For Daniela Gonzalez-Perez, the day labor program assistant at the Multicultural Institute, the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the struggles that have confronted racial minority groups before the country shut down in March 2020.
Racial minorities have historically experienced discrimination and inequality, with the pandemic reproducing those struggles in the form of disproportionate COVID-19 deaths, case rates and access to resources and information, according to Gonzalez-Perez. She and other members of the Latinx and Black communities shared the impact of the pandemic on their communities and what it has meant to them.
“The pandemic is a shared experience — everybody’s going through it together,” Gonzalez-Perez said. “However, immigrants and people of color, in general, are being negatively impacted by COVID-19 at a higher rate than others, so it is important that we support them at this time.”
At the Multicultural Institute, Gonzalez-Perez assists Latino immigrants and day laborers, or workers that get hired and paid one day at a time for manual labor, with job placement. While the slower economy and lower manual labor demand during the pandemic have made finding work for them even more difficult, Gonzalez-Perez also emphasized the discrimination the workers have always experienced due to language barriers.
Immigrants and day laborers who do not speak English are more vulnerable to wage theft and scams, according to Gonzalez-Perez. She noted that a day laborer she assisted was almost scammed into paying a stranger for a vaccine.
She added that the lack of online COVID-19 information in Spanish also acts as a form of discrimination, leaving many immigrants and day laborers unaware of the resources available to them.
“They don’t know what’s true or not when it comes to COVID-19,” Gonzalez-Perez said. “Even now, with the vaccine, there’s a lack of information and resources that they can actually understand from the news or websites.”
Discrimination has also occurs at the government level. Gonzalez-Perez alleged that the federal government left out undocumented immigrants from the federal stimulus package.
Héctor Malvido, co-chair of Latinos Unidos de Berkeley, echoed these thoughts, noting that the lack of stimulus support has contributed to the economic hardship experienced by the Latinx community during the pandemic.
Malvido added that Latinx individuals have experienced disproportionately high rates of unemployment in the past year. Additionally, with the Latinx community making up 50% of agricultural workers and 29% of manufacturing workers, members are often essential workers at higher risk of contracting the virus, according to Malvido.
“These economic disparities tie in really well with the idea that racism and inequities are present in every single one of our social safety nets,” Malvido said. “They are the reason why a lot of infections are so much higher with the Latino community.”
He added that Latinx individuals make up close to 50% of all the COVID-19 related deaths.
These disproportionate COVID-19 outcomes have “terrorized” the Black community as well, according to Berkeley community organizer and former Berkeley NAACP Vice President Barbara White.
Black people have had the highest COVID-19 death rates since the beginning of the pandemic, which has caused Black people to lose three years of life expectancy, White said.
This is closely tied to the government’s failure to provide COVID-19 resources and culturally specific information to the Black community, according to White. She said many Black people, especially Black seniors, lack the equipment to access online COVID-19 resources.
White said this calls for culturally specific outreach, including allowing individuals to sign up for COVID-19 testing and vaccines in-person, rather than exclusively online. She also suggested having COVID-19 experts directly visit Black neighborhoods to provide information about available resources, as Black people tend to trust word of mouth more.
“For Black and brown communities, COVID-19 can be considered somewhat of genocide that has ravished our communities,” White said. “We need to make sure there’s equity when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines and testing.”
For Berkeley High School senior and student activist Shayla Avery, however, the COVID-19 pandemic was “bittersweet,” particularly in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice.
Avery noted the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black lives at the hands of police in the last year, which placed an emotional burden on members of the Black community, including herself.
Avery said the pandemic served as a platform that shed light on these deaths and systemic racism at large. With people isolated from one another, they became willing to listen — allowing the Black community and Black Lives Matter movement to spread awareness about their experiences with racial injustice, she added.
“For years, that’s what I’ve always wanted — having that conversation about what is happening within our community and having people really listening and advocating for Black people and brown people,” Avery said. “That’s definitely one of the positive parts of the pandemic that may have not have been able to happen otherwise.”