CT Latino News produces stories focused on the responses to the social determinants of health. Economic Stabilityis vital to affording lifestyle choices and paying for quality medical care that keeps people healthy. A well-paying, steady job is critical for food security and housing stability. Savings are essential for managing chronic conditions or emergencies.
Connecticutâ€™s public and private sectors are working together to provide flexible and accessible loans to over 100 small business owners and nonprofit leaders across the stateâ€™s diverse communities.
The Small Business Boost Fund was designed to address financial and technical barriers that specifically impact small businesses and nonprofits from marginalized communities, said Director Sheila Hummel of CT Small Business Development Office.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to reach [residents] and get them help. Lots of times itâ€™s technical assistanceâ€”helping you do your application or afterward too,â€� Hummel explained. â€œMaybe, after you get the loan, youâ€™re having some cash flow problems or something else didnâ€™t go the way you wanted it to. Now, you have someone to go to.â€�
The loans have a fixed 4.5 percent interest rate, ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 with 60- or 72-month repayment terms, depending on the loan amount.
Eligible businesses and nonprofits must operate within Connecticut, have 100 or fewer full-time employees, an annual revenue of less than $8 million, and have been in operation for at least one yearâ€”although a small amount of financing is available for start-ups.
â€œThis fund was established to support small business owners who may have previously experienced barriers to accessing financial support and works with and through community lenders that are dedicated to equitable lending practices,â€� Governor Ned Lamont announced in a July press release.
The programâ€™s $150 million budget consists of a $75 million investment from the state while $75 million is being raised, coming from donations made by local banks, Hummel said.
The majority of the budget is lent to the programâ€™s businesses and nonprofits while a smaller portion funds technical assistance to applying businesses and nonprofits.
Over a thousand businesses and nonprofits have applied to the program since its launch this summer, according to Hummel. The pre-application portal asks residents about 18 questions to either match them with a lender or technical advisor.
All of the fundâ€™s applications are available in multiple languages, including Spanish. Residents may also speak with multilingual staff to learn about the program or when applying.
More than 100 organizations have been matched with a lender that assists residents with the application process. Applicants who are first matched with technical advisors, receive feedback and support to enhance specific aspects of their businesses or nonprofits before applying to the program.
â€œThere are numerous different [reasons] for why you might not get matched up,â€� such as low credit scores or disorganized financial records, Hummel explained. â€œSo then, you have the option of matching with technical assistance to help you be able to qualify for a loan. Theyâ€™ll work with you and see whatâ€™s going on.â€�
Currently, about 60 percent of loans from the Small Business Boost Fund have been given to marginalized business owners and nonprofit leaders, including entrepreneurs who are women, veterans, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of LGBTQ+ communities.
However, Hummel pointed out the importance of keeping intersectionality in mind, as her team increases that percentage.
â€œRight now, we have nine Latino businesses that have been funded,â€� Hummel shared. â€œSo, we want to increase that number and then look at where these loans are being funded. Maybe thereâ€™s not enough advertising [of the program] in Hartfordâ€¦or Meriden.â€�
The fund has worked with local chambers of commerce along with Hispanic and Latino nonprofit organizations to spread the word about its loans.
â€œWeâ€™re constantly adjusting our outreach and marketing campaigns to reach a variety of diverse communities,â€� she said. â€œWeâ€™re doing ads in newspapers, radio spots in Spanish, weâ€™re going to have [an informational] video in Spanish.â€�
Reaching marginalized communities can be a major challenge for many supportive programs and services, but establishing trust with residents from these vulnerable communities is another obstacle.
A few of the programâ€™s seven lenders and local community development financial institutions (CDFIs) are known for their decades of experience â€œserving historically under-resources and underbanked communitiesâ€�, according to the press release.
CT Latino News is a partner of the CT Small Business Boost Fund in supporting the stateâ€™s Hispanic and Latino communities.
CTLN sees the public as more than just the audience; you are contributors. To that end, please take our brief survey to help shape our coverage in producing stories on the social determinants of health: healthcare and quality, neighborhood and built environment, education access and quality, social and community context, and economic stability.
Kamyle Dunn used to sleep with her hand resting on her motherâ€™s chest so she could feel it expand and contract and know that her mom hadnâ€™t stopped breathing during the night.
Dunnâ€™s mother, Maria Cotto, has long had severe asthma. Dunn inherited the condition, though she has mostly grown out of it as an adult. Now, Dunnâ€™s 12-year-old son also has severe asthma.
