Tag Archives: people of color

Quilting: PreVedic Folk Art Woven from Saris

I stood outside the Deaf Initiative’s Keepsake Theme Quilts Center in Columbus on a mildly cold September morning. I was in the city attending the India Youth Advocacy & Disability Program under Columbus International Program (CIP). The name Keepsake Theme Quilts Center (KTQ) caught my attention because India also has a living tradition of quilt-making craft dating back 4,000 years. 

Meredith Crane, the super energetic Director of KTQ took us around and introduced us to the staff who were hearing impaired. Their Office Assistant Shonna took us through a brief presentation in sign language which was interpreted for us by volunteer interpreter Jessica.   

The Quiling Team at Keepsake Theme Quilts Center

This unique, personalized quilt-making center specializes in customized T-shirt quilts. We saw one such quilt in the making where T-shirts of various members of a family were cut into equal-sized pieces, then bound and stitched into a beautiful Memory Quilt. On another table, themed T-shirt logos were tacked and pinned to soft flannel fabric in preparation for a birthday present for a customer’s granddaughter. We assisted with the creative process – it was the most enjoyable activity of our program. 

T-Shirt Quilts

Keepsake Theme Quilts reminded me of the quilt-making culture in our country – one of the oldest forms of embroidery whose origins can be traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages. In India, different states produce different varieties of quilt –Koudis in Karnataka, Kanthas in Bengal and Odissa, Sujnis in Bihar, Ledras in Jharkhand, Gudris in Rajasthan, and the Goa quilts, to name a few. Unlike quilts from other parts of the world, Indian quilts are always created from old, discarded clothes. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ , reflecting the fact that kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments or clothes. Old saris, dhotis, and lungis are sewn into layers, first by simple running stitches along the edge and then all across the body. Heavier and warmer quilts use three to four layers of saris sewn together and encased in colorful sari borders. Traditionally, the thread used for stitching comes from the heavily threaded borders of the sari itself. 

Quiltmaking is one of the earliest forms of recycling. 

For centuries, embroidered quilts (kantha)were made in rural Bengal by Hindus and Muslims alike and initially only used by mendicants and fakirs. Much later they became an integral part of the art of Indian textiles.

Indian quilt stitching patterns are a simple but colorful patchwork of printed cloth or intricate designs and motifs.  Early kantha embroidery included motifs derived from ancient art, reflecting nature – the sun, the tree of life, and the universe. Symbols also included flowers, animals, birds, fish, themes of everyday life and geometrical shapes.

The Kanthas (according to expert sources) reflect India’s artistic textile heritage, and served primarily as light wraps, and in Bengal, small kanthas were traditionally used as swaddling cloths for babies. Bengal kanthas range from Lep kanthas (winter quilts) and Sujni kanthas (spreads and coverlets) to the Asan (a spread for sitting), the Bastani or Gatri (a wrapper for clothes and other valuables), the Arshilata (cover for mirrors), the Dastarkhan (a spread for placing food and plates during dinner), the Gilaf (an envelope-shaped kantha to cover the Quran) and the Jainamaz (prayer rug). 

In Karnataka, some interesting customs accompany the completion of a quilt. A quilt is considered a living entity that should not be left hungry, so quilters feed the ‘mouth’ of the quilt a little cooked rice or roti before it’s sealed. Another custom says a pregnant woman should not complete it otherwise her womb will close as well. 

Today, it’s increasingly difficult to maintain this beautiful folk art, even though quilts have grown in popularity and commercial value.  There is a dearth of used materials like saris and dhotis as these soft, flowing clothes have been replaced today by western outfits which can’t be reused to make kanthas. The newer fabrics have a different look, feel, and character. Furthermore, today’s fast-paced life makes it impossible to dedicate the time required for quilt embroidery. Rural housewives in West Bengal played a significant part in the evolution of kantha embroidery. It was customary for them to use the typical running stitch and embroidery techniques to create quilts for their families, as well as embroider personal fabrics and garments such as sarees, dhotis and handkerchiefs with the simple, traditional kantha stitch. 

For centuries, the techniques of this hereditary craft were passed down from mother to daughter. With the advance of technology, the long days of quilt making by the women of the house during leisure hours or lazy monsoon months are gone. Now organized industries and NGOs hire women to make kanthas and earn their living. It is no longer based on personal involvement or individual artistry but a mechanized job of stitching given designs. In modern lifestyles old fashioned quilts have lost their use. Rugs have replaced sujnis, factory produced sheets adorn our beds instead of kantha spreads, readymade machine quilts replace handmade quilts, new shawls are preferred to old sari based kanthas and diapers have replaced the old-time swaddling cloth of babies. 

It is unfortunate that some quilting genres such as balaposh and the more intricate kanthas of Bengal are already vanishing. NGOs are stepping in to preserve this folk art form through revitalization movements, sometimes with State and Central government aid.

In my opinion, the changing lifestyle that caused the disappearance of quilt making has also led to depriving society of its benefits. The concentration and contemplation that goes into the harmonization of color, design and execution of each quilt is similar to that of a spiritual exercise and thus has a therapeutic effect on its maker. The warmth and joy of the quiltmakers get transferred through each seam into their creations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these products are warmer and cozier than other quilts!


Anjana Chattopadhyay is a freelance Translator, Journalist, and Social Worker. Anjana runs her own NGO – Metta Foundation. She has authored two books in Bengali and also is a Member of the Council of International Programs (CIPUSA), an international social workers’ organization. Anjana loves to travel, exploring new places, new people, and new cultures. She lives in Kolkata.

Indian Kitchen Secrets That Boost Your Health

It is not an understatement to say that along with words like quarantine and lockdown, immunity was also one of 2020’s buzz words.  Immunity simply means protection and in the context of the human body, refers to its capacity to fight infections by resisting the action of ‘foreign’ bodies or toxins, thereby protecting the body.  

Immunity is built over a period of time through lifestyle and dietary changes.  Nourishing your body with the right foods, exercising, keeping your mind stress free and getting enough sleep, are just some of the ways you can help keep your body healthy and strong.

Indian Kitchen: a treasure house for immunity boosting foods

There are several foods that help build immunity in the body and with seasonal changes around the corner, it is important to include them in your diet to keep protected against colds, coughs and minor infections of the throat.  

Citrus fruits, whole nuts, leafy greens and fermented foods like yogurt work wonders in nourishing the immune system. 

