“Come on Papi, La Vacuna!” »: New artistic campaign aims to increase vaccination rates in the San Joaquin Valley

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Credit: Jenn Emerling / ACTA

Above: Juan Felipe Herrera and his alumni performing for an ACTAVANDO Contra COVID event at the Madera flea market on June 13, 2021.

“Together, so many years,” writes Juan Felipe Herrera, former American poet laureate, in his recent poem “Tantos Años Juntos”, created to encourage farm workers to get vaccinated.

“I don’t want you to leave me.”

Herrera performed this poem at events throughout the Central Valley as part of a new cultural campaign called ACTAvando Contra COVID that features songs, poems and radio dramas to farm workers and other Spanish-speaking audiences. It is a collaboration between the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) and Radio Bilingüe, the national Latin public radio network.

“Take the vaccine, I don’t want you to leave me,” the poem continues. “Nothing is stronger than our family and our love.”

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Since the start of the pandemic, farm workers across the Central Valley have been hit hard by COVID infections.

“The farm workers had to be there,” said Hugo Morales, executive director and co-founder of Radio Bilingüe. “Because they had to eat, they had to feed their families. They had to earn an income. Many of them are undocumented, so there was hardly any assistance for them.”

But the vaccination rate among farm workers is still far behind the rest of the state.

Nearly 60% of Californians are fully vaccinated, but health experts warn some areas, like the San Joaquin Valley, still have extremely low vaccination rates. In Kings County, for example, nearly three-quarters of Latino residents have yet to receive a vaccine.

One of the main challenges in increasing vaccination rates has been the spread of misinformation on social media platforms.

Morales explains that the historic mistreatment of migrant workers has led to a distrust of Western medicine, such as when migrants who arrived under the Bracero program in the 1950s and 1960s were sprayed with DDT.

“Unfortunately, [misinformation] play on fears, “he said.” There is a story there that is very concrete. “

But Morales and other campaign organizers hope the art can help address those concerns.

Along with Herrera, ACTA commissioned other famous artists, such as Carmencristina Moreno, known as Chicana First Lady of Song, who wrote original works encouraging vulnerable communities like farm workers to stay safe by using face masks, washing hands and getting vaccinated.

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The campaign also draws on musicians deeply linked to the immigrant community, such as Leonel Mendoza Acevedo. His acoustic string ensemble, Los Originarios del Plan, has its roots in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

“When we talked about the type of song they would compose for this, Leonel immediately said, ‘We should use the form of a Valona,” said Amy Kitchener, executive director of ACTA. “It’s like lyric poetry, to express social concerns.”

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Mendoza thought it was really important to use the very traditional form of his region because it was a way of calling his community to action. “When people hear the Valona, ​​they know I’m talking to them,” he said.

“We have all been affected by the pandemic, with the deaths of two good friends,” Mendoza added. “We know how important it is to get the vaccine and we don’t want more deaths. The longer it takes us to get vaccinated, death may be waiting around the corner. “

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Meanwhile, artists like Grupo Recreación Musical are multiplying messages to the Spanish-speaking and Mixtec communities by writing and composing songs in both languages.

“One of the communities most vulnerable to this pandemic has been the indigenous community,” said Morales, a Mixtec immigrant himself who pioneered radio programming in indigenous languages ​​spoken in Mexico.

“Those who die before the age of 50 are often Mexican-Americans and Indigenous people,” he said. “So it’s not over for essential workers.”

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Radio drama is another tool artists use to get the word out.

Former poet laureate Herrera wrote and directed “¡Vacúnate Prudencio! ”, A radio drama based on a weekly 1930s radio-comedy show called“ La Familia Feliz ”in Ciudad Juárez.

“The style is similar to the Teatro Campesino and the Theater of the Farm Workers,” Herrera said. “A beautiful shape, because it’s so familiar, funny, exaggerated and real at the same time.”

“It’s for the people. With all our love. The actors are from the San Joaquin Valley, my alumni. It’s an embrace for our communities.”

The story follows Prudencio, a father and husband who refuses to be vaccinated out of pride.

“He’s pretty sure he’s that strong,” explained ACTA’s Kitchener. “He’s strong like iron and like a tree, like he doesn’t need a vaccine. So his middle school son comes in and starts urging him on. [to get vaccinated] based on his information. “

“Come on papi, la vacuna! Just a bullet in the arm and a cool mask, daddy,” Prudencio’s son says in the story. “Tenemos que usarla, papi.”

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