â€œPeople kind of shrug it off as not that big of a deal,â€� said Dunn, who lives with her family in East Harford. â€œBut I see what itâ€™s done to my mother, and I see what itâ€™s doing to my son, and what it has done to me.â€�
In Connecticut, 10.6% of children and 10.5% of adults have asthma, according to state data from 2019. According to DataHavenâ€™s 2021 Community Wellbeing survey, 12% of adults have asthma.
Asthma does not impact all people equally.
â€œIn the state of Connecticut, similarly to other states in the country, this condition disproportionately affects minority populations, including African Americans and Hispanics,â€� said Dr. Mario Perez, an assistant professor of medicine at UConn Health who studies asthma disparities and who Cotto sees for her asthma.
DataHavenâ€™s survey found that 11% of white, 13% of Black, and 21% of Latino adults have asthma.
Economics also seems to play a role. Only 6% of adults in wealthy towns have asthma, while 16% of adults in cities like New Haven, Waterbury, Hartford and Bridgeport have the condition. In addition, 19% of adults earning less than $30,000 per year have asthma, compared to only 9% of those earning $100,000 per year.
â€œResidents in city centers are typically three to four times more likely to visit the emergency room with an asthma diagnosis than residents of outer suburban areas,â€� said Mark Abraham, executive director, DataHaven.
Air Quality And Geography
Connecticut has long been known as the â€œtailpipe of the nationâ€� due to pollution that drifts in from other states. The 2022 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association gave every Connecticut county a poor grade for ozone levels. Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven and New London all received a grade of F, while Tolland and Windham counties received D grades, and Hartford and Litchfield were each given a C.
â€œWe know that environmental factors, particularly factors such as air pollution, can be associated and contribute to the disease and to disease flare,â€� Perez said.
A 2009 study of New Haven County children recruited from the Yale Asthma Care Center found an increased risk of symptoms and inhaler use in children with asthma who had exposure to traffic-related fine particles.
Additionally, some research has suggested a link between crime and asthma rates, which highlights the need for healthier communities overall. â€œHaving the sense that your neighborhood is more secure actually decreases the rate of asthma and asthma exacerbations,â€� Perez says.
City Risk Factors And Glimmers Of Hope
Robert Carmon, 11, who recently moved from New Haven to West Haven, developed asthma as an infant and was rushed to the hospital by his parents on a near-weekly basis during the early years of his life. Robert has improved since C-HIT first reported on him in 2018, but the condition still impacts his life. Heâ€™d like to play on the basketball team at school but canâ€™t because he worries his asthma will flare up. â€œI can play pickup games as long as I donâ€™t play too hard,â€� he said.
The frequency of his trips to the emergency room has decreased, but he still goes to the hospital about once every month or so, said Robertâ€™s father, Chaz Carmon.
Stories such as Robertâ€™s are common in Connecticut cities. In recent years they have ranked high in the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of Americaâ€™s annual Asthma Capitals Report, but this year saw marked improvement. Hartford moved from 17th worst to 69th on the list, Bridgeport dropped to 85th, from 29th in 2021, while New Haven dropped from 5th to 90th.
â€œNew Haven saw the biggest positive jump in rank of all the 100 metropolitan statistical areas that we analyze,â€� said Hannah Jaffee, a research analyst with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation.
However, people shouldnâ€™t read too much into the improved rankings because this yearâ€™s list was created based on different data sources than previous years. For example, insurance claims were examined instead of the self-reported surveys used previously. In addition, more localized data was utilized rather than the county-level data used for the report in previous years.
Even still, Jaffee said, the three most populous counties have seen some improvement.
â€œWhen we do look at the county-level data that we previously used asthma prevalence rates for Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven county, theyâ€™ve all declined over the past five years,â€� she said. The death rate has also generally declined in those three counties over the past 20 years, Jaffee added.
Improving Asthma Rates
Proven strategies for reducing asthma incidence and severity include working to ensure all residents have access to culturally competent health care and improving indoor and outdoor air quality for those in cities.
â€œAsthma triggers can be mitigated through housing quality improvements like better air conditioning filters and education for families about what the triggers might be. If youâ€™re running a gas stove for cooking, and you donâ€™t have good ventilation, itâ€™s producing a lot of air pollution inside.â€�
â€” Mark Abraham, executive director, DataHaven
The Connecticut Asthma Program is a state-run initiative attempting to decrease asthma disparities through partnerships with health care providers while providing education about the condition and expanding access to Connecticutâ€™s asthma home visiting program. The state has also promoted the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionâ€™s (CDC) EXHALE framework for asthma management.
