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This week we continue delving into community-rooted disaster relief in California, from wildfires to the pandemic. From building mutual aid networks, to translating emergency messages in common local languages, we see in action the incredible difference language justice can make in our communities.
In Sonoma County, organizers hit the field with information on where to get food, shelter, and support.
In San Francisco, they set up a much needed support response to COVID-19 in the city’s Mission District.
Tune in and hear how these leaders act collectively to confront those in power, work for justice, and together answer one vital question: how can next time be different?
Special thanks to Sonya Green.
Thank you to the But Next Time team. To listen to all of the But Next Time episodes and access video versions with Spanish subtitles visit www.butnexttime.com. You can also learn more about the organizations featured in the podcast and access resources like a listening and discussion guide.
But Next Time was created as part of Rise-Home Stories, a project in which multimedia storytellers and housing, land, and racial justice advocates came together to reimagine the past, present, and future of our communities by transforming the stories we tell about them. The Rise-Home Stories Project includes five pieces of media (a video game, children’s book, animated short, and online storytelling site, and the But Next Time Podcast) that help us rethink our relationships to land and home. For more info visit www.risehomestories.com
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Featuring: Music: Episode Credits: Making Contact Staff:
Making Contact Staff:
Anita: I’m Anita Johnson. Today on Making Contact, we’re following up on last week’s story about how warning systems in California’s wine country failed thousands of Spanish-Speaking farm and service workers when the Tubb’s Fire broke out in 2017.
ROSE: But the problem was bigger than that. Many farmworkers in the region do not speak English OR Spanish — they speak indigenous languages.
Anita: And we’re going to hear how community organizers in the Bay Area of California served hundreds of people a day during covid 19 lockdowns.
VALERIE: The Latino Task Force formed within the first week of shelter-in-place. There has been a history of activism for generations and there was a couple of us, what we call veteranos, veteranas, who said, “Hey, this is a pandemic. It’s going to hit our community and it’s going to hit it hard.” We just know it.
Anita: Stay with us
I’m Anita Johnson. You’re listening to Making Contact. Today’s story is from our partners at the podcast But Next Time. It’s the second in a four – part series we’re playing all through December. If you haven’t listened to the first episode, now’s your chance to go to our website or your favorite podcast platform to listen to last week’s episode and catch up.
This series tells the story of several disasters: wildfires, the COVID 19 pandemic and hurricanes. These difficult events pull back the curtain on long standing inequities in our society.But you’re also going to hear the way the people most affected have organized response and recovery and how they’re rebuilding towards a more just, equitable future. The series hosts Chrishelle Palay and Rose Arrieta met through a network of grassroots advocates working on issues of racial justice, housing and land. For years, they have been on the frontlines of cris-sees that have threatened their communities in Texas and California. Here’s Rose to start us off.
EPISODE TWO: FROM THE ASHES
ROSE: In October of 2020, Chrishelle and I got on the phone to regroup. Chrishelle had prepared to evacuate her family from Houston in late August, when Hurricane Laura swept through. And on September 9th, the smoke from the wildfires north of my home in San Francisco, had been so intense — that the skies were eerie and dark.
CHRISHELLE: Unbelievable. I could not imagine
ROSE: To wake up and have the day be night. Everything was red. Looked like Mars.
CHRISHELLE: In Houston, we were watching Hurricane Laura. And it just missed Houston, by a hair. The people in Houston, especially the folks that are most vulnerable — really have PTSD when it comes to any type of tropical storm activity coming our way. just watching my kids, “But is it going to be like it was for Harvey?” or “Is it going to flood in our house?”
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Different Next Time)
ROSE: When we started this podcast, we wanted to focus on how disaster affects communities that have already been marginalized. Then COVID happened. We had to to focus attention on what each event could teach us, without letting the chaos take over.
CHRISHELLE: We didn’t want to lose sight of the hard-won lessons we’d spent time learning before the pandemic. Because with each turn of events, the same themes kept resurfacing — more strongly, with more clarity. We set out to put those lessons in perspective.
