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Detroit Hispanic community center helping bridge language barrier amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 6:57 AM, Oct 14, 2021

(WXYZ) — Over the course of the pandemic, language barriers have blocked Hispanic communities from accessing basic public health information and care.

That's where the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation in Southwest Detroit is helping. It's a hub for a lot of Spanish speakers in the area.

Lourdes Valdiva left Jalisco, Mexico 22 years ago. She didn't know a word of English. All she knew was she wanted something more for herself and her future children.

"People leave their parents, their siblings, some leave their entire family and you don't know if you'll ever go back. It's a very difficult situation for our community," Valdiva said.

Since the day she stepped foot in the U.S., language was her greatest obstacle.

She found her lifeline at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, but even they weren't prepared for what the pandemic would bring.

Spanish-speaking families were completely missing important information on quarantining periods, testing availability, and the coronavirus in general. Why? Because it was all being relayed in English.

"People were either waiting it out in their homes without knowing or without knowing and continuing to work and try to provide for their family which is very dangerous and as the head of household, sometimes you feel like you have no choice," Cristal Rivas, an advocate, said.

According to the Journal Hospital of Medicine, immigrant families and people with limited English proficiency are more likely to have lower economic status, live in crowded houses, and work in service industries that were deemed essential. All were high risk factors for COVID-19.

"I think that's why so many people died and so many people got severely ill because we needed information in Spanish or in other languages our community speaks, like the Arab community. We need the information in our language," Valdiva added.

Despite being overworked and understaffed, advocates like Rivas were going door to door to check on residents, hold food drives and run vaccine clinics out of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.

"We were also making phone calls to schedule the appointments with the clients personally just to make it easier for them and let them know that we were here if they needed anything," Rivas said.

Virtual schooling was yet another curveball for families like Valdivas who didn't have access to a computer and didn't understand the material.

"Trying to help them with their homework, trying to make sure they connect to classes was difficult for us as parents," she said.

As time has gone on, public agencies have become more cognizant of the gaps in communications.

Valdiva said a lot of her fears have settled and she's taken it upon herself to help her community get out of the dark.

"We are going to get through this," she said. "I tell them get vaccinated, wear your masks, take care of yourself, and protect yourself."