It’s no secret that the Indian kitchen is replete with foods that boost immunity.  The Indian pantry is full of indigenous ingredients used for centuries to keep the body nourished and healthy.  Traditional recipes, basically the ones grandma always recommended – “haldi doodh” (popularly called turmeric latte in the west), dry fruit ladoos made from ghee, or even the amala (gooseberry) candies you pop into your mouth to fight nausea, are some of the commonly known home remedies to boost internal health.  

While the benefits of pepper, ginger, garlic and turmeric are well known, other commonly used ingredients like cinnamon, cumin, honey, and jaggery also have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties that help keep the body healthy.    

Here’s a look at the benefits of these spices:

  • Cinnamon: a delectable spice we are all familiar with, cinnamon is highly effective against bacterial and fungal infections and is known to have positive effects on heart health as well as blood sugar levels.
  • Coriander seeds (dhania): are rich in vitamin A and C, effective in curing coughs and colds, and also aids digestion.
  • Cumin seeds (jeera): a commonly used spice, jeera has several anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and is known to aid in weight loss as well improve digestive health.
  • Carom (ajwain): is yet another elixir for gut health, flatulence and helps aid weight loss.
  • Fennel seeds (saunf): has several nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, potassium etc. and helps aid digestion.
  • Jaggery is rich in minerals like iron and zinc and is a good source of energy.  It is a blood purifier, cleanses the body and is excellent for liver and intestinal health.
  • Honey has healing properties and is a good source of antioxidants apart from having positive effects on cholesterol and blood pressure levels.  It is used to heal coughs, colds and sore throats and builds immunity.

Here are some home remedies that are effective in protecting your body against common ailments.

Home-made mixture for cough, cold and sore throat

  • Ginger powder: 1 tbsp or 2 tbsp freshly extracted ginger juice
  • Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1 tsp
  • Pepper: 1 tsp
  • Honey: 2-3 tbsp
  • Mix the above powders thoroughly and then add honey.  Mix well.  Consume 2-3 times a day.

Home-made Kashayam (herbal tea) that helps build immunity

Dry roast the below ingredients and blend into a fine powder:

  • Coriander seeds: 2 tbsp
  • Jeera seeds: 1 tbsp
  • Fennel seeds: 2 tsp
  • Carom seeds: 2 tsp
  • Peppercorns: 1 tsp

You can increase the quantities and store the powder in an airtight jar.

Take 2 tsp of Kashayam, add it to a glass of hot milk.  Add 1-2 tsp of jaggery per your taste and consume hot. This Kashayam is a perfect panacea if you are down with body ache, sore throat or slight temperature.  

Herbal teas to prepare at home using greens that are a powerhouse of nutrients.

  • Lemon grass: replete with antioxidants, this fragrant shrub has eugenol which is a stress reliever.  It also helps regulate blood sugar levels and is rich in vitamin A, C and potassium.
  • Rosemary: again, an excellent herb known for its aromatic flavor, rosemary is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and known to improve blood circulation.  Excellent for the skin and hair, it is also a great stress reliever and helps improve one’s mood.
  • Brahmi: known as the herb of grace, brahmi is intrinsic to all Ayurvedic medicines and is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.  Apart from being good for the hair and skin, it is a memory booster, effective for reducing fever and is known for its positive effects on patients suffering from diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s.  

For preparing the tea, just brew 3-4 leaves of brahmi (or 1 small strand of Lemon grass or 1 sprig in case of rosemary) in water for about five minutes.  You can add a tsp of pepper, elaichi powder and some jaggery (or honey) for taste.  Mix well and drink when hot.  

Natural mixture for inhalation

Nothing compares to the relief rendered by a quick steam inhalation when you are down with a flu, stuffy nose or headache.  Consider using some ingredients mentioned above to prepare a healthy mix for inhalation.  Take a thick bottom vessel, add sufficient water and add in a tsp of turmeric powder along with one or more of any of the following ingredients:

  • 2-3 used lemon peels left over after extracting the juice
  • Peel of half an orange 
  • Peel of a small piece of ginger 
  • 3-4 strands of lemon grass
  • a sprig of rosemary

Boil the water thoroughly, cover your head with a towel  and inhale for at least 2 minutes. 


Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. She mainly writes on lifestyle, culture, food, and decor. She has been published in Indian national newspapers and international publications like NatGeo Traveller.
Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash
Photo by Marion Botella on Unsplash

Shikara – The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pundits

A movie about Kashmir is a natural magnet for me, since my mother was born and brought up in Srinagar. I’ve grown up listening to her stories of this Shangri-La, where every garden bloomed with apple and cherry trees, and where nature was like a gorgeous and generous mother, her bounty of fruit and flowers overflowing on the bosom of a land crisscrossed by crystalline streams and clear blue lakes.

The exodus of my mother’s side of the family from Kashmir during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 wasn’t considered a permanent separation. Like most Kashmiri refugees at the time, they considered themselves Kashmiris first, and Punjabis, second. They were sure things would settle down, treaties would be signed, a peace accord reached, and they would be able to return to their homes, and their beloved Kashmir.

Shikara is a movie about the flight of Kashmiri Pandits to India in the early 1990’s. The same journey my mother’s family had undertaken in 1947 was repeating itself with a different population in 1990, but with a similar, sadly predictable ending – no one gets to go back once a land is dipped in the bloodletting hatred of communalism.

Sadia Khateeb and Aadil Khan in Shikara

The movie begins in the late 1980’s when unrest is beginning to heat up. The two newcomers who play the lead, Aadil Khan and Sadia Khateeb, are a delightful, romantic pair, and the movie diffuses the brutal, bloody violence of strife between Hindus and Muslims through the soft prism of their young, idealistic love.  Aadil Khan plays Shiv Kumar Dhar, who falls in love with Shanti (Khateeb) after accidentally being paired with her as an extra during a movie shoot in Srinagar. 

This thread of an eternal love story which survives the cruelties and trauma of communal violence by clinging fiercely to each other is one frame of the movie. The other frame is the thousands of letters, one every day, that Shiv writes to the President of America to plead for help when they become stateless refugees. 

In the first half we see the innocence and beauty of an era where Shiv’s best friend, Lateef Lone (Zain Khan Durrani) is the messenger who carries Shiv’s declaration of infatuation to Shanti. Their wedding is simple, involving immediate friends and family and Shiv insists on including Lateef and his father (whom he calls Abbajaan) in his family wedding photo. We see the young couple endearingly in love, finding the perfect place to build their own house, and Lateef’s father bringing stones for the foundation of their future home from his own land. Hindu or Muslim, they are Kashmiri’s first. 

