COVID-19, the global pandemic that resulted from it, and the insufficient U.S. response revealed a multitude of issues but none perhaps as pressing than the direct challenge to President Trump’s nationalist agenda and anti-immigrant rhetoric. As the nation prepares to vote with the effects of the pandemic still looming and President Trump seeking re-election, what must be called to question is the voracity with which he launched his “America first” campaign. Just 90-seconds into the speech announcing his candidacy for president, Trump proclaimed: “They (Mexico) are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.” In another speech he went on to label immigrants from Mexico “criminals” and “rapist.”
What has become painfully difficult to ignore are the systematic ways in which people of color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-standing inequities in both access to and ability to pay for quality healthcare have meant a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases among the Black and Latino populations in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hispanic/Latinos made up the largest subset of the population living in what were identified as “hotspots”, or, those areas with the highest amounts of new cases. The CDC also released data suggesting that people of color are more likely to contract the virus and require hospitalization thanks to these long-standing health and social condition inequalities. The CDC advised in March of this year to develop “culturally responsive targeted interventions” to these hotspot areas. This warning was ignored along with every other actionable suggestion by a president who had spent too long establishing the narrative that this population was full of criminals and people intent on stealing the jobs of white U.S. citizens.
A Democracy Fund/UCLA survey uncovered that 56% of Latinos experienced a drop in household income, leading surveyed respondents by at least 11% points (whites 43% Blacks 45%). In the same poll, Latinos led again in those who “experienced difficulty in making a mortgage payment or paying rent over the last 12 months” with 40%, while 30% of white and 29% of Black respondents reported the same difficulty. This data points to various ways in which Latinos have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychologically, as well, Latinos have been most worried about their financial stability and economic security. The unemployment rate among Hispanics has spiked since the outbreak with women, especially, bearing the brunt of this burden. According to a Pew Research survey, Hispanic women have suffered a 15% increase in unemployment--a number higher than that during The Great Recession of 2007.
As for Hispanic-owned businesses, they too have been unequally impacted the COVID-19 financial fallout. A Hobby School survey using Houston Texas and its 44% Hispanic population as a case study found that 33% of respondents expected their 2020 revenues to drop more than 50% compared to their 2019 revenues. 11% of respondents reported that they were no longer able to make rent payments for their businesses with an additional 15% reporting an inability to pay their business loans. The high level and continuing uncertainty regarding the federal response to the pandemic and relief efforts that have stalled in Congress mean that these vital areas of population may never recover from being marginalized in the wake of the virus outbreak.
Such numbers present a troubling bias against people of color especially against the hardest hit, the Latino population. What can also be extracted from the Pew Research data is a nationalist bias against those Latinos born outside of the country, with those who were born in the United States faring slightly better. In April, the unemployment rate for non-US born Latinos peaked at 18%. Adding insult to injury, as Trump’s rhetoric continued to demonize migrant workers in this country, the pandemic made clear their contribution in a time of need as many of them were labeled “essential workers” by the very state that demonized them.
After four years of anti-Latino rhetoric and nationalist policies espoused and supported by the president, it’s no wonder that Latinos suffered disproportionately once the pandemic hit. It’s also no wonder that targeted policies and specified aid were never distributed to these communities. As part in parcel to the political apparatus, language and rhetoric have an insidious effect on the masses. Acting as a dog whistle and a call to mobilization for supporters, trump’s bombast cannot simply be reduced to the ramblings of a man who “speaks truth no one wants to hear”, as it has been classified. On the contrary, his rhetoric—strategically deployed—has led to the social realities in which the very group he has spent his term targeting is the group that has experienced an unbalanced burden in the wake of COVID-19.
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Roberto Rincon joined the Political Science and Global Studies faculty as a lecturer in the Fall of 2019. He is completing his Ph.D. in the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His dissertation, Migrating Identities: A Transnational Study of Afro-Mexican Racial Identification offers a transnational analysis of the ways in which legal status, phenotype and political context shape the black racial identification of Afro-Mexicans as they migrate within and across national borders. His work is based on multi-sited ethnographic research in the Costa Chica region of Southern Mexico and in Afro-Mexican communities in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His research interests include 20th and 21st century Racial and Ethnic Politics in Latin America; Afro-Mexican Studies, LatinX Studies, Social Movements Theory; Cultural Studies, and Postcolonial Theory.