Needless Suffering and Death

by Alirio Estevez

“I just ask my Lord that other people’s pain may never be indifferent to me.” This line from an inspiring song by renowned Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa is tumbling around my head nowadays. People all over the world and especially in our country are suffering, feeling extreme pain, due to the devastation caused by Covid-19 and the ineptitude of several world leaders. Hopefully, nobody in Chatham is indifferent to pain.

Nearly 200,000 American souls have departed from us prematurely at the time of writing of this column. This includes over 3,000 in the North Carolina and more than 50 deaths in Chatham. 200,000 families are devastated and inconsolable because they will no longer see their loved ones: children, parents, grandparents, spouses… And sadly, the end of this agony is not within sight. Additionally, some communities are suffering disproportionately both in health and economic terms. We must unite and support every American, especially those who need our help the most. We cannot be indifferent to this injustice.

African American and Latinx communities are going through tough times in our nation. According to data collected earlier in the year by the New York Times, 57% of the Covid-19 cases in Louisiana are African Americans yet they represent only 30% of the population in the state; in Michigan 40% of those affected by the virus are African American but they are only 15% of that state’s inhabitants. Meanwhile, in Iowa 20% of people infected with Covid-19 are Latinx yet they represent just 6% of the population. In Washington State, 31% of Covid-19 patients are Latinx, but they only represent 13% of its inhabitants. This situation is unacceptable.

In our state, unfortunately, the trend is the same. As of the beginning of June, according to the State Department of Health, 35% of people affected by this virus were African Americans and 27% were Latinx yet they represent 22% and 9.6% of the population respectively . There are several causes to explain this inadmissible discrepancy, among them, lack of access to health care and historical racism. However, one if not the main reason is that most of our Latinx and African American sisters and brothers are “essential workers.” They work in farms, meatpacking plants, cleaning services, grocery stores, etc. Yet their labor is not properly appreciated. Their hourly wage is extremely low; they cannot afford health insurance through the company they work for or through the government (Medicaid expansion, anyone?); often customers treat them without respect (like not using a face covering); and some of their employers are negligent.

Workers at meat processing plants in our state have been deeply affected. This past May, WRAL reported that there were at least 1340 cases at 23 plants. In our own backyard, dozens of cases have occurred at the Mountaire poultry plant in Siler City. Yet the Trump administration issued an order to keep these plants open. However, this negligent administration decided not to order meat processing companies to provide their employees with adequate protection such as masks, plexiglass barriers, or other PPE. In addition, several of these companies and their contractors do not even offer the “benefit” to take paid sick days nor do they provide health insurance. As Ilana Dubester, Chatham Hispanic Liaison director, stated in an interview with the website prism.org, these workers are considered “essential and disposable.” The treatment of these workers by this government and these companies is inhumane, denigrating, and cruel.

In May, a hardworking man from Siler City named Adelfo died due to coronavirus. He worked at Pilgrim’s Pride in Sanford, Lee County. I cannot fathom how much his family and friends are suffering. He died so Americans like you and me could have food on our table. Will his sacrifice be in vain? How many more martyrs have to die to satisfy the ego of a malignant narcissist?

As another line in Mercedes Sosa’s song says “I just ask my Lord that injustice may never be indifferent to me,” and you.

P.S. The Chatham Hispanic Liaison and other county charities are supporting our families in need. Please visit the Hispanic Liaison’s website and learn how you can help. Thank you.

Alirio Estevez is a NC Educator and a volunteer for the Hispanic Liaison and the Chatham Literacy Council. He is a proud immigrant and proud to be an American citizen.