ROSE: So let’s go back in time a bit, and pick up where we left off — in Santa Rosa, California. We met people behind the scenes of the region’s famed wine country — farmworkers, emergency workers, tenant organizers — people who’d seen systems fail in 20-17 during the Tubbs fire in ways they knew were avoidable.
ALMA: I think the biggest black eye the County took was the lack of communication to our Latino community, during 2017. Even if Spanish speakers got the different alerts that went out, they were not in Spanish. People had no clue what to do.
ROSE: In our last episode, we met Alma Bowen, an emergency dispatcher in Sonoma County for many years, until the Tubbs fire sent her in another direction.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Going Back)
CHRISHELLE: Alma left her job and started a nonprofit to help her community prepare for disaster. When she had to evacuate during the Kincade fire in 20-19, she posted a video for her organization’s followers.
ALMA: We just had to evacuate the evacuation center in Healdsburg. If you are in the process of evacuating, be safe out there …
CHRISHELLE: She and others she worked with had been in many conversations with aid organizations.
ALMA: The American Red Cross had zero volunteers that were fluent, or even knew Spanish to any degree. So how do you talk to each other?
CHRISHELLE: Unlike in 2017, they were allowed to set up a Spanish-language information table at the Red Cross evacuation center.
ALMA: … And made sure that there were friendly faces that spoke Spanish, right up front, to greet people coming in.
CHRISHELLE: Alma remembers what she saw as farmworkers and their families arrived seeking aid in 20-19.
ALMA: Most of them had been working all night, ‘cause as soon as that fire hit, most of the vineyard management companies wanted their grapes picked. It was the end of the season. They didn’t want to lose their crops.
ROSE: Alma told us that local nonprofits staffed information tables at every shelter.
ALMA: That’s who you’re going to want servicing your community. People who already know what that community needs. We have relationships of trust that you can’t build just because you pop up your little sign in front of something. We’re talking with the Red Cross because our hope is that it just becomes part of what they do.
ROSE: Local agencies made some headway connecting Spanish-speakers with disaster information and resources, and the County hired a Spanish-speaking public information officer. But the problem was bigger than that. Many farmworkers in the region do not speak English OR Spanish — they speak indigenenous languages.
MARIBEL: Lo malo es que no hablan las lenguas indigenas. Ali, lo que no saben la gente es que hay mas comunidades indigenas, otras lenguas come Trique, Mixteco, Zapoteco, Chatino Y como una persona indigena o un mujer o un nino puede sobrevivir en todo el disastre.
CHRISHELLE: Imagine not being able to understand disaster alerts because they’re in a language you don’t know. Maribel Merino is one of the people we met who is from the Triqui community of Oaxaca, Mexico. She had been in California less than a year, when a relative called her the night of October 8, 2017 to tell her about the wildfire.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Rumors of Hope)
MARIBEL: Mi tía me llamo por telefono diciendo que habia incendios alla al alredor de santa rosa y nos dijo que evacuaradamos por que ellos trabajan en el campo, y veo el incendio….Eramos muchos como casi diez personas. Teniamos un caro chiquito – cabia 6 personas, pero alli todos entramos en el caro.
ROSE: With ten people in a small car — they had to fend for themselves, driving into the unknown. We met Maribel Merino two years later. When the Kincade fire hit in 2019 she went to the shelters to translate emergency information. She wore her traditional woven and embroidered tunic, called a huipil.
MARIBEL: Las mujeres acercadon no nas porque teníamos nuestro huipil. Habian personas que se quedaron mirando y alli vea una mujer o dos mujeres que cercaron hablando mi lengua.
CHRISHELLE: Maribel had found other indigenous people from Mexico — who were interested in keeping their traditions and languages alive as they struggled to provide for their families in Northern California. One of the people she met was Xulio Soriano. He’s Mixteco and he came to the U.S. when he was 10.
