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Latinx Files: The COVID-19 vaccine and its importance to our community

Silvia Orellana assists customers at the counter of her shop Orellana's Perfumes in Huntington Park.
Silvia Orellana assists customers at the counter of her shop Orellana’s Perfumes in Huntington Park. She said she will not take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to her.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly devastating for Latinx Californians, and as we get closer to having a vaccine, convincing members of our community to get it could be a challenge.

According to a new report by my colleagues Rong-Gong Lin II, Andrew J. Campa and Luke Money, Latinx residents of Los Angeles County are becoming infected with the coronavirus at twice the rate as white residents.

We’re talking about a county where nearly 1 in 2 residents is Latinx.

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It’s not just L.A. County. My colleagues also found that Latinx enclaves across California have also been hit hard by the pandemic. Places like the Central Valley and the Coachella Valley — big agricultural hubs — and the borderlands of San Ysidro and Calexico are being ravaged.

Latinxs account for nearly half of California’s 20,000 COVID-19 deaths, despite only accounting for 38% of the state’s population.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why our community is being hit disproportionately: Not many of us have the luxury and privilege of working from home.

You’re more likely to become infected the more you interact with people, and if you’re an essential worker, which Latinxs tend to be, you’re interacting with people on a regular basis (that’s if you’re lucky to be getting good hours).

Your chances of contracting COVID-19 are even higher if your employer fails to take adequate measures to protect you. That was the case at a Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon, which was fined last month after hundreds of workers were infected earlier this year.

But what’s the alternative? Si no trabajo, no como. If I don’t work, I don’t eat, as the adage says.

The imminent arrival of a vaccine is welcome news, but in order for some semblance of normality to return, people have to get it. Latinx people especially.

“We don’t get back to normal as a society until 70% or so of the population is immune to the virus,” Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco, told my colleague Brittny Mejia, “and you just can’t get to 70% unless a lot of people that are a little skeptical about it are convinced to take it.”

That might be a tall order. In October, a poll found that 54% of Latinxs said they would get the vaccine once it became available. By comparison, 70% of Asian Americans, 62% of white people and 29% of Black respondents said the same.

There are many reasons why Latinxs might not want a vaccine. As Mejia found, they can range from fears of any potential side effects — not an unfounded one, given that Britain is investigating possible allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine — to much more selfish ones.

“I’ve never taken the flu shot,” one woman told her. “I hardly ever get sick.”

And then there are the so-called “pandejos,” a term coined by my colleague Gustavo Arellano to refer to those from our community who are not taking the pandemic seriously. I imagine they’d have their own reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated.

But the fact remains: If we want to start thinking about a post-pandemic life, enough people need to get the vaccine.

There’s hope that people might see the benefits of being vaccinated.

“They may over time begin to see that those people are allowed on an airplane or allowed to go into a workplace,” Wachter said. “It’s not at all inconceivable that there will become places where you can go if you’ve been vaccinated and you can’t go if you’re not.”

And President-elect Joe Biden nominating California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra for his health secretary is a good sign that the Latinx community will not be ignored as the pandemic continues. (Becerra, the son of Mexican immigrants, is the second Latinx person to be nominated to Biden’s cabinet; the first was Alejandro Mayorkas, who was picked to lead the Department of Homeland Security.)

“Having an individual who not only has outstanding qualifications, but also understands the needs of minority communities is imperative as our country moves forward in its fight against the pandemic,” Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) said of Becerra.

Of course, none of this matters if Latinx folks don’t get vaccinated. It bears repeating: If you want things to go back to some type of normal, you’ll need to get vaccinated.

For updates every weekday, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

So about the name of this newsletter...

Is this your first Latinx Files newsletter? Have questions about the name? We have an explainer for that.

Meet our readers: Mala Muñoz has a lot of thoughts on the Selena Netflix series

Netflix premiered “Selena: The Series” last week. The show is currently No. 1 on the platform in the United States, Mexico and many parts of South and Central America. But its popularity hasn’t made it impervious to criticism. My colleague Lorraine Ali thought the series muted the titular character.

Mala Muñoz, an L.A.-based writer, artist, co-host of the podcast “Locatoria Radio” and diehard Selena fan, also had a lot to say about the series, posting a thoughtful and emotional critique of the show on her Instagram account, where it’s gotten close to 100,000 views.

I spoke with Muñoz via Zoom this week to talk more about the series. This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Tell me about your Selena fandom and what the Tejano icon means to you.

Selena’s is a multigenerational fandom. Some would consider me a younger fan because I was born in 1992 and she was killed in 1995, but I was also raised with the internet and with the advent of Selena fandom communities. And being in L.A., a place where people come together to celebrate Selena all the time — or at least, they did before the pandemic — there are party crews that would throw Selena-themed parties all the time. There’s tribute artists and Selena impersonators. People show up to those things, and I’m one of them. We also have so much archival footage from her concerts and interviews available online. There are a million and one Selena fan pages that are just so heavily active. So that’s where my Selena education has really come from. She’s our girl, we love her.

