Time to End “La Brecha Digital”*

Latina students learning about the Digital Divide

The more we learn about the impacts of the coronavirus, we see that the Latino community is being devastated. Whether from disproportionate numbers of Latinos contracting the virus, skyrocketing unemployment, the dangerous conditions essential Latino workers are being forced to endure, or how our families are dealing with the new realities of homeschooling, we need to have conversations that shed light on the Latino experience. Having our voices on the airwaves is critical to helping Latinos relate to and absorb the important information that impacts our communities. NPR’s latest Alt.Latino program with Felix Contreras and Marisa Peñaloza is the window we need into conversations for Latinos, by Latinos. While normally a show about music and culture, on May 15, Contreras and Peñaloza took Alt.Latino beyond these topics to the intersection of politics, the coronavirus and the arts. To listen to the show, click here.

Peñaloza in particular has been aggressively reporting on how undocumented workers must fight for protection equipment for work that the Federal government says is “essential.” It’s impossible to hear Contreras and Peñaloza without sympathizing with all the Latinos whose lives have suddenly been turned upside down by the coronavirus. What becomes clear is that there is a significant need for the Federal government to act.

If the Federal government wants to do something with a measurable daily benefit for 60 million people in the United States who are of Hispanic/Latino descent, one of the most impactful places to start is to end La Brecha Digital (*The Digital Divide) and ensure high-speed broadband access throughout all communities. Rural areas have had the fastest Latino population growth over the last decade, yet remain the least connected. Whether in urban or rural areas, it is heartbreaking to hear stories of families parking in a location that has free wi-fi so their children can complete their homework, most often from a mobile device because it is the only one a family has. This has become an even more acute problem as schools have been closed for months, and access to lessons is mostly online.

As coronavirus makes telehealth a necessity, lack of high-speed Internet service hinders the ability to access medical care as well as updated safety information being provided by health and government officials. This further marginalizes a vulnerable community that’s already segregated from so many critical services that other communities take for granted: the ability to take an online class at home, to access unemployment benefits, or to order food and supplies online when it is unsafe to be in public locations. And in these times, when human connection is needed more than ever, even connecting with family through a group video chat remains out of reach for too many families.

Congress and the Trump Administration have the historic opportunity to rise to this moment and to help all Americans get connected to the internet, regardless of where they live and work. Broadband has emerged as a basic human necessity and that should transcend partisan views and party lines. If our leaders are able to meet this moment, lives can be saved, education will be made accessible, and families can stay connected. That’s a message the Government needs to hear from all of us.

Until then, as NPR’s Contreras put it on his show, “Be careful out there, gente.”