Voces of a Pandemic
The Voces of a Pandemic Oral History Project was part of an institutional partnership with the Voces Oral History Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It was designed to document challenges to food security and safe and secure employment among Spanish-speaking community members, contacted through the regional mutual aid organization Casa Latina. The interviews were archived with the Voces Oral History Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and are also made available online here.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected people of color disproportionately due to preexisting inequities. Because of restrictive healthcare policies and lack of access to multilingual and digital healthcare services, Spanish-speaking (and especially black Latinx) individuals were more likely to fall ill and die of COVID. Spanish-speaking individuals were 10% of Virginia’s population, but by August 2020 accounted for half of the state’s coronavirus cases. Once contracted, research suggested that Spanish-speaking youth, nursing home residents, and pregnant women were more likely to suffer serious symptoms and fatalities. One key structural factor was “essential worker” employment in environments with a high risk of exposure. In July 2020, 56% of meatpacking industry workers in 21 states affected by COVID were Spanish-speaking. While the number of cases and fatalities drew media attention, less well-understood was how the political and economic fluctuations caused by the pandemic affected family life and community economies among Spanish-speaking people in the state, and in the Blue Ridge Mountains specifically.
This project focused on food security working with Casa Latina, a longtime mutual aid organization located in Roanoke that has, since the pandemic, distributed food and information to the area’s Spanish-speaking communities. Casa Latina worked with the research team to identify and approach oral history narrators for the project. The oral histories gathered help document the experience of the Spanish-speaking community in Southwest Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic.