For Yara Lopez, the COVID-19 outbreak has meant that one of her valuable skills has become essential. A harsh reality of the current crisis is that information can save lives. Knowing how to protect yourself and your family, and where to go for help, are critical during an epidemic. Because of this, Yara’s fluency in both English and Spanish has made her an important resource for people throughout the county. It began as part of her work at the Multicultural Family Center, where she began answering phone calls from Dubuquers who needed help. Soon, word spread, and Yara found herself receiving calls from Spanish-speaking residents desperate for someone to trust. Calls would come in from the early hours of the morning to late at night from people Yara had never met
before. “People were afraid,” she explains. “They were afraid that doctors weren’t going to give them the right information, or that they weren’t going to be able to understand what to do. They didn’t understand why you had to wear a mask or use so much hand sanitizer. They had been left in the dark.” That fear and uncertainty, and a confusion about what was the best thing to do, drove many families to avoid hospitals and clinics altogether in the hope that they could figure it out on their own.
Growing up, Yara often interpreted for her parents, both of whom are native Spanish speakers. It saddened her to see how difficult it could be for them to navigate life in a home that could be confusing and difficult to understand. She’s felt the same emotional weight now helping strangers try to deal with a frightening new
epidemic. “It’s heartbreaking,” Yara says. “Their stories became part of my life.” But at the same time, she found her new work incredibly rewarding. “I like seeing people’s faces when they realize that someone understands what they’re saying.” Yara is committed to continuing her work, and has even begun to study French so that she can serve as a resource to even more residents whose first language isn’t English. She hopes that other Dubuquers, no matter their background or where they are from, will also be ready to help. “If you see someone in the Hispanic, Latino, Latina, and Latinx community in need of help, don’t be afraid to reach out.”
Is it Hispanic, Latino, Latina, or Latinx?
In Yara's story, she says "Hispanic, Latino, Latina, and Latinx ." Why? "Hispanic" and "Latino" are often used interchangeably, but Hispanic often refers to someone who is descended from Spanish-speaking populations, while Latino refers to someone descended from Latin America. This means Hispanic more refers to culture, while Latino refers to geography. While some people believe both descriptions apply to them, others feel strongly about which term they prefer.
In addition, in Spanish nouns often have a gender. A male person of Latin descent is frequently referred to as a "Latino," while a female is a "Latina." A group that may contain both male and female is often referred to by the male "Latino." But some people prefer to be referred to as "Latinx," which removes the gender of the word to make it more inclusive.
Which word should you use when you are talking to someone of Hispanic or Latin descent? The best thing to do is to just ask them what they prefer!