It began as an idea. One that many thought was too ambitious and demanding to be successful, but Cristina Diaz de León, a COVID-19 Community Organizer with the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, strongly advocated that the Latinx community needed to have a sense of trust and familiarity in order to reach vaccination rates that would combat COVID-19 effectively. A strong partnership has since formed with the Rancho Markets organization, to host multiple pop-up vaccination clinics, effectively allowing COVID-19 response workers, such as Cristina, to meet communities where they were at. At the height of the pandemic in Utah, the Latinx community accounted for over 30% of the caseload while in contrast representing 14.2% of the state’s total population. This disparity was and continues to be a call to action for Cristina Diaz de León and many other frontline advocates.
Over 1,000 people have been vaccinated at the Rancho Market clinics and average 75-100 people vaccinated per event. While the majority come from the Latino/x community, the clinics also serve a variety of racial-ethnic groups based on the diverse clientele of the stores. Cristina Diaz De León, organizer of the clinics, sought to make these spaces inviting, festive, and welcoming. Branding them as “Fiesta Clinics”, Cristina and the volunteers she recruited, work with the Salt Lake County Health Department, the Utah Department of Health, and various community-based organizations, such as Centro de la Familia and Comunidad Materna en Utah, to provide water, treats, prize items, and community resources to serve needs beyond vaccination.
For example, during the community outreach done to promote the clinics, Cristina and volunteers noticed the gaps in digital access. During remote learning, many families had to face disruptive changes to their routine with some multicultural communities having limited skills to help their children navigate online platforms. This prompted Cristina and community organizations who attended the clinics to specifically provide case management support related to the digital divide, parent-student mentoring, and mental health to address the growing stress on families that the pandemic has caused.
COVID-19 has given us the challenge to do things differently and to reinvent ourselves. It has taught us that life can change in ways we aren’t prepared for and that we are all connected. Cristina Diaz de León shares that, “resilience among the Latinx community has always been a strong suit.” Adding that “despite the loss of loved ones, lost economic opportunities, mental health challenges and the sheer amount of grief that many communities of color have experienced; hope and resilience is ever more present.”
What many in the community were lacking was connection, a space to celebrate their culture, find shared experiences, and expand their perspectives through new connections. Cristina has worked tirelessly to establish partnerships with the Rancho Markets and many organizations invested in community care to Utah’s Latinx and diverse communities.
Her heart is in engaging authentically with people and to build trust first before providing healthy behavior advice. She is not without her own challenges. During the clinics, which are ongoing, she discovered that a previously controlled cancer diagnosis had metastasized in her body, prompting her to prioritize her health and as any strong leader does, lean on others and delegate so that the impactful work could continue.
In her words, “perhaps we have also learned to be more compassionate and empathic with each other, putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and understanding that we all have different conditions, situations and different opportunities. For some gratitude abounds, and the work continues to bring equal opportunities and hope for those struggling or who have been marginalized.”
COVID-19 has magnified the harmful injustices and inequities on communities that have historically lived in the margins. We honor and celebrate the countless frontline community health workers, promoters, and organizers who day in and day out give of the best of themselves to lift up their communities at this time. We also acknowledge that this work cannot be done in isolation and it is only through collective efforts that we can meaningfully respond in a time of need. We thank Rancho Markets, Salt Lake County Health Department, the Utah Department of Health, and multiple community-based organizations that have worked in close partnership with the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs to make vaccination more accessible. May we, like Cristina, meet people where they are to serve needs and empower them to make healthy decisions, such as getting vaccinated so that we may all recover together.