October is Hispanic Heritage Month. Usually this is a month filled with celebrations that honor history, family and traditions. But this year is different. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the Latinx community.
A group of poetic artists wanted to carve out an event to still celebrate Latin culture though a local New York club called Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Nearly a dozen poets and writers from around the country gathered on Zoom this month to spit rhymes and swap stories.
It’s called the Nuyorican Showcase and Bloomfield College Open mic. A celebration of Latin Heritage and creativity organized by poet and Bloomfield College professor Paul LaTorre.
" To me it’s a kind of celebration of appreciating that culture. Of appreciating togetherness of appreciating what everybody has to bring to the table because that’s the only way we are going to move forward is through unity you know. La pregunta se la revez. What are you? Que eres?"
Before COVID-19, this would have been held at the Nuyorican Cafe in New York in front of a packed crowd of LOUD spoken word fans. But this year it was organized online.
“I mean it’s affected my career. You know like everyone else. When it comes to the arts, the arts are the first to leave and the last to return."
Erik 'Advocate of Wordz' Maldonado says every poet performing at this event is well aware that COVID has devastated the Latin-x community in a myriad of ways — including job losses.
"So luckily I have been able to do a lot of things on zoom. Luckily people haven’t forgotten me. But it’s still it’s still very hard. And God — do I miss the stage. When you perform on stage, there is an instant gratification — right? and you get to really interact with the audience and feel their energy."
The Pew Research Center reported in April that nearly half of the Hispanics living in the U-S say -- they or someone in their household has taken a pay cut, lost a job – or both – because of COVID-19.
"When we talk with the latino community on the ground I can tell you that top of mind is just figuring out how they’re going to survive for the next day perhaps even the week or the month. "
Sindy Benavides, who is the Chief Executive Officer for the League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC -- says since April, it’s gotten worse.
"Again we’re seeing the intersection of unemployment increasing in the latino community and when we look at the numbers if not latinos and African Americans and communities of color — the people being hired back — we are being left behind. But also seeing the rate of COVID-19 CASES increasing and also the death rates disproportionately affecting our African American Community as well."
The CDC’s latest report this month says of the 114,000 Americans who died of COVID-19 between May and August - 24 percent were Hispanic or Latino. And that’s even though only about 18 percent of Americans are Hispanic.
"There’s this fear in the community in accessing that could be related to the government. 3:45 whether local state or federal. So we know —that many in our community one — were not accessing the testing that was becoming available because of fear that they could get deported."
Nat sound of OPEN MIC EVENT... “we’re running, we’re running now we’re running…
Poet and political activist "La Bruja' Caridad De La Luz says despite the negative political atmosphere, Latinos are supporting each other by speaking out.
"This is the first time that I have ever been asked by so many different organizations to speak up to encourage voting. So I think that this political climate has shown us our power, that we need to access and utilize."
And she says the spoken word is just one way the culture provides comfort --- in the midst of a calamity that seems far from being over.
"The power of vulnerability and people need to express themselves through his pandemic, through trauma in order to heal and just how healing poetry is that process of purging, what’s deep inside and all the different perspectives."
For the WBGO Journal, I'm Esther Dillard in New York City.