Monique Garcia

Bringing Equity along on the road to pandemic recovery

Growing up in a family-owned Mexican restaurant north of 21st street and Broadway in Wichita, I learned early about the history of north Wichita and the Mexican immigrants who arrived dating back to the 1870’s from the cattle drives, followed by years of labor on the railroad.  By 1901 , the north Wichita Cudahy meatpacking plant was one of the largest employers of immigrant labor.  And 62 years later, my Grandma Connie, Grandpa Ralph and mom Carmen started Connie’s Mexico Café in 1963, just a stone’s throw away from the railroad and Cudahy.

Fast forward 57 years to march 2020, and the Connie’s restaurant staff soon became known as “essential workers,” along with many other front-line workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.  Joining the healthcare providers, public safety, bus/delivery drivers, and grocery store/service staff, restaurant workers put their lives on the line, and many because they needed to provide for their families. Almost a year into the pandemic, many of us are aware of the fact that a disproportionate amount of people of color have been impacted by COVID-19.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black, Latino and Native Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and hospitalized at higher rates than white Americans, and they have died at nearly three times the rate.

We also know that many factors have contributed to these devastating effects on our communities.  Many Black, Latino and Native Americans are more likely to live in crowded and multi-generational households and are unable to work from home.  While the Cudahy meatpacking plant in Wichita has long since closed, we know that thousands of mostly Latino employees comprise the labor force at several meatpacking plants in Dodge City, Garden City, and Liberal — communities that were also hit hard by COVID-19.  Undoubtedly, economic pressures facing people of color to try and stay healthy for fear of losing their jobs is a very stark reality.

Coupled with this is the fact that many racial/ethnic minorities have higher rates of chronic health problems.  In June of last year, my Mom and sister Adele, both of whom have health conditions, tested positive for the virus despite taking every precaution.  Fortunately, my Mom and Adele recovered from the virus.  By now, nearly all of us know of someone who has tested positive for the virus.  Most regrettably, at this writing, there are over 3,355 of our fellow Kansans who have died from COVID-19.

Thankfully, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is underway in it’s first phases.  It’s so important for us to work together to ensure communities of color that have been hit hardest by the pandemic have access to the vaccines.  And in addition, it must be reinforced repeatedly that regardless of person’s citizenship status, the vaccine is for everyone — it’s safe, free and effective.  Now more than ever, it will require trusted folks and organizations to deliver carefully crafted messages urging everyone to get vaccinated, with vaccine message in different languages and delivered in a way that recognizes the cultural values of communities of color.

As a member of the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF), it has been a privilege to strengthen and establish partnerships statewide to improve the health of all Kansans, especially during this pandemic.  Since March of 2020, KHF has worked with various stakeholders to respond to critical needs and to share COVID-19 information.  But we also worked with many partners, including the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission (KHLAAC), City of Wichita, City of Dodge City, El Centro, Emporia Public Schools, Kansas Appleseed, various Spanish readio and TV media outlets, and more, to help deliver COVID-19 messages to Spanish-speaking audiences.

But the continuing work of organizations like GraceMed to intentionally connect with and serve vulnerable Kansans is critical during this pandemic.  The same communities of color that are at greater risk of COVID-19 are also the same that experience greater food insecurity, have less access to internet, have greater challenges with remote schooling for children and childcare, or are unemployed.  GraceMed, and many other organizations across Kansas, help to assure that Kansans are not left behind.

As for Connie’s, we are still struggling, but so are many other countless local businesses.  We’re all in this together. By wearing masks, washing hands, and getting the COVID-19 vaccine, we can be healthy and rebuild our economy.  Let’s do this, Kansas!

Monique Garcia
Kansas Health Foundation

This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!