Shiv is a dreamy poet who’s working on his PHD in Literature and plans to teach, while Shanti is content being a housewife and doting on him. Their little piece of paradise is shattered by the death of Lateef’s father, Abbajaan, in one of those ‘unfortunate incidents’ which are all too common in Kashmir – a trigger happy government force fires on a peaceful protest. This trauma turns Lateef into a terrorist, determined to exact revenge for his father’s death, and aligned with the cause of the Mujahedeen who want to make Kashmir an all Islamic state.

The movie tries to depict both sides of this thorny issue, but the weight of suffering is clearly on the Kashmiri Pandit end. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to bring balance by depicting both the ‘good’ Muslim neighbors (who help the Dhars escape when violence escalates) and the ‘bad’ ones (their doodhwaala who openly eyes their house, informing Shanti that he plans to move in when they leave, and then enters and squats illegally once they’re gone). But we are clearly primed to sympathize with the minority Pandits and their burning homes. 

The movie has some very poignant, cinematic moments which capture the pain of forced displacement – the exodus in crowded, overladen buses and cars which jams the highway to Jammu; an old man at the Jammu refugee camp crying incessantly that he wants to go back to his home in Srinagar; and incident when a truck, laden with tomatoes to distribute to the refugees, makes the state of beggary they have been reduced to painfully clear to Shiv and Shanti.

However, Shiv and Shanti’s idyllic love story, which is the prism through which we view the movie, has the reverse effect of diluting its primary message – the loss of dignity and trauma, the displaced feel, and the government’s apathy to the plight of permanent refugees; their helplessness in the face of the political forces twisting an individual’s destiny. It romanticizes and simplifies the experience of becoming a refugee refuge by creating a dream like quality to the narrative, especially in the second half.

The narrative also leaves gaping holes in the story, which beg for answers: 

Why have these refugee camps become permanent? How and where did most of those who decide to leave the camp resettle? How culpable were the Indian forces in stoking anti-India hatred by their excesses. What about Pakistan’s involvement in creating terrorism? Chopra doesn’t address any of these issues throbbing in the foreground of Shiv and Shanti’s invincible love story.

Shikara is an enjoyable, melancholy love story, which doesn’t ask any gritty questions or deliver thoughtful answers—it deals with emotions, but in a sanitized, over romanticized way. Aadil Khan and Sadia carry it on the backs of their excellent performances, and obvious chemistry. It’s watchable, but not memorable.

I would give it two and half stars. Four stars for the actors! Now on Amazon Prime.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

COVID Creates Hunger Crisis in India

As the COVD-19 tsunami began its global spread, it exacerbated crises that were already taking a toll of vulnerable populations across the world.

In India the pandemic triggered a domestic migrant worker disaster. In Yemen it threatened a death toll far worse than the one inflicted by civil war.  And in Central America, where farming was destroyed by years of extreme climate events, the pandemic wrecked food security for 1.7 million people, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

“COVID is making the poorest of the world poorer and the hungriest hungrier,” said Steve Taravella, a senior spokesperson for the WFP, at an ethnic media press briefing on February 26 to discuss the fallout from the pandemic. Advocates warned that a coronavirus-induced global famine loomed for millions.

“270 million people marching towards the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever,”  WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council last year. “Famine is literally on the horizon.”

The pandemic has inflicted its heaviest toll on poorer communities in the developing world, exposing the inequities driven by poverty and economic inequality that plague marginalized populations.

In India nearly 1 in 3 people face moderate or severe food insecurity, said Parul Sachdeva, India Country Representative for Give2Asia, a non-profit that supports charities in the Asia Pacific. India has the distinction of being the country with the largest number of food insecure people, and accounts for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity. When the pandemic hit, people were already struggling with poverty and socio-economic crises that gave them less food to eat. The lockdown that followed disrupted both the harvest and the food supply chain. More than a hundred million people and their incomes were affected by the inability to harvest crops in time.

When India enforced a shutdown to stop the coronavirus spread, it forced tens of thousands of migrant workers to make the long trek back to their villages after they lost jobs and wages. Without ration cards or money to buy food, the disruption to food chains put thousands at risk of hunger, leaving them to rely on NGOs and charitable civic organizations like Akshaya Patra, rather than the government, to provide food aid.

In a double whammy, the pandemic lockdown that increased food insecurity also fueled gender-based violence (GBV).

During lockdown, reported cases of gender-based violence more than doubled during the pandemic, said Aradhana Srivastava, of WFP’s India office. “The extent of suffering is actually much larger than what is being seen.” Research shows that domestic violence closely correlates with income levels, said Srivastava, and GBV is higher among lower-income households and food-insecure families. Increased food insecurity causes mental stress in households and triggers domestic violence towards women. “The increased incidence of domestic violence is linked to loss of livelihoods, loss of access to food — so there is a direct bearing.”

Since 2014, prolonged drought and excessive hurricanes in Central America have destroyed staple crops. But severe climate events and poverty – the key causes of food insecurity – have worsened with the pandemic. “The face of hunger In Central America has changed,” stated Elio Rujano, a Communications Officer for the World Food program. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, food insecurity has now spread from rural communities into urban areas. COVID lockdowns have taken away income from daily wage earners – 50% of the economy depends on informal labor – which has made it harder for people to meet basic needs like food.

Six years of conflict inYemen has ripped apart the country’s infrastructure and fragile heath system, displacing almost 4 million of its 30 million inhabitants. Conflict has become the main driver of hunger, as food prices skyrocket, and frontlines move. With COVID and the ensuing lockdown, the hunger situation hit new peak in Yemen. WFP forecasts a severe risk of famine and acute malnutrition in 2021 for 2 million children aged 1 to 5, which will have severe long term impact felt by “generations to come.” But famine has not been declared in Yemen even though “people are dying of hunger,” said Annabel Symington – Head of Communications for the WFP in Yemen, calling for funds to mount programs and interventions. “The time to act is now.”

The WFP feeds 100 million in 88 countries every year divided between 3 initiatives:1.Natural disasters, typhoon, cyclones, 2. Conflicts, and 3. Ongoing non-emergency aid such as school meals, pregnant women new mother nutrition, community help, and small farmers. In 2020, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger.

