Latinx Voces founder Paulina Sosa spent a week at Texas Tech gathering stories about the Latinx COVID experience.
Last month, Texas Tech University welcomed Latinx Voces, a non-profit organization working to amplify underrepresented voices and promote Latinx health, art, culture, history and small business. During Latinx Voces' #BoostUp Tour 2022 of 14 cities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, founder and CEO Paulina Sosa spent a week in Lubbock collecting COVID-19 stories and learning about the Hub City's Latin American culture.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Latin Americans are among the racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. That's why Latinx Voces' health branch, the Latinx Task Force, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Juntos Sí Podemos campaign to help bridge the health and information gap negatively affecting Hispanic communities.
Since March, Sosa has been traveling to cities across the country, meeting with community leaders and sharing vaccine and COVID-19 resources in order to help reduce health disparities among Latinx populations.
This is a goal shared by Texas Tech's Thomas Jay Harris Institute for Hispanic and International Communication, housed in the College of Media & Communication. During her visit, Sosa met with the Harris Institute's founding director, Kent Wilkinson, who recently received a grant to research the dissemination of COVID-19 misinformation among Hispanic populations.
Sosa also spent a considerable amount of time with Aliza Wong, a professor of history and interim dean of the Honors College; Miguel Levario, an associate professor of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies (MALS) in the Department of History; Carmen Pereira-Muro, a professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures (CMLL); and Paola Guerrero Rodriguez, the director of CMLL's Spanish Language Heritage Program (SHP).
After her visit, Sosa shared her impressions of Texas Tech and its programs, services and initiatives as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
How did Latinx Voces get started?
It really started with finding my voice and story. For so long, I didn't really embrace what it meant to be Latina. It took me years to finally open up to the power of embracing my Latinidad. I traveled to Mexico to learn more about my Mexican and indigenous roots, to embrace the Mexican culture, art and history, and when I came back to the U.S. I felt re-empowered in my voice as a Latina, Tejana and Mexicana. I found my voice, and I knew I wasn't the only one who struggled to do so.
That's when the idea was born for Latinx Voces. I wanted to create a platform that could transform the narrative around Latino stories, voices and cultures through the lens of storytelling and celebration. We started the initiative several months before the pandemic hit in 2020. With the work I was doing in Washington D.C., I realized the Latino health disparities and gaps needed a platform in order to be prioritized through key partners coming together, which was the catalyst for the Latinx Task Force.
What is the driving force behind Latinx Voces and the Latinx Task Force?
The driving force of Latinx Voces is to celebrate the stories and voices of the Latinx community and showcase the beautiful uniqueness of each community, culture, history and background.
The drive behind the Latinx Task Force is to ensure that Latinx communities no longer remain an afterthought in the public health agenda. Through partnerships with local, state and national entities, we continue to establish the priorities for the Latinx health agenda. Our top priority is to ensure that our local community leaders drive the efforts for health equity in Latino communities at a national level.
What threat does COVID-19 misinformation pose to Latinx communities?
Misinformation has pervaded virtually every medium, from social media to traditional media to word of mouth. In order to effectively counter this misinformation, we must first understand the Latino community culturally and linguistically. Second, we must empower local and trusted leaders and messengers in the community, including church leaders, small business leaders and promotores.
Why did you choose to visit Lubbock and Texas Tech on your national tour?
Lubbock was identified as one of the priority cities in the southern half of the U.S. based on its Latino population and vaccine rates. I reached out to our colleagues at Texas Tech to see how we could partner and collaborate on COVID-19 outreach as well as Latino culture and arts programs for students on campus. Through my research on Latino initiatives at Texas Tech, I wanted to learn more about the new Institute for Latina/o Studies, the fact that Texas Tech is now recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and the efforts being made through MALS and SHP. These initiatives embody the three pillars Latinx Voces is focused on: 1) culture and the arts, which includes our historical roots, 2) small business and 3) health.
Overall, what stood out about your visit?
I was so grateful for the kind and hospitable welcome I received. On the opening day of my tour visit, I had the chance to meet with about 20 leaders throughout the Lubbock community and Texas Tech. I was so humbled by the time and kindness of those who introduced me to the efforts being done for and within Latino communities in Lubbock.
Lubbock also showed me the power of understanding a community's history in its city and paved the way for prioritizing this aspect of every tour visit on the road.
Additionally, I was just so impressed with the city's efforts to collaborate with church leaders on COVID-19 vaccine outreach and education. To this day, I am still so impressed with Lubbock's Latino community outreach. I am excited to see what new and exciting partnerships, alliances and collaborations come from the work already happening on the ground.
In terms of helping to bridge the COVID-19 information gap, how do you think Texas Tech doing?
Texas Tech is doing an excellent job of bridging the COVID-19 information gap with its students. I had the chance to meet with Theresa Byrd from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's Department of Public Health and Kent Wilkinson from the College of Media & Communication to learn more about the community outreach being done directly with community organizations, nurses and promotores, all of which serve as great models for other universities and colleges.
What is the Lubbock community doing well and what more should be done with regard to Latinx outreach?
I think collaboration between the City of Lubbock Health Department, local community organizations, Hispanic media outlets and churches has been critical to Latinx outreach and education. These partnerships and collaborations must continue in order to ensure the needs of the Latinx community are met and prioritized beyond COVID-19. We are excited to welcome these voices and leaders to the Latinx Task Force as well.
What outcomes have resulted from your visit to Texas Tech?
I would narrow it down to four key outcomes: 1) more than 20 new partnerships between Texas Tech, the Lubbock community, Latinx Voces and the Latinx Task Force, 2) a collaboration with Texas Tech's Translation Task Force and Latinx Voces' translation committee, 3) storytelling collaborations with SHP and 4) history-based collaborations with MALS. We are so excited!