XULIO: (Mixteco) … Santo Domingo …
CHRISHELLE: Xulio’s father, brothers and uncles work in the vineyards of Sonoma County and many of the women in his family are hotel workers.
XULIO: Most of these recently arrived immigrants only speak their native language, are very deeply connected to their culture, but also that makes them targets for discrimination and exploitation by both Hispanic communities that are non native and by white communities.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Different Next Time)
ROSE: Mariano Alvarez, who we spoke with in the last episode, is a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance. He sees first hand how Indigenous, monolingual speakers get the hardest, lowest paying jobs, while some of the Spanish-speaking immigrants move up the ladder, becoming drivers, foremen and contractors. Mariano is also from Oaxaca, and his native language is Triqui.
MARIANO: In the wine country the majority of the farmworkers is indigenous. A lot of growers want indigenous workers because they work very, very hard. They pay you if you bring indigenous to the group. So they say, “Migrant,” which is indigenous, “we’re gonna put you the worst job.”
XULIO: La union indigena es una fundacion fundada por la necesidad de luchar contra el genocidio cultural y el genocido linguistico.
ROSE: Maribel, and Xulio are part of an organization called Movimiento Cultural de la Unión Indígena.
XULIO: So Union Indigena comes from a legacy of resisting erasure both historically and contemporary times, and also building power from those who you can say have the least power. We survived the organized extermination of indigenous people, and now we continue to die every time a language dies. Society might not think we’re dying, but every time a language dies that’s how you relate to the world and every time someone says I’m not indigenous any more, it means we died in some way.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Per Pound)
ROSE: The cultural knowledge of indigenous people is of tremendous value to those communities, and to all of us. As wildfires have become more frequent in California and the West, there has been a lot of debate about how to manage forests. Some have called for a return to traditions of Native people, who practiced deliberate burns for thousands of years.
XULIO: We acknowledge that we are on Pomo land and Mishewal Wappo land. We know that these fires wouldn’t happen if climate change wasn’t a thing. But also if the First Nations had the sovereignty and authority to practice their science which would be to burn in the right time and the right places, so that you don’t have these kinds of fires.
CHRISHELLE: In 2019, Maribel received alerts from Sonoma County on her phone about a fire in Healdsburg. She was worried about people in her community who might not have access to information and she immediately contacted radio station KBBF, the radio station we spoke about in our first episode. The station played a critical role during the Tubbs fire — by broadcasting emergency information in Spanish.
MARIBEL (ON AIR): (In Triqui)
MARIBEL: Tambien estuve traduciendo unas alertas donde personas tenian que evacuarse, tenian que estar listos. Tambien yo veo que los ayudo mucho….
CHRISHELLE: Maribel and Xulio created a radio show that broadcast in their indigenous languages.
XULIO (ON AIR): Hola, hola, hola. Estamos aqui …
GUSTAVO (ON AIR): Radio Autóctona Indigenista …
MARIBEL (ON AIR): (In Triqui)
ROSE: In addition to broadcasting, they posted their alerts on social media.
XULIO (ON AIR): (Spanish)
MARIBEL: De que yo sepa, es que esta fue el primer año que donde estuvo traduciendo en lenguas indigenas por que el año pasado, yo no, ni eschuche en la radio, ni en facebook, no habia visto nadien que habia traducido.
XULIO: Translating into Spanish has improved significantly. That’s not the best solution for indigenous communities but helps a little because some people can speak some Spanish.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Full Bodied Disparity)
ROSE: Xulio went on to say that it should be mandatory for government agencies to provide translation. Failure to communicate can be deadly in an emergency. It can also prevent people from gaining access to opportunities in everyday life that are guaranteed by law.
XULIO: La falta mucho para que se traduzcan lenguas indigenas. Como lo vemos nosotros, es no nomas una dificultad, pero es como un mal servicio. Es contra la ley. Es nuestro derecho tener interpreter, divido a la ley de derecho civiles de titulo seis.
