How California became the American epicenter for COVID-19 will be debated for years to come; income disparities and medical inequities are top issues. But one of the more obvious reasons is also one of the least highlighted: The coronavirus is as bad as it is in the state because it’s tailor-made to target those who work blue-collar jobs that are impossible to carry out at home, belong to deep social networks, and live in multigenerational households. Sounds like the Latino community, right? In normal times, we hold these attributes dear, but they are now our Achilles’ heel.
Latinos account for about 39 percent of California’s population, but 55 percent of its coronavirus cases and nearly half of its coronavirus deaths. And the list of the hardest-hit areas in Southern California, in particular, is a roster of the area’s most famous Latino enclaves: Pacoima (the hometown of new U.S. Senator Alex Padilla), Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park.
“Let’s put it like this: It would be a surge for any [group] with these characteristics,” says David Hayes-Bautista, the director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture. “It just so happens that Latinos occupy that space” in Southern California.
Helping to fuel the explosion of cases in the Latino community: pandejos. The term is a portmanteau of pandemic and pendejo (“dumbass” in Mexican Spanish) that bubbled up online last year and is the Spanglish equivalent of covidiot. Most of those who flout or protest COVID-19 restrictions are not Latino, but they’re definitely among the ranks.
“It’s sadness,” the newly elected Santa Ana mayor, Vicente Sarmiento, said. “We’re killing our own.”