Perez says that the most effective interventions will take place before a patient ever arrives in front of him. â€œI think we as a society have to address everything from the environmental pollution and climate that weâ€™re creating as humans to improving education and access to health care, but also improving the socio-economic status of the population in general.â€�
In the meantime, some say more can be done individually to help those with asthma. For instance, while Robertâ€™s current school allows him to keep his asthma pump on hand, he wasnâ€™t allowed to do that in the past. â€œThey always said you have to keep your bag in your locker,â€� he said. That could cause asthma attacks to get out of control before he could get to his pump.
His father adds that each school should have a nebulizer in the nurseâ€™s office with staff trained to administer asthma medication. That way, a student â€œcan be on the nebulizer at least until the parents get there,â€� Carmon says, and if the nebulizer helps enough, the student might be able to return to class.
Cotto says itâ€™s important for medical staff to remember that each patient is different. Cotto horrifyingly learned this when she was given epinephrine during an emergency asthma flare. While the medication can be helpful to some patients, it nearly killed her.
â€œIâ€™m allergic to it. When they administered it to me, my heart stopped,â€� she said. When this happened in 2013, she ended up in a coma for 22 days.
After Cottoâ€™s coma, her asthma worsened, and she could not leave the house without oxygen for many years. In 2014 she began seeing Perez, who took the time to figure out her specific triggers and a treatment plan that worked for her. Though she struggles at times, her asthma is more under control than it has been in years.
â€œHe tried a whole bunch of different medications and finally found one that works for me,â€� Cotto says. â€œIâ€™m actually able to leave the house without oxygen.â€� Thatâ€™s something she hasnâ€™t done for nearly a decade.
You can find out more about asthma in Connecticut and asthma management in general by visiting the following sites:
Unlike her older sister, Sofia Vega grew up learning Spanish in school. Both girls were born in the U.S., but the 11-year age difference meant Vega didnâ€™t get the chance to travel and visit her extended family back in Colombia. Speaking mostly English at home, Vega regrets never getting the chance to learn Spanish outside of a classroom.
â€œIt’s something I’m just a little ashamed of, like I don’t really know Spanish,â€� she said.
Now a sophomore at Quinnipiac University, Vega said that language barrier made her feel â€œdisconnectedâ€� from her family overseas.
â€œIt’s hard to connect with family if I can’t speak the same language as them,â€� she said. â€�I see my sister speaking with them for like 30 minutes and I’m just like, â€˜I wish I could do that.â€™â€�
Like Vega, many U.S.-born Latinos face the expectation of speaking fluent Spanish, even though it is not part of their formal education. Because language is centrally linked to heritage, learning Spanish is a large part of Latino identity â€“ even for Latinos that donâ€™t speak Spanish.
While the turnout for Hispanic and Latino voters nationwide has increased over the past decade, they still fall behind other groups. Hispanic and Latino voters face a variety of barriers, but efforts to limit voter access are increasing across the country.
Democracy doesnâ€™t properly work when people and communities are prevented from participating within local, state, or national elections.
Expanding voting access across the country ensures that communities are accurately and justly represented by its elected officials.
Advocating for and increasing voting access includes expanding early voting, online voter registration, and same-day voter registration.
In Connecticut, there is currently no form of early voting and fairly restrictive absentee voting laws, according to Staff Attorney Aida Carini of the CT Secretary of State Office.
â€œThis allows us to begin establishing some framework for early voting and opening the availability of absentee voting to many of those that would otherwise be unable toâ€¦vote,â€� said Carini during Vote Local Day.
Carini discussed the ballot question in a conversation featuring NH Secretary of State David Scanlan and MO Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon; view the full discussion here.
In 2020, non-traditional voting â€” all types of non-election day voting including vote-by-mail and absentee voting â€” accounted for about 69.4% of the vote, according to Deliver My Vote Executive Director Amanda Pohl.
â€œVote-by-mail programs and any early-voting program does provide greater access to the ballot and that supports the basic foundation of our democracy,â€� Pohl said.
â€œWe had the highest turnout election in modern history [in 2020],â€� she added. â€œWe had more people of color [and] young people votingâ€¦and more people accessing the ballot who otherwise,â€� would have not be able to.
Nonprofit leaders at the Vote Local Day discussion on Vote By Mail & Voter IDâ€™s emphasized that the rate of vote-by-mail has increased over the years. They also spoke on how early-voting, vote-by-mail, and absentee ballots have led to greater and more diverse participation throughout the country.