XULIO: We see it as a deadly negligence that violates the Civil Rights Act. It’s just a moral right.
ID Break is at 13:39
(Anita, you can throw one of our midway breaks in here)
ROSE: In March 2020, we had just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico. There, we met with people on the island — and from across the United States. They’d weathered disasters and had lessons to share about ways to help each other. Right after we got back, the COVID-19 pandemic confined many of us to our homes.Wine country was still reeling from the wildfires, and now there was a new disaster to deal with. No one had been prepared for a global pandemic.
CHRISHELLE: Maribel and Xulio took to the airwaves to broadcast public health information in their indigenous languages. Alma made public service announcements for local officials and organizations in Spanish. She took protective equipment and information directly to workers in the fields.
ROSE: Another person we caught up with was Beatrice Camacho. She’d been helping to form a tenants union after the wildfires in Sonoma County. We called her to find out how COVID-19 was affecting people there.
BEA: The biggest thing right now that we’re seeing is folks fearing eviction, and it’s something that’s so traumatizing. And we keep hearing over and over, “Shelter in homes, don’t go anywhere.” And that’s impossible when you’re being evicted from your home. We realized that nobody in the County was making any effort to ensure that tenants were aware of what their protections are currently.
ROSE: It’s pretty disheartening that public officials don’t see the need to move quickly on something like this.
BEA: Yes, definitely. We’re hoping that finally we get some relief for our renters in Sonoma County who are experiencing the brunt of this economic crisis.
CHRISHELLE: Because we were locked down and adjusting to this new norm, Rose and I had the time to see how our own neighborhoods were responding to this crisis. In Rose’s neighborhood, in the Mission district of San Francisco, she witnessed a remarkable example of deep collective organizing and mutual aid.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Rumors of Hope)
ROSE: I’ve lived there for more than 25 years and I love the spirit of the place, it’s home to me. When I walk out my door there’s so many familiar faces. People know each other, they care. Then there’s the cultural beauty: vibrant murals, the scent of sweetbread, the sounds of rancheras and reggaeton, the soft mix of languages — Spanish, Mayan, English. As an organizer, I also feel something intangible about the people here — we’re used to making a lot from a little, and in the Mission we’ve created something for the whole world to savor.
In the early days of the pandemic, when so many people in the Mission were getting sick, I saw a COVID testing site and a hub for food and services pop up a few blocks from my house. I watched in awe as they served hundreds of people every day. Local leaders — people I know — initiated and ran these efforts. A year into the pandemic I visited Valerie Tulier-Laiwa, to find out how the Latino Task Force had organized to make such an important impact on our city.
VALERIE: the Latino Task Force formed within the first week of shelter-in-place. There has been a history of activism for generations and there was a couple of us, what we call veteranos, veteranas, who said, “Hey, this is a pandemic. It’s going to hit our community and it’s going to hit it hard.” We just know it.
ROSE: As lockdowns began, people had no safety net.
VALERIE:The schools shut down. You have parents who are monolingual, they don’t have wifi. So we really tried to get families connected. We also knew that people began to lose their jobs. So we began with the Mission Food Hub, and it has grown to three times a week, feeding up to 9,000 families. Just so many people putting in the work, sitting at the tables, boxing up the food.
ROSE: How did you deal with fear? When so many people were getting sick.
VALERIE: We come from a line of community activists. When we see the fire, we don’t run from the fire. We run to the fire. We knew we had a job to do… and it got done.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Next Blues)
ROSE: Valerie explained that the Latino Task Force — 32 nonprofits in all — didn’t just happen. It’s the result of decades of work, relationships and sophisticated political advocacy. An essential services hub helped thousands of people with rent relief, legal services, filing their income taxes, applying for jobs and affordable housing.
VALERIE: We also developed a trilingual website where it is in Spanish, Maya and English. We have a large Mayan population here. I want to acknowledge that the city did not know how to communicate with our community.
