Santa Clara County Latino leaders tackle pandemic, policing inequities

Faith and family. Those are the two things South Bay Latinos turn to while confronting racism and a pandemic that’s infected and killed a disproportionate number of people in their community.

“In this time of COVID and police hyperactivity targeting our community, we invoke (Our Lady of Guadalupe’s) image as we resist the vestiges of colonialism, racism, discrimination and the economic and social apartheid that have been suffered by our Latino families for generations,” said Father Jon Pedigo, Catholic Charities’ director for advocacy and community engagement.

Pedigo virtually joined dozens of Latino community leaders and organizers in a recent meeting hosted by Latinos in Action 2020 to call upon families, faith and governmental leaders for more resources for vulnerable residents.

Latinos in Action 2020 co-chair Salvador “Chava” Bustamante said generations of inequities and vulnerabilities must be addressed by sharing stories, highlighting injustice and advocating for change, especially as the area’s social and economic divide has contributed to the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on Latinos and people of color.

“We gather to demand more resources from local government leaders, to better protect the most vulnerable in the valley,” Bustamante said. “We gather to demand equity in education and services that begin with digital inclusion, mainly in Eastern San Jose, where hundreds of families still do not have access to the internet.”

Latinos in Action 2020 is a civic engagement project working to build the Latino community’s political power through inclusive community engagement by developing and promoting priorities into Silicon Valley’s political arena.

But looking to more immediate action, San Jose Unified School Board member Teresa Castellanos highlighted how county lawmakers are pushing for the creation of a public internet utility company, dashboard for tracking food and necessities distributed by the city of San Jose and better facilitation of state disaster relief funding for immigrants.

“It is time for us to come together and make demands,” Castellanos said. “Our call is a call for action, a call for our voices. We are claiming space, we need to stand together.”

Rev. Jeff Moore II, president of the Silicon Valley NAACP chapter, led fellow leaders in a moment of silence for George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked nationwide protests.

Moore said he’s a brother and fellow Latino in the continued fight for equality.

“It’s not ironic that both of our cultures are suffering greatly from this,” Moore said, pointing out the history of inequities shared by Latino and African-American communities. “It’s because we have the same DNA in us. We are related to one another, not just as the human race, but in a deeper relationship.”

Moore called for police reform through civilian oversight and accountability of authorities within the San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office.

“I encourage you to march forward and know that when I march forward, I don’t march forward so much as an ally or a partner,” Moore said. “I have marched forward as a Latino because I have Latinos in my family, nieces and nephews who I love. And I will fight and I will die for your sons and daughters.”

Serena Alvarez, president of Council 3090 for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said these efforts go beyond electoral politics or an emerging controversy from the killing of Floyd.

“This is a multi-generational, protracted conflict, and our families are experiencing infection, mortality, brutality at higher rates because of the inequities built into our socio-economic fabric,” Alvarez said. “They’re deep, persistent and they’re real. It’s time for those who think that we are race baiting to wake up and to answer our call for action.”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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