â€œThose accessible programs do increase access to voting for disenfranchised communities, especially, and we have some research that we released in February that also shows that young voters and especially voters of color are more likely to vote if theyâ€™re given vote-by-mail options,â€� Pohl said in the discussion.
Although data has found that expanding voter access results in higher participation rates among communities, officials across the U.S. are working to backtrack some of these laws.
â€œAs soon as those things happened, we immediately saw states starting to clamp down on voting methodologiesâ€¦Weâ€™re also seeing backlash from legislatures that donâ€™t want to see that increased participation,â€� Pohl said.
Since May, almost 400 restrictive bills have been introduced in legislatures across the nation. Some restrictions deny assistance to voters with limited English proficiency, according to the Brennan Center.
â€œOver the past 18 months, there has been a wave of anti-voter bills introduced and passed across the country, many of them designed to undermine the growing political power of Latinos and other communities of color,â€� wrote the Brennan Center.
Research by the Brennan Center would support the idea that the ongoing increase in voter restrictions are strongly motivated/influenced by â€œracial backlashâ€�.
â€œRacial Backlashâ€� is a theory that â€œdescribes how white Americans respond to a perceived erosion of power and status by undermining the political opportunities of minorities,â€� according to the Brennan Center.Â Â
CT residents can register by mail, in person, or online.
Publisherâ€™s note: CT Latino News, under the Latino News Network umbrella, has put together this informational guide with the help of our partner Be The Ones, to help voters make informed decisions not only at the polls, but in their engagement with democracy going forward.
Welcome to another episode of CTLN Latino News Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of Connecticut.
This week we spoke with Ingrid Canady, Executive Director of the State Education Resource Center (SERC) on the organizationâ€™s services and how it supports local communities amid national tragedies, such as those regarding gun violence and racial discrimination.
SERC is a quasi-public agency that serves the CT State Board of Education in ensuring educational equity and excellence across the state. The agency maintains the Special Education Resource Center and the SERC Library.
Canady said the organizationâ€™s services have increased over the years and SERC currently supports and provides resources to children and families, a variety of organizations, and a total of 169 school districts across the state.
The agencyâ€™s main goals going into 2023 include raising awareness of their services to Connecticutâ€™s diverse communities and moving their headquarters to Waterbury, CT.
â€œWeâ€™ll be located in what used to beâ€¦the Timexpo Museum. Now, itâ€™s going to be hosting the SERCâ€™s main offices, our professional development classrooms, and our library. So weâ€™re very excited about that,â€� Canady said.
In this month’s episode, Canady also spoke about statements the agency has published that address national tragedies, which continue to impact educational environments across the country.
â€œWe wanted to provide support, services, and resources,â€� Canady said. â€œ[Like] how can parents speak to their children about it, how can teachers find ways to talk about this in the classroom, because reality is reality and we cannot let our guard down but at the same time we want to make sure that we continue to live our lives, [maintain] safe environments so that we can be who we are.â€�
â€œCivics is a hallmark of the work that we do here at the (CWECSEO) commission,â€� said Steven Hernandez, an attorney who serves as the executive director of the Commission on Women, children, seniors, equity and opportunity (CWCSEO) at the Connecticut General Assembly.
The CWCSEO researches best practices, coordinates stakeholders, and promotes public policies that are in the interests of Connecticut’s underserved and underrepresented families, women, children, and older adults. â€œWhen you think of a government agency, you may think, you know, how is it that this agency represents the people of the state, either in government or among state actors, but this agency is a little different. Thereâ€™s a people-facing component to what we doâ€�, said Hernandez.
One of the initiatives is the Parent Leadership Training Insitute, otherwise known as the PLTI. The PLTI is a program in which families are trained over the course of almost twenty-five weeks on how to be engaged in democracy and become more active in their community while also developing skills needed for civic leadership.
A factor within the PLTI is called the Childrenâ€™s Leadership Training Institute, an element that Hernandez is passionate about. â€œWhat we teach is that children are leaders today. They’re not just leaders of tomorrow; they are engaged in their own civic spaces: their school, their families, their communities.â€� Hernandez stresses the importance of civic engagement in all its forms, from creating accessible places for young people to learning to run for office.