CHRISHELLE: I so appreciate what you just said.
ROSE: Over Zoom, Chrishelle joined our conversation.
CHRISHELLE: I’m actually in Houston, Texas. Oftentimes here in the South we look to California as like the utopian place where everything is much better than it is in the South.
VALERIE: So you’re in Houston? I was actually born in Houston. I’m from Texas originally.
CHRISHELLE: Oh, okay!
ROSE: Valerie explained that the group’s efforts extended into other Black and Brown communities including Bayview Hunters Point, an historically African American neighborhood.
VALERIE: We knew that Latinos were oftentimes 15 times more likely to get COVID, but we also recognize the Black community died more from COVID. So we’re very clear that we’re also advocating for other communities of color. That it’s not just about us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Native Step)
ROSE: Valerie went on to provide an example of transformative organizing: a campaign to get COVID testing in the Mission. Until November 2020, seventy percent of the testing in San Francisco had been done miles from there. Most testing happened in the Embarcadero, a touristy, upscale part of the city.
CHRISHELLE: So the testing wasn’t reflecting reality. The infection rate at the Embarcadero site was about two percent, in the Mission District it was fourteen percent, the highest rate in the city. Other Black and Brown communities also had rates four or five times higher than the Embarcadero site.
VALERIE: One thing that has always been a problem is that we are not listened to, our stories are not validated. We know our people are getting sick. You don’t have to tell us. We know that they’re going hungry. You don’t have to tell us, but we still needed that data.
ROSE: UCSF wanted to conduct a study in the Mission and they had to work fast. The Latino Task Force knew this partnership could be really valuable, but they wanted it to happen on their terms.
VALERIE: Oftentimes, institutions come and study the hell out of communities of color. And then they do their PhD or their paper and then they move on. And we said, “No, no, no, you are going to report back to us what you find.”
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Let There Be Fire)
CHRISHELLE: That’s true in so many ways. Doctors, researchers, academics, policy experts — with their training and education — need reminding that they work in the service of others. San Francisco learned this in the 1980s, when AIDS surfaced and thousands of patients and their allies mobilized to help one another and push for effective treatments. Without these communities’ efforts, the professionals can’t do what they do. So let’s not get it twisted!
VALERIE: Our community is allowing and giving you permission to bring your services here.” You’re here to serve with humility and respect.”
(SOUNDBITE OF MORNING CEREMONY)
WOMAN: Good morning!
GROUP: Good morning!
WOMAN: We start testing at 10 and end promptly at 3pm today (translation) …
VALERIE: Ok, let’s face east (translation). The sun rises every morning to tell us we have a new day of life (translation) … I ask everyone to take a deep breath in and a deep breath out.
VALERIE: For the community to be vulnerable, for the community to stand in line for a test, for food, for services. That’s saying, “I feel safe here. I trust you here, you speak my language here, you welcome me here.”
WOMAN: They’ll be signing people up as they walk in (translation).
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Different Next Time)
ROSE: When the Task Force began the COVID survey in the Mission with UCSF there were plenty of hurdles. Task Force organizers knew an online survey wouldn’t accurately reflect the reality of their neighborhoods. They needed to go door-to-door. But it was only six weeks into the shelter-in-place — and the disease experts and city bureaucrats believed no one would want to answer the knock.
CHRISHELLE: These were organizers who had worked on campaigns, done field work and phone banking. In four days, 450 people knocked on fourteen hundred doors within one census tract. They approached each door as many as five times. Using a buddy system and iPads, they registered people for COVID testing appointments at a local soccer field or school. As a result, forty two hundred people came out for tests.
ROSE: The data gave them everything they needed to know. All the people who tested positive — were people of color. Most of them didn’t have the option to stay at home — they had to work. A third of their households brought in under fifty thousand dollars a year, in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Collecting this data was not an end point for the Task Force. It was a beginning, and a way to leverage more resources for the community.