“We provide basics for sustainability till long term solutions can be developed,” said Taravella.  For years the WFP “chipped away” effectively at hunger rates. But conflict, climate and COVID-19 are causing  humanitarian crises of catastrophic proportions, making it impossible for people to access food. Before COVID-19 there were about 135 million hungry people in the world. Today nearly 690 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. WFP projects they need $13.5 billion to bridge the gaps in their budget.

According to Taravella, a small group of 2200 billionaires hold about $8 trillion in global wealth. They could help to overturn the tidal wave of food insecurity washing over the world’s poor.

“We are making an appeal to the world’s exceptionally wealthy people to help us close that gap,” he added.

To donate

https://secure.wfpusa.org/donate/save-lives-giving-food-today-donate-now-7?ms=2000_UNR_wfp_redirect_EX&redirected=UShttps://secure.wfpusa.org/donate/save-lives-giving-food-today-donate-now-7?ms=2000_UNR_wfp_redirect_EX&redirected=US

https://sharethemeal.org/en/index.html


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.
Image by billy cedeno from Pixabay

Working Women of Color in Crisis

On Monday, March 8 as we celebrated International Women’s Day, I received many empowering messages from my female friends from all walks of life.  But at this moment in history, the irony of the situation is that while women have made tremendous strides in the workplace with fulfilling careers and increasing pay in the past half-century, the pandemic has upended all that progress in just one year.  

Workforce participation of women has reached a level last seen in 1988.  The Gender Wage gap is estimated to widen even further from 81 cents on the dollar to 76 cents on the dollar.  

President Biden has called it a national emergency and on that same Monday, March 8 on International Women’s Day, he signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council within the White House to focus on uplifting the rights of women and address gender-based discrimination and violence among many other such goals.  But a telling addition to his broad gender policy initiative was its particular focus on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women by engaging with the White House coronavirus task force. 

Here are some sobering statistics from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.  Nearly 3 million women in the U.S. have left the labor force in the past year. Those who are employed make up an outsized share of the high-risk essential workforce, holding 78% of all hospital jobs, 70% of pharmacy jobs, and 51% of grocery store jobs. Two out of three women are caregivers, putting them at risk of depression and anxiety. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are in charge of supporting their children’s remote learning. 

“We saw all of these economic cleavages that were underneath those gains laid bare for us,” says C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.,  president, and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Women fell out of the workforce at four times the rate of men and have a disproportionate number of job losses mainly because they are overrepresented in the hardest-hit sectors like the service sector, leisure, hospitality, education, and healthcare.  Black and Latino women in particular make up a little over a quarter of all jobs in the service sector.  If you couple this with the lower wages, pay inequality, fewer benefits in those jobs, it has been economically devastating for the women in this country.  

We were already dealing with a broken child care infrastructure and the pandemic brought this into focus for many American families.  School closures had a disproportionate effect on women as well.  In August 2020, when schools did not reopen, 860,000 women exited the workplace because they had to make the tough choice between their families and their jobs. 

Many of these women according to Dr. Mason are the primary breadwinners in their family and make less than 40k a year but still had to make this desperate choice because their children were failing virtual school.

Not surprisingly,  mothers are also doing a disproportionate share of pandemic parenting, regardless of employment. This raises the question, why are mothers taking on so much more of the parenting responsibilities during this pandemic, even when they have a partner who could share the duties? And especially when those partners see the devastating effect it is having on the mothers, both emotionally and economically. 

“This is because of the gendered structures of paid work that existed long before the pandemic” according to Dr. Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. This division of unpaid labor that women in families have always done has been starkly laid bare during this pandemic.  Women are in crisis. They are tired, depressed, and scared.

Many of the work-from-home mothers described having little choice but to sacrifice their paid work for their families during the pandemic because they were the only parent able to work from home or they earned substantially less than their male partners or because their children demanded more of their attention at home.  This leads to a combination of frustration, resentment, and then guilt – all taking a toll on their wellbeing and having an adverse effect on all aspects of their family’s life. 

More than a quarter of mothers report more verbal or physical fights with their partners or spouses.  30% say they are yelling more at their kids.  Another third says they are more frustrated with their children. Mothers also feel tremendous guilt at the amount of screen time their children are exposed to, because of virtual school and for entertainment. 

Dr. Calarco’s research shows that the pandemic is having serious consequences for mothers’ paid work, relationships, and wellbeing. She says these inequalities exposed by the pandemic reflect the gendered inequalities in our workplace and are “not just the function of men not stepping up to do their part”.  They are a function of failed policies, of the lack of affordable childcare, and lack of maternity leave.  This forced women into lower-paid jobs and part-time work even before the pandemic and now leave them feeling like “they have no choice but to sacrifice their own careers and wellbeing for their husband’s higher earning jobs.” 

When the recovery begins, it is very important to create economic policies that support this sector that was hardest hit – women and especially women of color and lower-wage workers. Some of the policies that could help women recover their place in the workplace include a minimum wage increase, especially for women of color.  If the Federal government cannot pass this legislation, follow the lead of many states and cities that have done so.  Healthcare, childcare support, and paid leave investments are also critical policies that need to be legislated.  Education and job training opportunities for women coming back to work after the pandemic is also critical.  And most importantly, we need vaccines in the arms of all Americans so that we can safely open schools and daycares and get women back to work.  

Corporate America should open back-to-work programs and reduce barriers for women to return to work. Paid leave and childcare facilities could increase flexibility that frankly, most employees with families want.   In many cases, the executives who are women and mothers with children at home and are saying to Maria Aspan, senior writer at Fortune,  “I am not just worrying about this for my employees, I am living this.”

There is a genuine desire to work on these issues, but, says Ms. Aspan, we have to wait to see if there is “any action behind the rhetoric”. 

This is a unifying time for all women, of all socioeconomic levels, that have been hit hard by this pandemic. We need to hold both the government and the private sector accountable.  It is time for all of us to band together to advocate for policies that will help all women thrive emotionally and economically.  And we will take our partners with us into this more equitable future.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.

Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

Desi Feminist Men – It Does Not Have To Be An Oxymoron

(Featured Image: Cover of the book, Men and Feminism: Seal Studies by Shira Tarrant)

In its simplest form, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” In other words, because women have traditionally had fewer rights, feminism is about asserting and working to achieve equal rights for women. However, nowhere does this imply that achieving equality should be solely women’s fight or women’s goal.