Steven Hernandez also shared the importance of family and community. Hernandez comes from a family of immigrants, his great grandparents on his fatherâ€™s matrilineal side having immigrated to Chicago from Italy, later moving to Veracruz until the Mexican revolution, where they then settled in Tampico and Monterrey, where they reside to this day. His motherâ€™s sideâ€”as well as his fatherâ€™s patrilineal sideâ€” is Mexican, dating back multiple generations. As proud as Hernandez is of his ancestry, heâ€™s proud to call Connecticut home too. â€œThis country belongs to each and every one of you as much as it does to anyone else,â€� says Hernandez. â€œEven though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes from what we may hear in the media and what we may hear otherwise, at least in our little version of democracy that is Connecticut, this is your home, too. And you have the right to engage all of the resources so that you can improve your own life and the lives of your family.â€�
Welcome to another episode of Connecticut Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues local Latinx and underrepresented communities face.
This week we spoke with Dawn La Valle, Director of the Division of Library Development for the Connecticut State Library.Â
â€œWe basically help and support our libraries to enhance their services that they provide to the community,â€� La Valle explained. The Division of Library Development offers all academic, public school, and special libraries a wide variety of funding, education, and leadership services.Â
â€œDigital Equity is about everyone having access, everyone being able to use a device to do their homework, to do their work,â€� she said. â€œThe work that weâ€™re doing with these libraries and educating communities is that the libraries are a wonderful place to go, many libraries offer devices, many libraries offer digital literacy classes.â€�
Everyone is invited to Digital Inclusion Week, which will take place from October 3 – 7. The CT Libraries & Partners for Digital Equity have planned a full range of activities to showcase their efforts this past year and engage with residents. American Library Association Executive Director Tracie Hall, who has worked within digital equity for decades, will be featured as a keynote speaker.Â
â€œWe are going to highlight the work, the data, and the outcomes from the four libraries that received funding for digital navigator pilot projects,â€� La Valle said. â€œWeâ€™re going to hear from the digital navigators that have been working with these communities and allow them to tell their storiesâ€¦telling the story of how this has impacted their lives [and] how this has impacted the communities.
For more information about equity and educational efforts by the CT State Libraryâ€™s Division of Library Development, be sure to watch this full episode of Connecticut Latino News Opinion+.
â€œItâ€™s so important for people in our communities to know that if they have a question, if they need accessibility if they need to learn to use a deviceâ€”go to your library. We can help you,â€� La Valle said.Â
CTLN founders Diane Alverio and Donna Elkinson-Miller first envisioned an inclusive media outlet dedicated to English-speaking Latino residents across Connecticut in July of 2012.Â
10 years later, the flagship site has grown into a trusted and reliable network of five local media outlets that serve diverse Latino communities across New England and the Midwest.
â€œThere was no significant coverage of Latinos and Latino issues in CT,â€� Alverio said. â€œWhen there was any coverage by the mainstream press, it was extremely limited and at times stereotypical.â€�
Alverio has been locally recognized by the Hartford Club, the City of Hartford, Progresso Latino Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, and more for her work through civic organizationsâ€”including CTLN. She is also been the principal and owner of D.Alverio & Co.
Elkinson-Miller had started Elkinson-Miller Marketing LLC in 2012, after building a successful career within marketing and advertising with over a decade of experience, when Alverio approached her with the idea of CTLN.
â€œI immediately realized the importance of her vision,â€� Elkinson-Miller said. â€œMy mother is first-generation in the U.S. from Croatia, and I recall her stories about her arrival [about] learning English, going to a new school in a new country, etc. She lived with relatives, so she had guidance. Today, navigating the available support systems is much more complicated!â€�Â
There were a few initial challenges occasionally, including funding and finding interns, but mostly convincing advertisers that Latino residents could be reached in English through culturally competent media.
However, Elkinson-Miller said there was a quick learning curve, and with the support of professional contacts and their own families, the publication soon became successful and well-received among a variety of local communities.Â
â€œWithin a year, we were nationally recognized and received a McCormick Foundation award to expand to Massachusetts and Rhode Island,â€� Alverio said. â€œI am thrilled Hugo Balta has continued to expand Latino News Network.â€�
Alverio and Elkinson-Miller always planned to expand CTLNâ€™s statewide coverage and Hispanic-Latino editorial focus to other parts of New England with significant Latino populations.
Current CTLN Owners Adriana and Hugo Balta acquired the publication in 2019, with immediate plans to rebrand and expand the outletâ€™s work.
â€œI drew from what she (Diane Alverio) had learned and built on it in Connecticut, and New England, and now the Midwest,â€� Balta said. There are alarming news deserts, no matter the size of the market, when it comes to serving the U.S. born, English language first, Hispanics-Latinos.â€�
CTLN Publisher Hugo Balta first heard about the publication in 2012 when Alverio shared her vision for the outlet with him. Balta found her response to the lack of inclusion of Latino communities in English language legacy media innovative.
