Vecino means neighbor in Spanish. The latino advocacy group Ukiah Vecinos in Action, or UVA, held a community meeting in Ukiah this month to hear from the latino community about their experiences in the Redwood Valley fires last October. Around seventy people were there to eat pizza and discuss how disaster response could be improved. The October fires mobilized disaster response at the county, state and national level, and though there are bilingual county employees, it was days before any emergency information was available in Spanish.
The first days of a natural disaster are critical, a lack of accurate information about fire location and evacuations can be dangerous for residents and first responders. It isn’t just a language barrier that prevents latinos from receiving resources in an emergency, Leticia Trejo says there are also cultural barriers. Brenda Moreno Sanchez is UVA's chair and agrees that both language and culture can keep evacuees from accessing resources. She says it's important that shelters have Spanish speaking volunteers not only to pass on information but also to provide emotional support.
Sandra Arellano has been translating for her mom since she was a little girl and says she’s used to it, but that’s not the way it should be. She says there needs to be more representation, and that’s where UVA can help. Lydia Lopez is the chair of UVA. She says everyone learned from the fires in October and when the Ranch Fire broke out in July, the response was better. There were a lot more resources available in Spanish, and more Spanish speaking volunteers in shelters.
The work of UVA extends well beyond disaster response and recovery, Lyida and Brenda hope to start a youth UVA to nurture leadership among young latinos. The group also acts as a link between the latino community and the organizations that want to serve them.
for more information about UVA (Ukiah Vecinos en Accion) check out their facebook page.