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How Natural Disasters Affect Spanish-Only Speakers Differently


A year after Florence, Dorian restarts the cycle of disaster preparedness, damage control, and recovery. Florence’s toll was especially harsh on North Carolina’s Spanish-only speakers, who were not included in many state and local outreach efforts before and after the storm.

Relief workers struggled to address migrant farmworkers without a fixed address and other transient people who are not part of local networks. Where government outreach falls short, grassroots organizations step in. Communicating through text messaging, social media, and word-of-mouth, these organizations connect Spanish-only speakers with healthcare providers, resources on preparedness and legal advice.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and Lariza Garzon, executive director of Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, about lessons learned from Florence and plans for Dorian. Also joining the conversation is Jessica Whitehead from the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency, who explains the ways state government is planning for the long-term to create better infrastructure for inclusive disaster preparedness and recovery.


Garzon on migrant workers’ vulnerability:

Guest workers face a lot of challenges just getting information about the disasters. Many times these workers are recruited in other countries. They get on a bus and then they're dropped off at the farm, and they don't realize where they are at. So they're unfamiliar with the geographic area. They don't know their address. Even if they have access to the news, it may say something about Sampson County, but they don't realize they're there. So it's really hard for them to prepare. Sometimes it's even hard for them to get information because they don't have cell signal, or because the information is often in English. 

Flores on migrant housing:

Migrant housing is some of the worst housing in the county … [It] makes folks a lot more vulnerable when these big storms come in the flooding or destruction of the house. 

Garzon on emergency services for migrant housing residents:

Under the Migrant Housing Act, there is no requirement that migrant housing providers use a 911-verified housing address, which is really dangerous for workers — not just during natural disasters, but during anytime that they require an emergency service. So, for example, if you live in a trailer park where the trailers are unmarked, and you need an ambulance because someone is having a heart attack, it will be really hard for you to describe your location to 911. This isolation and this hardship — just to find the camps — makes it even harder for us to do outreach sometimes.

Flores on labor organizing for rights:

Where workers are organized and stand up and are willing to put themselves out there and say: I got this information, and I need alternative housing or a ride to a shelter. Employers will comply with that. But there's a lot of people — because of the policies that exist and the conditions that workers face — that either don't know they have the right to ask for that, or are afraid to do so for fear of losing their job.

We worked with many families last year who actually qualified to apply for FEMA, but they were too scared to do so. - Lariza Garzon

Garzon on reasons why some individuals do not  contact the authorities:

There's a lot of fear within the undocumented community. Whether everyone in the family is undocumented, or whether it's an extended family, people are afraid to go to shelters and ask for help after the disaster. We worked with many families last year who actually qualified to apply for FEMA, but they were too scared to do so.

Garzon on Spanish language news sources:

Most of the information that we share with the community is from independent news sources like Enlace Latino, Qué Pasa, La Conexion, or even Univision … Although we do try to get information from the North Carolina Emergency Management or from ReadyNC, and sometimes they post some stuff in Spanish, but it's not as easily accessible.

Whitehead on long-term recovery planning:

Louisiana is still recovering from Katrina. Technically, New York and New Jersey are still recovering from Sandy. I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last week trying to learn from some of what they've done. They just closed out, earlier this year, the last of their disaster funds that they received in 2008. So when we get a really big disaster like this, it's bigger than any one state agency or federal agency or county or municipal government or nonprofit group. And really, what we're looking to do with the State Disaster Recovery Task Force — as we continue to learn and adapt how those groups are functioning — is to make sure that we're providing that coordination and information sharing to make things work better. There are dozens of just federal disaster programs, much less assistance that individual nonprofits provide or donations from private businesses. And so, [we are] trying to make sure that we do a better job of understanding [and] making sure that funding is getting to who needs it.







Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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