â€œAs a veteran journalist, I was frustrated at the excuses given by the homogeneous news managers for the systemic problems resulting in the one-dimensional negative, biased narratives of Latinos across all platforms,â€� Balta said. â€œCTLN afforded me the opportunity to stop asking for a seat at the table figuratively, and by collaborating with othersâ€”not just build our own seats, but our own tables.â€�
Advocating for the fair and accurate treatment of Latinos in newsrooms and news coverage is familiar work for Balta and Alverio. They are both past presidents of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ).
CTLN General Sales Manager Adriana said it has been exciting to be a part of an initiative that is focused on best serving local Latino communities. Her work seeks to build bridges between people and businesses looking to understand the Latino population better and leverage their power.
â€œLatinos are driving the population, cultural, political, and economic growth of the U.S.,â€� she said. â€œWe, at Connecticut Latino News (CTLN), and the other affiliates under the Latino News Network (LNN) work in exploring opportunities to inform, educate, and empower the community.â€�
Latino News Network expanded to New Hampshire (NHLN), Massachusetts (MALN) in 2020, and Rhode Island (RHLN) and Illinois (ILLN) in 2021, with plans of extending to Wisconsin this year.
The network has built on the success of its founders. In 2021, the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) chose LNN as one of 10 U.S. newsrooms to work on the Advancing Democracy project. CTLN evaluated barriers Latinos in the state have to the democratic process, as well as ways those problems are being addressed.
This year the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) and Hearkenchose LNN to participate in Democracy SOS, a nine-month fellowship supporting reporters and editors in significantly strengthening journalismâ€™s role in advancing our democracy through innovative approaches that build civic engagement, equity, and healthy discourse.
This month, the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism announced it had selected 26 journalists to participate in its 2022 National Fellowship to investigate and explore challenges impacting child, youth, and family health and well-being in the United States. Annabel Rocha, Editor for Latino News Network â€“ Midwest and Writer for Illinois Latino News (ILLN), is among them. For her project, Rocha will be exploring Period Poverty. Period Poverty or Menstrual Poverty is defined as the lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, and/or waste management.Â
â€œTen years later, and I deeply believe, CTLN and the other media sites through Latino News Network are needed more than ever,â€� Alverio said. â€œYou just have to look at the polarization in this country and the attempted coverage by the media of what are clearly two realities. Latinos and our stories can not be lost in the chaos.â€�
About Connecticut Latino News (CTLN)
Founded in July of 2012, CTLN is the flagship news and information, multi-platform, digital outlet of the Latino News Network. CTLN is the first English language news publication in Connecticut solely dedicated to serving Hispanics-Latinos.
The Latino News Network (LNN) oversees an independent group of local news and information, English language, and digital outlets with a statewide, Hispanic-Latino community editorial focus in Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
LNNâ€™s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to the Hispanic-Latino community, amplify the work of others doing the same, develop competencies of journalists, and produce investigative reporting based on the principles of solutions journalism.
LNN is owned by Balta Enterprises, LLC.
Please support the work of Connecticut Latino News and the Latino News Network by becoming a member or making a donation:I SUPPORT CTLN!
On a bustling Friday morning, the aroma of rice and beans wafts through a cloud of hairspray in Romyâ€™s Beauty Salon in Meriden. Merengue music soothes the senses. Customers exchange pleasantries in Spanish as Romy Norwood offers each a small bowl of â€œarroz y habichuela,â€� the Dominican staple of rice and beans. Later in the day, Norwood repeats the courtesy with small mugs of strong coffee, â€œcafecito,â€� prepared by her mother, Yolanda Sosa, in the kitchenette in the rear of the shop. Unlike Norwood and her mother, most clients arenâ€™t wearing a mask.
Neither Norwood nor anyone in her immediate family has been infected with COVID-19. Norwood, 46, and her husband, Jeffrey Norwood, 65, live in Cheshire with their children Jennifer, 14, and Ramon, 12, and their dog, Zeus. Since the start of the pandemic, Norwood says, they have been vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing and getting tested and vaccinated. Two beloved aunts succumbed to COVID in the Dominican Republic, where Norwood grew up, but everyone else in her family has remained healthy, including 73-year-old Sosa, who splits time between Norwoodâ€™s Cheshire home and her own home in the Dominican Republic.
