Local group helps Spanish speakers navigate coronavirus pandemic

Irene Avitia, an early childhood education specialist for Integrated Community, is one of the founders of the Yampa Valley Latinx Network. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the group has helped Spanish speakers navigate and understand information surrounding the global pandemic.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A newly created organization in Routt County has been helping local Spanish speakers make sense of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the Yampa Valley Latinx Network was originally founded in February as a way to promote and support Latin leaders in the community, its members refocused their short-term mission amid the flurry of news updates and public health orders surrounding COVID-19.

Latinx is a gender-neutral term that has been used in place of Latino or Latina to refer to people of Latin American descent, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Irene Avitia, one of the Latinx Network’s founders, saw a need to create a platform to help non-English speakers make sense of all of the information about the public health crisis. Even for native English speakers, understanding the constant stream of updates and recommendations can be difficult. 

“In moments like this, we all are struggling, but when there is a language barrier, the fear is bigger,” Avitia said. 

The network’s Facebook page, created on March 26, had amassed a following of more than 200 people by Tuesday. Many posts included short videos that broke down and simplified the recent public health orders from local, state and national officials.

“We want to be able to communicate with our Spanish-speaking community the importance of following the rules,” Avitia explained.

Another post includes a document that non-English speakers could give to law enforcement if they were confronted about the stay-at-home order, which Gov. Jared Polis issued March 25. It explains that that the holder of the form does not speak English but is aware of the order. 

“Although I cannot communicate it, I can assure you that the task I have left my house for is essential, and I will return home as soon as the task is completed,” the form states.

Outside of the coronavirus crisis, Avitia said the long-term vision of the Latinx Network is to encourage local leadership among the Latin community. The group is composed of 12 members who represent various organizations, including Advocates of Routt County, Integrated Community, Partners of Routt County, the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Steamboat Springs School District and Northwest Colorado Health.

Avitia hopes that by collaborating, the network can empower others to seek higher leadership roles, such as seats on the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners, which have historically seen a lack of representation among the Latin community.

“If we come together and become a strong network, we can prepare ourselves to have voices at different tables in our community,” Avitia said.

For online readers, the Steamboat Pilot & Today allows users to read articles in English or Spanish. To change the language of the content, click the preferred language in the top right corner of the webpage under the menu bar.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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