There are but scarce instances when men made it their business to fight for women’s causes. A shining example is the active participation of Indian men in the many marches that took place all over India in 2012 after the horrific “Delhi rape.” Rather than retreating behind rationalizations such as “men will be men,” or “it has always been thus,” or blaming women for their choice of attire and pursuit of activities outside the safe confines of home, thousands of men agitated for respect and safety for the women in their lives — their daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, coworkers, and neighbors. The men showed that women’s lives matter and that they matter to them.

In taking this proactive stand, the men were following the example set by a few men who came before. In this essay, I want to highlight a few of them.

Dr. Anand-bai Joshee

I am sure many know about Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor, and her heroic struggle to bring medical care to the women of India. I just published “Radical Spirits,” her deeply-researched biography. In the course of my research, I came across a letter that her husband, Gopal, wrote in 1878 to an American missionary requesting help to educate his wife. The letter makes an eloquent and heartfelt case for the importance of empowering women and men’s essential role in making that happen:

Ever since I began to think independently for myself, female education has been my favorite subject. I keenly felt the growing want of it to raise the nation to eminence among civilized countries. It is the source of happiness in a family. As every reform must begin at home, I considered it my duty to give my wife a thorough education, that she might be able to impart it to her country-sisters…. On the other hand, female education is much looked down upon among my people… My attempts have been frustrated, my object universally condemned by my own people. … and yet I cannot give up the point. I will try to the last, there being nothing so important as female education for our elevation morally and spiritually.

Gopal Joshee believed that it was important to educate and empower women, but not just for their own good. He saw that this was an indispensable component of the good of families, communities, and country. Indeed, he went so far as to state that the state of women was a hallmark of a civilized society. And, in pursuit of this goal, he stood alone against his community and defied its regressive views.

Another great example of a feminist man is Ziauddin Yousufzai, father of Malala. In his TED talk, he said:

Ladies and gentlemen, this plight of millions of women could be changed if we think differently, if women and men think differently, if men and women in the tribal and patriarchal societies in the developing countries, if they can break a few norms of family and society, if they can abolish the discriminatory laws of the systems in their states, which go against the basic human rights of the women.

In other words, he made it his personal mission to empower his own daughter and to champion the empowerment of girls and women all over the world. The title of his memoir, “Let Her Fly,” says it all.

These two men, Gopal Joshee and Ziauddin Yousufzai, are separated by almost 150 years. Ironically, both were thrust into the limelight because of the tragedies of their protégés. However, these tragedies now live on as triumphs. Despite Anandi Joshee’s early death, or maybe because of the shock and tremendous loss that it represented, segments of 19th century Indian society took a decisive turn towards acknowledging women’s full humanity and their potential. Similarly, because of the violent attack on young Malala, there is greater awareness all over the world of girls’ right to education and empowerment.

Fortunately, tragedy is no longer a prerequisite to creating fundamental change for women. There can be no better example of this than what Indian states are doing to ensure and encourage access to education for girls.

  1. Tamil Nadu: The government offered a 50% subsidy to girls/women to buy scooters and laptops
  2. Uttarakhand: Girls enrolled in school get free bicycles
  3. Kerala: Sanitary napkin vending machines have been made mandatory in all higher secondary schools
  4. Karnataka: Girls studying in government and aided private degree colleges receive free education
  5. Gujarat: Free medical education to female students

Undoubtedly, there are countless nameless men fighting the good fight within their circles of influence, be it in their families or workplaces, or communities. For example, I know of a farmer who sold part of his land to finance the education of his daughters.

However, the battle is far from over. Many issues continue to challenge women. Starting from the management of menstruation and early marriage to access to education and medical care, they extend all the way to sexual harassment and rape, family and maternity leave, and equal pay.

So, here is a challenge for men to be more active feminists. Encourage your daughter as much as you do your son. Create a safe and welcoming family and work environments. Agitate for equal pay for women. Be compassionate and generous to your women coworkers and your subordinates (including household help where applicable).

Make every day Women’s Day and make every month Women’s History Month. The goal should be to make women’s disempowerment a historical artifact rather than a present-day scourge. Rather than diminish your power, it will only empower YOU more.


Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and co-founder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor.
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

COVID Slams Ethnic Minorities

As the COVID-19 vaccination program rolls out erratically across the US, research increasingly shows that health inequities underlying who gets infected will also affect who gets vaccinated.

In telling statistics reported by the CDC and KFF, people of color are more likely to be infected or hospitalized, and more likely to die from the coronavirus.

The numbers are stark.

Compared to whites, American Indians are 1.9 times more likely to be infected, African Americans nearly 3 times more likely to be hospitalized, and Latinx people 2.4 times more likely to die.

Asian Americans are the highest risk for hospitalization and death among any ethnic group. In San Francisco, it’s reported that  Asian Americans consistently account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths.

It’s impossible to ignore the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities. Even though all communities are at risk for COVID-19, the socioeconomic status of people of color, and their occupations in frontline, essential and infrastructure jobs puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

For minority communities, it means that where you live and where you work shapes how the virus impacts your health, while inadequate access to healthcare makes you more vulnerable to its consequences.

“The pandemic has exposed the “underlying health disparities, social determinants of health, systemic inequalities and discrimination contribute to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on all communities of color,” said Adam Carbullido of AAPCHO, at an EMS press briefing on February 12, about health inequities in the pandemic.

Health advocates predicted that an inequitable distribution of vaccines was inevitable, given the high rates at which Blacks, Latinos and other ethnic groups were being infected and dying in each wave of the pandemic.

This is borne out by data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) which is tracking vaccine distribution. For example, fewer black people are getting vaccines despite a higher rate of COVID 19 cases. In Delaware only 6% of Blacks were vaccinated though 24% were infected, and in Louisiana, only 13% of Blacks received vaccines though 34% were infected, while in Mississippi, 38% of Blacks were infected but only 17% got the vaccine.

However, the lack of disaggregated racial data at the state and national level is hobbling equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, noted Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras of the Latino Coalition Against COVID-19. Currently only 20 US states are reporting racial data.

Given that it’s primarily Black and Latino workers in essential jobs,  it’s imperative to consider who’s at high risk when making decisions about reopening the economy, he added.

If we cannot quantify racial disparity in vaccine distribution, warned Lloveras, it will be difficult to develop interventions to ensure vaccines are given to those who need it most.