By all accounts, Norwood and her loved ones appear to have dodged the most severe health outcomes of COVID. This is especially good news for the Norwoods since Black and Hispanic families have been disproportionately impacted by the virus in health outcomes and as small-business owners. According to a report by the U.S. Small Business Association, the total number of people who were self-employed and working declined by 20.2% between April 2019 and April 2020. Hispanic people experienced a more significant decline, at 26%. The biggest declines were experienced among Asian and Black people, with 37.1% for Asians and 37.6% for Blacks.
Norwoodâ€™s beauty salon was shuttered for almost six months during the pandemic. â€œI didnâ€™t have an emergency plan,â€� Norwood says in Spanish. Some clients died of COVID, and others simply have not returned to her salon. She decided to forgo a federal PPP loan and incurred credit card debt. She estimates her business has returned to 75% of its pre-pandemic performance.
â€œOne way or another, COVID will get you,â€� Norwood says about the mental fatigue her family has experienced. She says hypervigilance, anxiety and fear have crept in, replacing many of the happy feelings they had when they settled in Connecticut. The disease has taken an emotional toll on the family. They have been uninfected yet greatly affected by COVID.
Seeking Refuge From COVID
While taking a leisurely Sunday drive through Meriden in 2006, Norwood was attracted to the cityâ€™s quiet beauty and spirit. There were Black and brown people like her and Jeffrey. Spanish was spoken in bodegas. At the time, the couple was living and working in West Haven after having met in The Bronx. Norwood also liked that Meriden was far enough away from West Haven that she would not work in direct competition with her former beauty salon employer. So, she and Jeffrey, a physician at the West Haven VA Medical Center, moved to Meriden, and she opened Romyâ€™s Beauty Salon on West Main Street. They lived in the upstairs apartment. In 2007, they were married in Jamao al Norte, Norwoodâ€™s hometown in the fertile Cibao region of the Dominican Republic.
In Meriden, Norwood established a loyal clientele, and the couple started their family. Business was good. They became parishioners at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, where today Norwood serves as a eucharistic minister and a leader on the parish council. As Jennifer and Ramon grew up, the family began to vacation two or three times a yearâ€”the Bahamas, Mexico, Italy, Punta Cana. They went on cruises.
On March 21, 2020, the Norwoods flew to the Turks and Caicos Islands to seek refuge from the global pandemic. Looking over their shoulders on the flight from Bradley International Airport, they realized they were the only passengers on the plane, Norwood says. When they arrived at Providenciales, Norwood recalls, tourists were scrambling to leave the island. The last flight to the United States departed shortly after their arrival. They initially embraced the lockdown in their hotel room, thinking they would weather the hype and fly home to normalcy.
Then all flights were grounded in Turks and Caicos. A curfew was imposed. They were permitted outdoors for one hour a day. Groceries at the local supermarket were rationed. Food quickly became a scarce resource. Leftovers, Norwood says, became the dreaded meal of the day. They were stuck, marooned on a tropical island, and werenâ€™t even allowed to swim.
Then the hotel manager demanded $10,000 a week from Jeffrey Norwood to remain in their room beyond their original reservation. So, they found an online rental, bought linens and rid the house of cockroaches. It was a mess, Norwood says. They hunkered down.
Their only outside contact was Zeus, a scroungy, flea-infested watchdog.
At first, the family didnâ€™t have much to do with the spotted pit bull-dalmatian mix. They kept their distance. â€œCould he transmit the virus?â€� Norwood recalls thinking at the time, given the widespread uncertainty about COVID. Zeus was always hungry and thirsty. He scratched at their front door at night. Later they would learn he had been whipped with sticks and left outdoors during hurricanes.
Then one day, Zeus joined the family on a walk during their one hour outdoors. When he was grazed and injured by a passing vehicle and began yelping, recalls Norwood, they decided to allow him into the house to clean him up and help him heal. Thus began the process of adopting Zeus.
The Norwoods spent a month on the island before Jeffrey chartered a private jet from Miami to fly his family home to Connecticut on April 17, 2020. They submitted the paperwork for Zeus. A month later, Jeffrey drove to Miami, picked up Zeus and returned to Cheshire.
â€œI believe Zeus is an angel,â€� says Norwood, her eyes sparkling, as she recounts how the Turks and Caicos misadventure represents both the best and worst of their pandemic experiences. â€œGod sent him to care for and protect us,â€� she says. Today, she says, â€œZeus is king of the house. He has three beds, all the food he wants,â€� adding that he adores her mom.
â€˜Up To Here With COVIDâ€™
COVID has affected the Norwood family in myriad ways.
â€œWeâ€™re without life,â€� Norwood says in Spanish while taking a break between clients at her salon. No more family movie nights with popcorn, she says. No vacations. No romantic getaways. No games. No fun.
