COVID-19 seemingly stopped the world in its tracks, but with over 285 million vaccinations in the United States and counting, many are claiming the long-awaited return to normalcy is finally here, marked by none other than Disneyland’s grand reopening. Despite this progress, the privilege of returned normalcy is exactly that: a privilege for a select group of people. For essential workers, laborers, and farmworkers like those throughout the Central and San Joaquin Valley, the world never stopped, and COVID-19 is still a life-or-death risk. It is imperative that our neighborhoods get vaccinated in order to protect our most vulnerable because ending this pandemic is not as simple as just going back to brunch.
Israel is no stranger to COVID-19, and he deeply understands the importance of the vaccine, “I have neighbors who have died, I have friends who have died, and I have cousins who have died.” Originally from Michoacan, Mexico, Israel is a farmworker currently living on a small ranch with his wife and child in the Coachella Valley. When looking back at the beginning of the pandemic, Israel recalls the struggles of adjusting his family to a whole new way of life, saying “we felt awful.” Regardless of how hard these changes were, seeing his friends, family, and neighbors succumb to the disease showed him that the virus was not a game or a hoax – it was real life, happening all around him.
After the collective trauma of the last year, Israel is shocked that people are still choosing to not get vaccinated, “Why won’t you get vaccinated if the vaccine doesn’t cost any money?” Now protected against the virus, he knows that vaccinations are essential to keeping him and his family safe, and encourages everyone to register for a vaccination. “We are not invincible, we must think about the future of our children,” Israel states as he reflects on how we best move forward. “As immigrants, we come to make a greater future for our children,” and notes that getting vaccinated is foundational to get on the road to recovery, for our future.
Janine, a resident of Indio, California, shares similar sentiments as Israel. An artist and member of the LGBTQ+ community, she has faced hardships ranging from personal to professional throughout the pandemic. “I play music and we had gigs like four, five times a week and then everything just stopped,” she said, noting that as an artist, her inspiration and energy came from others around her, “then something very ugly happened to me.”
Janine remembers the fear and the panic that swept the nation as worries about the people we love, particularly our older relatives, plagued our waking moments. Unfortunately for Janine, this fear became a reality shortly into the pandemic, as her grandmother passed away in April of last year. “Nobody could be with her, she died with a nurse holding her hand,” she recalled, reflecting on the pain it caused her entire family, “We haven't gotten over that yet, because there wasn't that one last goodbye or anything. It was a very ugly thing.”
Despite what she endured during the pandemic, she is emotional and excited about the prospect of a fully vaccinated future as she begins to play music again, but she knows it’s still immensely important that people continue to get vaccinated. She worries about those with a language barrier, those without cell phones, or those without transportation who still desperately need to get vaccinated, “It is something that we have to focus on a lot right now in order to be able to continue with life.”