play a juggling game of taking care of our two-year-old son, attend countless Zoom meetings, and teach in Google classrooms. I don’t have to share my bedroom with my siblings or wait up late while my parents work 2 or 3 jobs. But I know that for many, that is still a reality.
I sit in the comfort of my home with an incredible amount of privilege, and I try to think of what I can do. I invite all the young folk out there finishing up high school degrees, graduating from college, and starting new careers: don’t give up. An education will change everything for you. Work hard. Don’t allow anyone to take you off your path.
For those of you interested in pursuing an education or career in the health sciences—nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, researchers, public health workers—we need you. Your community needs you. Without you, we don’t have providers and scientists that know how to provide care for Brown and Black folk and address the disparities of healthcare in America.
For those of you who don’t identify with our community—and for those of us that claim positions of privilege—my invitation to you is to think about how we can build a future where we can all have a rightful opportunity to pursue an education. To make a career jump. To make something of yourself.
“Are we really waiting to go back to normal, or are we ready to build something different?”
When I share my story with others, I often say I feel I got super lucky with the cards I was dealt: loving parents, a safe home, an opportunity to get educated, the list goes on and on. It is my life goal for this lucky hand to not be a lucky hand, but to be a commonly dealt hand. One that is deliberately given to young Brown and Black kids and not one they just happen to draw upon. What would that future look like? What would our future look like? Maybe, just maybe in the next pandemic, it looks like a fair chance to fight against a virus. Perhaps it looks like an opportunity to have access to healthcare, education, and the opportunity to live the American dream.
I share my story not for you to feel sorry for me and others like me, but to share what reality looks like for so many Americans and people living in this country. What can we do to make this a better place to live? What is our responsibility to those coming after us to ensure that they do not endure the disparities that currently exist in our health care system?
I recently came across a quote that said, “Are we really waiting to go back to normal, or are we ready to build something different?” I hope that we build something different, something better. I commit to building something better. New ways of being and thinking allows all of us to strive, be healthy, and succeed.
Now is the time for us to examine how COVID-19 affects communities of color at a higher rate, and more importantly—what we are willing to do as a society to end this kind of disparity? It means more opportunities for our young folk, but it also means dismantling systemic racism. It means less commitment to old-fashioned ideas of equality and a genuine commitment to equity. Equity means getting people what they need and doesn’t assume that we are all dealt the same hand. Equity means giving the right hand of cards to others for their best interest and that of our human family.