Health disparities between whites and people of color that are impacting vaccine distribution, are “gaps that have become chasms,” said Lloveras. The vaccine roll out “inherently prioritizes a population that is not reflective of the people who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus”, added Virginia Hedrick, of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health.

In American Indian country, inequitable vaccine distribution is merely a reflection of the historical trauma inflicted on indigenous communities that has negatively impacted their health and wellbeing over the long term, said Hedric resulting in the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorders. Its only because of advocacy that the Indian Health Service has a separate vaccine reserve allocated to urban and tribal Indian American communities.

Barriers to Better Health  & Vaccines

Several other factors create barriers to better health and getting a vaccine among people of color.

Ethnic minorities tend to live in densely populated areas which makes social distancing difficult, and often in multi generation family homes which put elders at risk. They may use public transportation which could expose them the virus, and lack health insurance or healthcare access.

Farmworkers and the elderly face similar barriers in the form of digital literacy, language barriers and internet access, said Lloveras.  With stay at home orders in place, telehealth depends on who has access to technology. He suggested providing Internet access hotspots and community classes on computer literacy to expand digital access for underserved minorities.

The lack of a robust public healthcare system requires that we provide the technology to help people see a doctor and register for vaccines.

In Asian communities, added Carbullido, patients of Asian descent report fear in getting help they need because of emotional trauma caused by racism and xenophobic attacks associated with the virus.

Yet, many ethnic minorities are reluctant to get their shot because they mistrust the government. Kaiser Family Foundation’s vaccine tracker data reports ‘fear of side effects” prevents people from obtaining the vaccine.

Lloveras proposed ‘a gigantic digital patient engagement project’ to address vaccine hesitancy to set the path to herd immunity and a semblance of normal life .

Missteps in California

Each state’s scramble to acquire and distribute vaccines signaled an unpreparedness for a public health crisis like the coronavirus, said Dr.David Carlyle, President and CEO of the Charles R. Drew University of Science and Medicine, calling California’s missteps in the pandemic a “failure of public policy.”

When MLK Community Hospital, a 130-bed facility at the epicenter of the pandemic in Los Angeles County tried to transfer its sickest patients to nearby tertiary hospitals for oxygenation, they were repeatedly refused because because their patients did not have health insurance. When the vaccine roll out flatlined mid-February, high volume vaccine centers (LA Forum, Dodgers Stadium) in LA county closed mid -February, because supplies of vaccine doses ran out. Commercial pharmacies placed vaccination sites in smaller, less diverse towns like Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach, while Los Angeles, a city of 8 million was allotted just one site.

“In my estimation we weren’t prepared for COVID 19.” Carlyle concluded.

A Robust Rescue Package

Given the lack of a robust public health system, panelists urged Congress to bolster the public health infrastructure with a bold COVID 19 rescue package for testing, treatment, vaccine distribution.

They called for increased investment in public health and community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve marginalized communities which have more chronic medical issues and higher risk factors for complications of COVID19.  CBOs are vital in reaching communities of color and other hard hit communities, by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services where government and private institutions have fallen short. Supporting CBOs could mitigate the health inequities of the COVID19 crisis, said Carbullido.

The pandemic overwhelmed most healthcare systems which were not prepared or adequately funded creating crises like the MLKCH that Carlyle called “a  perfect example of the inhumanity of equities in healthcare.”

But “the pandemic has not created these inequities,” concluded Hedrick, “it’s simply highlighting them.”

More information is available at:
https://bit.ly/vaccines-race-data
https://ccuih.org/


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Silicon Valley’s Success Sits on Toxic ‘Superfund’ Sites

At the Front Door – a column on climate change in our lives

The Environmental Burdens on our Neighbors

Silicon Valley has been one of the greatest wealth generators in the United States. Yet this wealth has come at a price, one that hasn’t been shared equally amongst the residents of the Bay Area. The more ‘visual’ costs, such as skyrocketing rents and urban sprawl obscure the more subtle, but far more dangerous and long-terms costs right beneath our feet. Literally. The true cost of Silicon Valley’s success is in the ground you stand on. Santa Clara County is home to 23 superfund sites, the most of any county in the United States. If you live in the South Bay, you are never more than a short drive from one of these sites. If you live in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or San Jose, you can probably walk to one.

A site gains a superfund status if it scores above a 28.5 or higher out of 100 on the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, which is a measurement of the site’s threat to human health. Sites must reach a certain level of severity before they can be designated as a ‘superfund’, which lets the government to force the parties responsible to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup. There are also hundreds of other toxic sites which don’t qualify as superfund sites which are scattered across Silicon Valley.

To understand where we are, we need to look at where we have been. Silicon Valley earned its name by hosting semiconductor and microprocessor companies such as Atari, Fairchild, Hewlett-Packard. These companies used a solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE) in their manufacturing process. TCE is now a known human carcinogen and can also cause birth defects. After use, the TCE was poured down drains or kept in storage tanks which subsequently leaded and contaminated local groundwater.  In some instance, the pollutants can re-emerge as vapor and result in ‘toxic plumes’ or ‘vapor intrusion zones’.

The environmental burden of these sites fallen unevenly upon the shoulders of people of color and the poor, as most sites “are predominantly situated in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara County cities which are comprised of the highest percentage of low socioeconomic immigrants of color.” Unsurprisingly, the whiter cities of Palo Alto and Cupertino host far fewer sites.

I live in northern Sunnyvale and I can easily walk to half a dozen, three of which are collectively called the ‘Sunnyvale Triple-site’. The vapor intrusion zone from this site encompass 400 homes and four schools, including the majority-Latino San Miguel Elementary School. Polluted in the 1980, the site was only fully cleaned up in the last decade and is now closely monitored by authorities.

Superfund sites are not the only environmental legacy of the economic boom. Another is traffic, a problem which plagues most of the Bay area, and Highway 101 is the “area’s most toxic industrial belt, with contamination impacting air, water, and soil.”

It is not a coincidence that Highway 101 through the same areas of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and San Jose which host the highest concentration of minorities (and superfund sites).

The highway also runs through East Palo Alto on its way to San Francisco. East Palo Alto is diverse city with 61%  of its residents identifying as Latino, 15.6% African American/Black, and 11% Asian. The median income in 2018 was $58,783, a far cry from the average of $137,000 in whiter neighboring Palo Alto. Children in East Palo Alto are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from asthma as children in the rest of San Mateo County, and life expectancy is 13 years shorter.

