Portland, OR. Centro Latino Americano (“Centro”) is helping the Latino community connect to and navigate necessary resources such as healthcare, housing, food, mental health support, language accessibility, and anything else community members need during the pandemic. Executive Director David Saez said the organization has been working hard to address urgent needs of the community right now, and rent assistance has been a top priority. Centro has raised about $50,000 for households in need.

The organization called individuals to determine what exactly the community’s needs were. Using information from these calls, Centro published a report to inform leaders and legislators about the current situation. Furthermore, Centro is working with the Oregon Worker Relief Program to help individuals who don’t have access to unemployment benefits or federal relief checks.  

The work is relentless, but gratifying.  

Pre-covid activities in 2019.

“Community members know very well that the challenges faced right now are far bigger than any of the stability we’re able to secure through critical supports like rent assistance,” one staff member said. “They [Centro] fortify and strengthen the ability of the community as a whole to continue forward in spite of the terrible blows dealt it by the pandemic and resulting policies and/or lack thereof. The success is the relentlessness with which community members continue to meet each day.”

Another concern is the need for news and information about the pandemic communicated in Spanish. 

“There was a lot of information going out early on, but it was not in Spanish, or it wasn’t getting to the community,” Saez said. “And we don’t have a significant Spanish language media source here in Lane County, so that makes it even more challenging.”

Centro has established a weekly briefing in Spanish with the Lane County Public Health Department, which is broadcast over Facebook Live and also texted to community members. Furthermore, the organization recently hired a speaker of Mam, an indigenous Guatemalan language, in order to reach those communities that don’t speak Spanish. 

Mental health concerns are also greater than normal. Centro is offering a free initial therapy session for community members, and an addictions support group is starting back up, outdoors and with social distancing measures.  

Community members graduating from a parent leadership training program

Centro has also worked with the Department of Public Health to provide COVID testing for Latino communities, and with a recent grant, they have been able to hire three new staff members to work on contact tracing and support for families of individuals who have the virus. 

The Latino community has suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. Saez hopes this moment can shed light on the pressing racial disparities in health care. 

“Despite all these really hard, difficult things, I really have hope that there’ll be some transformative outcome out of all of this, and I hope that it’s gonna make life better for Black, Indigenous, communities of color, the trans and LGBTQIA community,” he said. “It feels like we’re in a brilliant, critical moment socially. I think we have the opportunity to come out of it stronger if we follow the right leadership.” 

From Centro Latino Americano: Centro Latino Americano empowers Latino families by providing opportunities and building bridges for a stronger community. Our vision is a thriving, connected community where all people are valued.