VALERIE: As soon as you know you’re positive, we take care of all your basic needs. That way you can stay home. If you have, you know, eight in your household, we’re bringing you two food boxes, whatever you need.
CHRISHELLE: The Task Force went on to do 70-thousand COVID tests in the Southeast sector of San Francisco for predominantly Black and Brown communities. If they hadn’t pressed for that, the reality of the pandemic in the city would have been hidden, and the response would have been much less equitable.
ROSE: When vaccines became available, the Task Force was responsible for tens of thousands of shots.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: Next Blues)
VALERIE: COVID has taught us so much. What I think is important to share about the Latino Task Force is that we’re not going to just criticize you…We’re going to give you a plan of action — the solutions that we need in our community. You just back it up with some resources, we’ll back it up with our resources. We got plenty of people, power. We got plenty of heart, we got plenty of grit.
ROSE: The Latino Task Force not only leveraged millions of private and public dollars to help people in the Mission survive a pandemic, they maintained local control of those resources by demanding respect and refusing to compromise. When organizers do that right, they can protect not only their communities but their entire cities.
CHRISHELLE: They changed the way large institutions and government agencies operated this time. In our next episode, we’ll go to MY city, Houston, where our response to the pandemic was very different. There, a clash of state and local politics undermined efforts to control the spread of COVID. But everything we learned when recovering from Hurricane Harvey taught us how to leverage our legal rights and the power of the ballot box.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC: But Next Time)
ROSE: We’re your hosts, Chrishelle Palay and Rose Arrieta. We produced the series with our senior producer, Leah Mahan, who edited this episode with story editor Cheryl Devall. Katherine Mondo mixed the sound, and Fernando Arruda wrote the music. Thanks to Rosalia Valencia-Tow, our translator and archival researcher. Thanks to KQED and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX for 911 calls and dispatch tape.
CHRISHELLE: But Next Time is a project of Rise-Home Stories. The Rise-Home Stories Project is made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation’s Cities and States Program, with support and leadership from JoLu Productions and Working Films. Executive producer: Luisa Dantas. Supervising producer: Paige Wood. Impact producers: Anna Lee and Julia Steele Allen. Associate producer: Kadi Diallo. Special thanks to Amy Kenyon, Jerry Maldonado and Laine Kaplan-Levenson.
ROSE: To learn more about the Rise-Home Stories Project, please visit our site at risehomestories.com. For more about ‘But Next Time’, visit us at butnexttime.com.
I’m Anita Johnson. You’re listening to Making Contact. Since the original 2021 broadcast of But Next Time, KBBF – the multilingual community radio station featured here – celebrated its 50th anniversary. Today they offer programming in 5 languages: Mixteco, Triqui, Chatino, Spanish and English.
In 2022 the Latino Task Force was invited to the White House to share its groundbreaking community-led health equity work.
Dr. Cameron Webb, senior adviser for the White House COVID-19 response, gave the opening remarks.
When it comes to COVID-19, we’re talking about that idea that all individuals in all communities have access to the resources and tools that they need to not just survive but thrive.
-Despite this pandemic. It means that we’re acknowledging the historical and contemporary dynamics that drive inequities in health, and that we’re working as part of a whole of society effort to achieve and actively design policies and interventions that can overcome those factors in the midst of this pandemic, today’s event is designed to create space and share some of those promising and best practices.
Anita: The work in San Francisco stood out because of the partnership formed between San Francisco’s Latino Task Force and the University of California San Francisco which led to the administration of 98,000 Covid-19 tests and 66,000 vaccinations at its local, low-barrier sites.
The organization continues to offer COVID and other health information and resources in the San Francisco Bay area.
Join us next week for the next installment of But Next Time on Making Contact. For more updates and connections to the organizations featured in the series visit radioproject.org where you can find links to everything in the show notes. You can also visit butnextime.com to find Spanish subtitled versions of the show and more. Until next week.