And East Palo Alto isn’t an exception but rather part of a trend, a paper published by researchers at Santa Clara University noted that,

“Environmental burdens are concentrated along transportation routes and industrial centers that represent Silicon Valley’s rapid development. Hispanic populations, people of color, and socially vulnerable populations…are more likely to be exposed to multiple environmental hazards than other groups.”

The term ‘environmental burdens’ doesn’t quite convey the truth that our neighbors who bear these ‘burden’ will be sicker and die sooner than our neighbors without such burdens.

I felt two things when I learned this: shocked and lucky. Shocked, because I had no idea of the history of pollution and injustice which underlay the success of Silicon Valley.  And lucky, because while traffic is annoying I don’t live in an area where I have to worry that car exhaust will damage my health or the health of my family. Nor do I have to decide between affordable housing and living in an area which could be exposed to toxic vapor plumes.

And now I feel determined, because I can do something to help my neighbors who do have to worry about these things. I can vote for people who take environmental issues seriously, and who support clean public transportation. I can advocate at the state and local level for our legislators to ensure that the benefits and burdens of success are distributed more equally. I can speak up because we are all part of this community, and it is my responsibility to help my neighbors.


Erin Zimmerman was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image by Hermina Olah Vass  @beautymakesasound

References
Fagone, J. and Dizikes, C. (2019). “SF’s Treasure Island, Poised for Building Boom, Escaped Listing as Superfund Site.” San Francisco Chronicle.
Greenaction. (2019). “East Palo Alto, California.” Greenaction.org.
Nieves, E. 2018. “The Superfund Sites of Silicon Valley.” The New York Times.
Pellow, D. N. & Park, L S-H. (2002). The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy. NYU Press.
Rao, A. and Scaruffi, P. 2013. A History of Silicon Valley: The Greatest Creation of Wealth in the History of the Planet. Omniware Group.
Reilly, C. (2018). “Silicon Valley’s ‘Middle Class‘ Earns 7 Times US Average.www.cnet.com.
Schlossberg, T. 2019. “Silicon Valley is One of the Most Polluted Places in the Country.The Atlantic.
Siegel, L. (2015). “Building Trust at the Triple Site, Sunnyvale, California.” Center for Public Environmental Oversight.
Solof, L.E. (2014). “Bay Area Student Involvement in the Environmental and Food Justice Movements: A Narrative of Motivations, Experiences, and Community Impact.” Doctoral Dissertation. University of San Francisco; The Faculty of the School of Education.
Stewart, I. Bacon, C. Burke, W. (2014). “The Uneven Distribution of Environmental Burdens and Benefits in Silicon Valley’s Backyard.” Applied Geography. 55: 266-277.
Stock, S. Paredes, D. and S. Pham. 2014 (12 May). “Toxic Plumes: The Dark Side of Silicon Valley.NBC Bay Area.
Sustainable Silicon Valley. (2020).
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). “What is a Superfund.

 

Califiornia’s Deadliest Spring In 20 Years

The first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic in California rank among the deadliest in state history, deadlier than any other consecutive five-month period in at least 20 years.

And the grim milestone encompasses thousands of “excess” deaths not accounted for in the state’s official COVID death tally: a loss of life concentrated among Blacks, Asians and Latinos, afflicting people who experts say likely didn’t get preventive medical care amid the far-reaching shutdowns or who were wrongly excluded from the coronavirus death count.

About 125,000 Californians died from March through July, up by 14,200, or 13%, from the average for the same five months during the prior three years, according to a review of data from the state Department of Public Health.

By the end of July, California had logged about 9,200 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 in county death records. That left about 5,000 “excess” deaths for those months — meaning deaths above the norm not attributed to COVID-19. Deaths tend to increase from year to year as the population grows, but typically not by that much.

A closer look at California’s excess deaths during the period reveal a disturbing racial and ethnic variance: All the excess deaths not officially linked to COVID infection were concentrated in minority communities. Latinos make up the vast majority, accounting for 3,350 of those excess deaths, followed by Asians (1,150), Blacks (860) and other Californians of color (350).

Map by Phillip Reese for California Healthline Source: California Department of Public Health

The overall number of excess deaths across all races and ethnicities was ultimately tempered because, compared with the three prior years, there were actually 383 fewer deaths among white Californians than would be expected in the absence of COVID-19. In addition, California Healthline adjusted the overall numbers to reflect more than 320 COVID deaths that could not be categorized by race or ethnicity because that information was missing from state records.

Several epidemiologists interviewed said they believe a sizable portion of the excess deaths among people of color did, in fact, stem from COVID infections but went undetected for a variety of reasons. Among them: a shortage of coronavirus tests in the early months of the pandemic; an uneven strategy for how and when to administer those tests, which persists; and inadequate access to health care providers in many low-income and immigrant communities.

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California-San Francisco, is among those who suspect the excess deaths reflect a COVID undercount in minority communities. She noted that several chronic health conditions that disproportionately affect Blacks and Latinos — including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease — also place them at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19.

In addition, Bibbins-Domingo said, the prolonged shutdown of medical offices in the early months of the pandemic — and with them non-urgent surgeries and routine medical care — likely accelerated death among people with those chronic conditions.

“Shutdowns always come at a cost,” she said. “It is our most marginalized communities that experience the cost of a shutdown.”

According to state Department of Public Health data, deaths in California attributed to diabetes rose 12% from March through July when compared with the average for the same period over the past three years. In addition, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease rose 11%.

“Dementia is also a disease where we have racial, ethnic minorities already at greater risk,” said Andrea Polonijo, a medical sociologist at the University of California-Riverside. “Now that we have the pandemic, they’re more socially isolated. Social isolation we know can cause deeper cognitive decline.”

It’s hard to determine whether a death is due to COVID-19 if the victim never sought medical care, said Jeffrey Reynoso, executive director of the nonprofit Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Latinos in California are less likely to have health insurance, he said. They may face language barriers if their medical provider — or contact tracer — does not speak Spanish. Latino immigrants working in the U.S. without authorization may hesitate to visit the doctor.

“Immigration is definitely a driver in creating a fear and a mistrust of systems, and that includes our health care system,” Reynoso said.

Polonijo said the fact that Latinos make up the bulk of the excess deaths correlates with their dominant role in farming, meat processing, manufacturing and food service, jobs all deemed essential during the pandemic.