There have been a few weekend trips to New Hampshire, where they rent a house, but they take their food and sequester, Norwood says. The kids donâ€™t want to go back to New Hampshire, she says, because they arenâ€™t allowed to leave the house. â€œIâ€™m up to here with COVID,â€� says Norwood. â€œI donâ€™t want to hear anything else about COVID.â€�
She says her momâ€™s help at home and in the salon has been unconditional. After the debacle on Turks and Caicos, Norwood described how she would come home from the salon, strip down in a separate area and shower. Her momâ€™s Dominican cooking was always waiting for her. â€œMy mother is everything to me,â€� she says.
Her husband is fearful of getting COVID. Norwood says her husband doesnâ€™t talk about what he has experienced as a physician on the front lines. He still wears two masks and goggles or a shield, whether heâ€™s getting gas or going to a Mets game, Norwood says. In 2018, the couple relocated to Cheshire for its schools. When they returned to school, Jennifer and Ramon had fallen behind. Norwood says Jennifer has become less sociable and more of a homebody. She avoids crowds lest she be exposed to the virus. She has been bullied at school, where classmates have ridiculed her hair and body type. Her children have become anxious, Norwood says.
During the spike in infections last December, Norwood decided to keep Ramon home from school until the end of February, when he turned 12 and was eligible for the adult vaccine. She felt the higher dosage would be more protective and worth the wait. However, school officials hounded Norwood about Ramonâ€™s absence. She suspects online instruction is purposely inferior to persuade parents to return their children to school.
â€œTengo temor porque el COVID es impredecible,â€� Norwood says in Spanish. â€œIâ€™m fearful because COVID is unpredictable.â€� It may not affect you at all or it may send you to the hospital, she says. She fears for her children and her elderly mother. With all of her precautions, clients still sneeze while touching their hair, face and shoulders, she says. Many have later called to inform her that theyâ€™ve tested positive. Jeffrey prefers that she close the salon and not work, she says.
â€œI got the works,â€� says longtime customer Jeannette Solano, 53, of Meriden, about getting her hair washed, colored and beautified by Norwood on a recent Saturday afternoon. For Solano, the salon experience is a reprieve from the daily grind of the pandemic. â€œEstaba muy triste,â€� she says in Spanish, â€œI was very sadâ€� about Norwood salonâ€™s hiatus in 2020. Describing Norwood as friendly, humble and fun to be around, she says she stops in once a month. â€œRomy does it right,â€� she says, explaining how a hairdresser recently damaged her hair during a visit home to the Dominican Republic. Solano has received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, she says.
During an afternoon lull at the salon, the air conditioner quits. Norwood sits down and asks Sosa to wash her hair. A few minutes later, Norwoodâ€™s back on her feet. At the end of her 10-hour shift, the salon is quiet. Norwood sits beneath a hair dryer, elevates her bare feet and closes her eyes for 20 minutes. â€œI need this,â€� she says.
In July, Norwood, her children and her mother plan to vacation for three weeks in her â€œpueblo Dominicano,â€� Jamao al Norte. Jeffrey is not going, she says. â€œI miss my life before COVID. I miss the freedom. The river, the food, the people, the beach,â€� says Norwood during a break between clients. â€œI canâ€™t wait.â€�
Cover Photo: Jennifer Rodriguez, 27, of Meriden, gets a â€œkeratinaâ€� – which in Spanish means a straightening – by Romy Norwood. From left under hairdryer is Melissa Hernandez, of Middletown; Romyâ€™s mother Yolanda Sosa; Rodriguez; and Norwood.
Welcome to another episode of Connecticut Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and underrepresented communities face in the community.
This week we spoke with Nandini Natarajan, CEO of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), about the importance and status of affordable housing across the state.Â
The CHFA has been dedicated to alleviating the shortage of affordable housing for low to moderate-income households throughout Connecticut since 1969, working alongside the governor and the Department of Housing.
â€œWe believe that all low and moderate-income families and residents should have a range of choices where they can live affordably in safe quality housing and environmentally stable and economically healthy communities,â€� Natarajan said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized all the different roles our homes can have in everyday life, Natarajan explained. Peopleâ€™s homes have become part-time remote classrooms, workspaces, and clinics for the past two years.
â€œHome is not just four wallsâ€“itâ€™s more than four walls, itâ€™s more than a roof, itâ€™s more than an investment,â€� she said. â€œItâ€™s really our sanctuary, itâ€™s our refuge.â€