When Gilberto Lopez was visiting his family in California at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he realized his community wasn’t getting the information they needed about safety precautions.
“Information that was coming through to my academic bubble, I call it ‘The Harvard Bubble,’ was completely different than the information about COVID that was coming down to the immigrant community,” said Lopez, who comes from a farm-working community in the Central Valley.
He wanted to do something to make sure Latino communities learned about COVID-19 and vaccines in culturally relevant ways, like art.
Lopez is an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies, where he focuses on the health and wellbeing of immigrant, Mexican communities in the U.S.
When the pandemic hit, Lopez got together with other academic institutions, community organizations, and artists to create COVIDLatino.org, a site where Latinos can access culturally relevant art and information about COVID-19.
“The COVIDLatino.org project provides critical information on COVID-19 vaccines and testing for Latinx communities across the U.S., with a focus on the U.S. Southwest,” according to the COVIDLatino website.
Through COVIDLatino, Lopez hopes art can inform Latinos and encourage those still unsure to get vaccinated.
Partnering with Organizations to Start COVIDLatino
When Lopez first noticed how the Latinos living in rural areas of California were misinformed about COVID-19 and unsure about the vaccine, he kept thinking about how he wanted to bridge the gap and make information more accessible.
“I decided I want to do something about it. I’m not someone who works in the lab, so I’m not gonna find ways to actually cure people from COVID,” he said.
Lopez looked for other ways to help.
“I’m going to do what’s in my toolkit, which is social behavioral sciences and health communication. So that’s how we started bringing in the arts, a kind of a different way of telling stories about health to the community,” he said.
The goal of COVIDLatino is to use art to break down the technical jargon and misinformation that’s often thrown around in the news and on social media.
“Essentially, what we’re trying to do is get this unnecessarily complex information about COVID, about vaccines, getting it to the communities that have not been receiving it in the same quantity or quality and making it culturally tailored and relevant to the Latino community,” Lopez said.
To start the organization, Lopez reached out to other academic institutions in the U.S. Southwest like Northern Arizona University and University of California Merced. It also included community-based organizations and nonprofits like Cultiva de Salud and the Arizona Community Health Workers Association.
The project also received grant funding from several health organizations, including the National Institute of Health’s Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities (CEAL) program. CEAL has bilingual videos that reach Latinos for vaccines and clinical trials.
COVIDLatino launched in May 2021 and is still in the early stages of development.
The project gained national attention when Lopez began collaborating with a famous Latino artist.
Collaborating with Latino Artists
Lopez reached out to Lalo Alcaraz to commission a series of cartoons about vaccine misinformation for COVIDLatino.
Alcaraz is a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist known for his political cartoon strip “La Cucaracha” and his collaboration on the movie “Coco.”
“I was lucky to have known Lalo from a talk he gave at a university that I was visiting, and we went out for dinner. I reached out to him to see if he was interested at all in doing something using his art to address COVID and he was very interested,” Lopez said.
Alcaraz came on board to do several different cartoons and animations, such as one based off the Mexican game Lotería to show the benefits of getting vaccinated.
“It’s right up my alley as far as something that I believe in and that is a crisis, which is vaccine hesitancy in our community, especially among campesinos,” Alcaraz said, according to NBC Latino.
In addition to working with Alcaraz, COVIDLatino commissioned several local Arizona artists like Andrea Pro and Darrin Armijo-Wardle. COVIDLatino also publishes short animations in Spanish and Zapoteco, an indigenous language from Southern Mexico.
The art has mainly been distributed through COVIDLatino’s social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.
“Our campaign is focused on social media because that’s where a lot of the misinformation and disinformation is coming through. So we try to tap into those networks where that information is shared and hopefully have some effect on somebody, even if it’s a small percentage,” Lopez said.
Since launching, Lopez says they’ve seen a lot of positive feedback and success.
“We’re measuring the reach of this and how many people we’re actually reaching and over the year, we’ve reached about 2 million people and most of the feedback is positive,” Lopez said.
The challenge is just keeping up with changing information about COVID-19.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
One of the difficulties of battling COVID-19 misinformation is that public health guidelines are often changing as more information is discovered about the virus.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough resources to do more of these animations, because we keep constantly playing catch up. Before the message was six feet apart, social distancing, then the vaccines came in, and there was vaccine hesitancy. It’s such a rapid, such a fast-moving pandemic, that we just wish we had the more resources to actually address what’s needed now. Now we’ve got the delta variant, and it’s predicted there’s gonna be something else after Delta, so we’re trying to stay ahead of it,” Lopez said.
They hope to continue expanding their reach and collaborating with more artists and organizations.
“We’re hoping to eventually get more artists on board. We have an idea of a couple murals that we would like to put out there. We’re looking for ways of doing that and collaboration for that,” Lopez said.
Lopez hopes that his project helps Latinos understand the importance of helping their community stay protected against the virus. Latinos are vaccinated at lower rates than their peers in most states, and the pandemic has impacted the Latino population in disproportionate ways.
“We gotta acknowledge that it doesn’t respect borders and that has implications for our Latino/Latina community, for any migrant communities, immigrant communities. We gotta try to be mindful of what’s going back in the home countries and try to protect ourselves,” Lopez said.
While keeping up with changing information about COVID-19 and fighting to keep Latinos informed is a challenge, Lopez is committed to his mission.
“The work continues, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We will be working on this as long as we can,” Lopez said.
All of COVIDLatino’s art and resources are free and available to use on their website and social media pages. They are also actively seeking new collaborations.
What Can You Do to Promote Vaccine Confidence?
Vaccine misinformation is prominent and often targets Latinos.
Stay informed by learning the facts about COVID-19 and the vaccine.
One resource you can use is Salud America!’s Latino COVID-19 Vaccine “Change of Heart” Bilingual Storytelling Campaign. The campaign shares the stories of real Latinos who overcame misinformation, got the vaccine, reconnected with family, and are helping end the pandemic.
Rosa Herrera is one of the Latinas who was unsure about the vaccine initially. She was worried it was produced too quickly and thought it would be unsafe. But after learning more about the vaccine, she decided to get it so she could safely spend time with her grandkids. Now she wants others to get vaccinated, too.
You can share Rosa’s story with your friends, family, and colleagues!
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