“This population is also more likely to live in more crowded conditions,” she said. “So not only are they exposed at work, but they are bringing disease home and with it the possibility of spreading it to their family, bringing it to the community.”

Bibbins-Domingo noted that, while a major portion of COVID deaths overall have occurred among seniors and nursing home residents, a disproportionate number of the state’s excess deaths are of working-age adults.

“The excess deaths that we’re seeing in communities of color and in low-income communities are deaths that are occurring at younger ages,” she said. “These are deaths that are occurring in these ages from 20 to 60, generally speaking — the ages when people would be out working.”

Kathy Ko Chin, president of the Oakland-based Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, said Asian Americans also tend to be overrepresented in essential worker occupations, noting that a large proportion of the state’s nurses are Filipino. In addition, she said, government officials have not done enough to translate COVID educational materials into the many languages spoken by California’s Asian Americans. The Trump administration’s rhetoric on immigration during the past four years, she added, has had a “chilling effect” that has kept many foreign-born Asian Americans from visiting a doctor.

“People were really, really scared,” Chin said.

Counties in Southern California and the largely rural Central Valley — places with a high proportion of Latino residents — tended to have high rates of excess deaths from March to July. Among counties with at least 100,000 people, Kings County, an arid expanse north of Los Angeles that is home to industrial-scale agriculture, had the highest rate of excess deaths per capita.

Officials at the Kings County Department of Public Health did not return a message seeking comment.

Bibbins-Domingo and others said it is important for state and county health officials to take a hard look at their excess death numbers. Excess deaths matter, she said, because they expose shortcomings in health care delivery. In addition, local and state responses to COVID-19 are grounded in data; if that data is inaccurate, the responses may be misguided.

“Deaths are important because they also help us to understand how much severe COVID is there in the community that we have to worry about,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “I think when we undercount that, we both fly blind for the overall pandemic management, and we might fly particularly blind in understanding the impact of the pandemic in particular communities.”


Phillip Reese is a data reporting specialist and an assistant professor of journalism at California State University-Sacramento.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

We Are as Strong as Our Weakest Link

Coronavirus has overtaken how people are living their lives and is now controlling their psyche – as it should.

Reaction has ranged from indifference to paranoia. On one end of the spectrum, reckless students from University of Austin chartered a plane and flew to Mexico for spring break. 44 of them contracted coronavirus. On the other, fake news circulates, conspiracy theories go viral on WhatsApp, and people self-medicate with chloroquine, leading to paranoia.

What is fact and what is fiction?

Ethnic Media Services video briefing on Coronavirus

Ethnic Media Services held a video briefing last Friday, March 27th, with a panel of medical health professionals and advocates who are on the forefront of coronavirus research, work, and policy. The panelists addressed current information about the virus, safety measures, and effects on marginalized communities.

Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and Dr. Rishi Manchanda, Health Begins, spoke about overlooked populations and how their health will actually determine the efficacy of COVID-19. Turner-Lloveras pressed that we need to ensure access to public health for those that are undocumented or without health insurance. 43% of undocumented immigrants are without health insurance and are high risk populations if they contract the virus. 

Additionally, the pandemic has the potential “to disproportionately affect communities of color and immigrants,” Dr. Manchanda confirmed. He expanded that the reason for this is that these populations are at a “greater risk for exposure, have limited access to testing, and have severe complications.”

Dr. Rishi Manchanda briefing community media outlets

Many frontline staff for essential services belong to such communities and are at a higher risk of exposure because of their contact with the public. People on the frontline are unable to take time off due to the nature of their job and their dependency on the income; many continue to work while sick. Infection can spread from work to home and into these communities due to the density of housing.

Once exposed, vulnerable populations have limited access to testing for a multitude of reasons – fear of the healthcare system, lack of health insurance, inability to communicate their needs, and underlying racism. 

Infection from this virus can cause complications leading to chronic illness. The risk of developing chronic illness is higher for communities of color. Research shows that African American, Latinx, and Asian Americans have an increased probability of having chronic illness, over white populations; “Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are at twice the risk of developing diabetes than the population overall.”

The nascence of a pandemic brings with it a pressing need to address the gaps within the structural framework of the public health system in America. If we are unable to effectively help disenfranchised communities, then we are ineffective in controlling the spread of the virus. 

“By caring for others, you’re caring for yourself,” Dr. Turner-Lloveras urges. 

Public health is not an economic drain or a privilege, it is a right. Dialogue around healthcare has long forgotten the systemic racism embedded in it; the wealth gap limits the accessibility to health care or good health care. NAACP studies have found connections between coronavirus and negative impacts on communities of color. 

But racism has moved beyond just health…

Asians and Asian Americans are experiencing racism at higher rates. Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director of Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, recounted a story of a child experiencing verbal and physical assault for being of Asian descent at a school in LA. Since then there have been around 100 reported cases a day of hate towards AAPIs on public transit, grocery stores, pharmacies. Kulkarni and her team at A3PCON are doing everything in their power to legislate and educate.

That said, it is our social responsibility to stay informed and updated. “Bad information is deadly,” states Dr. Tung Nguyen, University of California, San Francisco, as he gives quick rundown of what is known about COVID-19 thus far:

  • Currently there is no known vaccine or immunity from COVID-19. 
  • Vaccines are 12-18 months out, if the vaccine was approved for phase 1 testing today.
  • COVID-19 has exponential spread; if there are 200,000 cases this week, there will be 400,00 cases next week, 1 million cases the next week, and 4 million cases by the end of the month.
  • COVID-19 is an infection that leads to sepsis and those with sepsis require ventilators; this has led to a national shortage of ventilators.
  • There is a 1.5% – 4.5% death rate from COVID-19.

Information to keep you safe:

  • Have the healthiest person leave the house to get essentials.
  • Have a room to disinfect in before entering primary areas of the house.
  • COVID-19 is in the air for 3-6 hours, lasts 24 hours on cardboard, and on steel and metal for 72 hours.
  • Clean commonly touched objects – faucets, handles – with disinfectant.

If you are sick, call your hospital or provider in advance. Hospital resources are currently limited and telehealth measures have been put in place to assess patients from a distance. You can find more on the CDC website

Dr. Tung Nguyen and Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, both gave one big takeaway – the best thing one can do during this pandemic is STAY AT HOME

Abide by the shelter in place regulations and continue to keep the dialogue about the pandemic open. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the need for awareness, the importance of early containment, and the accessibility of health care to colored communities/immigrants. 

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.