One of the most common criticisms of “Selena: The Series” is that it feels like yet another attempt by the Quintanilla family, who control her estate, to profit from a devout fandom. But I don’t recall the same argument being made when MAC released a line of Selena-themed cosmetics. What specifically about this show was so upsetting?

To be clear, folks have been asking these questions, both about Selena’s legacy and the role that the Quintanilla family plays in it. This isn’t the first time the fandom has said, “What is going on here? Why are we doing this?”

Still, it may not have gotten traction in the past like this has. One never knows what piece of criticism or what piece of media is going to get picked up and to go viral. But the dialogue about this series is being sparked because there must be something there.

I think it’s just upsetting to see something like “Selena: The Series” exists in spite of all the archival evidence we have of who she was, what she looked and sounded like, and how she moved. We’re being presented with something that is very clearly not that. And then we’re being told that this is perfect and accurate, and we need to support it and just watch and love it no matter what. They used her fandom and her reputation to lure in viewers only to make an Abraham/A.B. Quintanilla buddy drama. That to me is why this is so upsetting. If they had just called this show “The Abraham Quintanilla story,” we would not be here having this conversation.

And that’s something else that I find interesting — this sort of intracommunity conversation that’s going on, because I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from Latino men who very plainly are telling me to stop criticizing it and to just watch it.

There’s this fictive kinship that goes on where anybody with a Spanish surname comes on my Instagram page and is like, “Don’t criticize us! We as a community must support one another!” and I’m like, “I don’t know you. You’re a stranger.” What community? I don’t know you. We didn’t go to school together; we’re not from the same church. I know my community, and my community doesn’t tell me to shut up.

I’m very positive that many men are happy with the show and love it. It’s not surprising to me at all because they’re seeing themselves reflected in it. I think that’s the reason why so many women are so triggered by the series — because how many of us don’t have an Abraham in our damn family? Real talk, nobody wants to sit through nine episodes of Abraham saying, “Do you trust your father? Just keep working harder.”

Enough!

As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, this series was destined to be successful because it had Selena’s name, and that anything with her name attached is bound to do well commercially. What role does the fandom does it have in all of this?

It’s so layered because people love merch and people like to buy stuff. They like to spend their money. I see it and acknowledge it. [Selena’s estate] knows this as well, clearly.

We need to be conscientious about the things we are consuming, and I think there have been plenty of people who are saying that making this series was a bad idea.

You’ve mentioned Selena’s estate, which is largely controlled by her father, Abraham. What role would you say they occupy in the Selena universe?

The Quintanilla family has a reputation within the Selena fandom community as loving litigation. The famed Quintanilla cease-and-desist letter — everybody’s got one of those!

Us fans, we’re doing our own thing and have been doing our own thing for a long time because that relationship has been oppositional.

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Some stories we read we think you should read

— One of the more thought-provoking works I’ve read about COVID-19 and how it’s affecting the Latinx community is this essay by Natalia Molina, a historian who teaches at USC and is one of the 2020 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship (often referred to as the MacArthur “genius grant”). In her essay, Molina exposes the ugly truth that many Latinx immigrants are seen as disposable. As a companion to her essay, I would also recommend this New York Times story about workers delivering food ordered via apps.

— Erick Galindo recently wrote a wonderful first-person narrative about growing up in Downey, which he dubs “the Mexican Beverly Hills,” and what the city has meant for Latinx upward mobility. Yes, I’m aware that many of you might have some thoughts on that moniker. Take it up with him. Erick also writes a recurring column for LAist called “Mís Angeles,” which is always a treat to read.

— For many of us, the election has been over for weeks. That’s not the case for Georgians, who will have two runoff elections on Jan. 5 that could decide the future of the U.S. Senate. And as was the case during November’s presidential election, Latinx voters will play a pivotal role in picking the outcome of those races. NBC News’ Suzanne Gamboa does a great job of covering how this constituency is being courted.

— “The Westside Sound is to San Antonio what Motown is to Detroit.” The Texas Observer has this great profile on the Westside Sound, a genre of music sometimes dubbed “Chicano” soul” with roots in the 1950s.

The best thing on the Latinternet: TFW your boss doesn’t know your name

This week’s selection is a great reminder that no matter how distinguished you become, no matter how much you excel at your given profession, white people are still going to figure out a way to not know how to properly pronounce your name. They can sing that whack “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” song from “Mary Poppins” with no problem, but when it comes to pronouncing a fairly common Spanish surname? Ni lo mande dios.

As I mentioned earlier, Xavier Becerra could make history by becoming the first Latinx person to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s great news. What’s not so great was Biden’s announcement.

“For secretary of health and education services, I nominate Xavier Bacheria.”

Yikes.


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