Hispanic lawmakers push for public health information in multi-languages, especially along border

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Osvaldo Salas, 29, stands with his son outside their home in suburban Phoenix on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Salas, who isn’t proficient in English, says he’s disappointed state authorities haven’t posted any information on the coronavirus in Spanish and that he has to rely on friends, family and TV for the latest. Salas, a restaurant cook, is worried about supporting his four children if he can’t work anymore. (AP Photo/Astrid Galván)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Lawmakers with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus want any COVID-19 funding package passed by Congress to include money to broadcast information about the deadly disease in multiple languages, including Spanish.

Fifteen members of the Hispanic Caucus on Monday sent a letter to House and Senate leadership imploring them to consider the needs “of our non-English speaking constituents (who) have had limited access to reliable information concerning COVID-19,” the letter said.

“The lack of information and prevalence of disinformation have demonstrated the urgent need for official announcements to be disseminated effectively and in a multi-lingual way,” the letter said. This includes the use of Spanish and “multiple languages” for messages on radio and TV.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is seen in his McAllen, Texas, office on March 18, 2020. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“Whether it is Spanish, American Sign Language or another language, we need to reach every American demographic to inform them of relevant pandemic-related information,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas who represents South Texas, said. “TV and radio stations across the country can help us inform the general public of the latest regarding the coronavirus and work to keep people informed around the clock. We must equip radio and TV networks with the ability to produce this content during this time of need. Reaching non-English speaking communities will enable us to more effectively curb the spread of the virus.”

Gonzalez along with Texas Democrats Reps. Filemon Vela, Sylvia Garcia, and Veronica Escobar signed the letter on Monday along with the following Democrats: Reps. Ben Ray Lujan, of New Mexico; Tony Cárdenas, Grace Napolitano, Raul Ruiz, Jimmy Gomez, Nanette Diaz Barragán and Norma Torres, all of California; Ruben Gallego, of Arizona; Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, of Illinois; and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Darren Soto, of Florida.

“Reaching our non-English speaking communities will enable us to more effectively curb the spread of this virus,” the letter said.

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and came after advocacy organizations from across the country began to decry a lack of non-English information on coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

President Donald Trump has signed a supplemental coronavirus spending package of $8.3 billion, but Congress currently is haggling over a massive $2 trillion stimulus bill to combat COVID-19.

In areas like El Paso and South Texas, leaders have supplied messages not only in Spanish but also have had sign-language interpreters on hand for live news conferences and meetings of leaders.

“Spanish-only speakers are the most vulnerable just like in the Census and in this epidemic, these are the people who most likely do not have any medical coverage and they don’t have good information because many lack Internet service,” said Martha Sanchez, of the nonprofit La Union Pueblo Entero (LUPE). “God help us if we start getting cases within this community because it will be even harder to combat.”

Spanish-only speakers are the most vulnerable … God help us if we start getting cases within this community because it will be even harder to combat.”

Martha Sanchez of La Union Pueblo Entero

Sanchez, whose organization does a lot of work with impoverished colonias in South Texas, said she agrees with the lawmakers of the urgent need to include non-English speakers in all COVID-19 information campaigns. The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas is about 85% Hispanic, with a majority of residents who speak Spanish as their primary or only language.

“Spanish is a must. If we do not have it in Spanish then we will leave out a huge part of the population in the Rio Grande Valley,” she said.

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