Public Health, Pandemic & Protest Narrative Battles

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

We are in a public health narrative imagination battle. We are winning on the narrative of reframing racism as a public health crisis. But we are losing the COVID mask-wearing and social distancing battle. We should have a narrative based on science, with a "let's all do our part to protect us all" attitude. Instead, the winning narrative is, "wearing a mask strips away freedom."

So what is a narrative? 

A narrative is a common way of understanding or seeing something. Every narrative is made up of stories. When you have enough stories reiterating the same message, it becomes a narrative. 

But the narrative is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the narrative is social movements, think-tanks, media machines—researching, dissecting, and generating narratives. 

Narratives are power.

Narratives shape culture, decisions, policies, and actions. 

For example, we moved from a dominant narrative in the 90s of "tough on crime" to now "defund the police."

This invisible narrative shift was being shaped by activists, researchers, artists, and protestors—the Black Lives Matter Movement, Michelle Alexander's New Jim Crow, Ava DuVernay's films, Ta-Nehisi Coates writing, and many more. 

Six years ago, when I first started participating in BLM protests in Oakland, it was mostly young folks and people of color. When working on SPARCC four years ago, my team had to work hard to make "racial equity" platable to our organizations and funders.

Today vocalizing support for ending anti-black racism is the default. We still have a long way to go, but the narrative has shifted—with that, so will policies and people's actions. At the Public Health Alliance of Southern California, we help health departments embed racial equity. Our job got easier when San Bernardino County declared racism a public health crisis, and San Diego created an Office of Equity this past week.

While celebrating these wins, we've also felt defeated on the COVID response. The Orange County Health Officer resigned after death threats and protests at her home. Her crime?—requiring a face-covering. Her replacement immediately overturned the order. When California declared a statewide mask order, it was too late. Cases are surging. It's not accidental that the counties leading the growth in California are all conservative counties, which pushed fast for reopening and resisted mask-wearing—Orange, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino County.

The question I'm trying to unpack right now is: what led up to this moment where the anti-racism narrative is winning, but the mask-wearing narrative is losing? 

I spent the past week researching this topic, and it's turning into a Ph.D. dissertation. I've been looking into decades of social movements, Supreme Court cases, decades of right-wing think-tank production, and left-wing media funding mechanisms. I have no conclusions. I just have more questions. 

If anyone wants to send any relevant resources or have a discussion on this topic, I'd love to dive deeper. 

Pandemic Pregnancy & Public Health PR

I time travel to find peace.

When I’m stressed about the state of the world, I hold my great-great-grandma Catarina’s rosary and think about her being born in 1882 on a Native American reservation before she had a right to vote. She lived through the Spanish Flu and Great Depression, won a court battle to own property on the white side of town before segregation was illegal, and lived to see the Civil Rights Movement. 

I travel to the future and think about how my unborn child will be 80 years old in 2100 and what world I want to create for them. Pregnancy has made me more optimistic about humanity because my DNA will carry on my unfinished business. Just like I’m still fighting the battles of segregation that my great-great-grandma Catarina fought. 

Time-traveling allows me to see my lineage and history on a scale that makes me and my problems feel small. 

I am applying my 2020 theme of radical imagination and radical hope to this pandemic. Instead of the news, I’m turning to Sci-Fi writer Octavia Butler for inspiration and lessons on hope, resiliency, and reimagining a new world where nobody is left behind. 

Butler is the mother of Afrofuturism, a niche of Sci-Fi like Black Panther, where black people are the heroes. There is so much to learn from Octavia Butler, where her characters are navigating slavery, pandemics, and post-climate apocalyptic life. 

Her characters never give up hope. They don’t resist change but are adaptable and pragmatic. They embrace diversity and find creative solutions to global problems. They cultivate decentralized leadership, where no one person is the hero. 

These lessons directly apply to how we approach COVID. I explore these themes in my latest blog post God is Change: Octavia Butler on Post-Apocalyptic Life.

Public Health PR

In other news, I recently moved back to Southern California and started a new job as the Equity Impact Storyteller for the Public Health Alliance of Southern California. This organization is a coalition that advocates on behalf of the local public health departments. 

After a year of soul searching and exploration, I discovered that I need a job focused on creation, where I can make my art. I’m responsible for developing the communications infrastructure for the organization and communicating the complexities of public health to a variety of audiences. 

As you can imagine, the public health field has some significant PR challenges right now. There is a delicate art between factual information and motivating storytelling, without inciting fear. There is also a balance between promoting the public good and personal freedom. It’s a fascinating challenge that I’ll be sharing more about during this journey.

I’d love to hear how you are navigating these times. Please respond with what is bringing you hope and making you feel resilient.

Stay Tuned,


P.S. I recently was on the podcast Latinos Who Tech. I discuss my identity struggles being a 3rd generation Latina and moving to Mexico. I also share pretty openly about how my husband and I have learned to communicate effectively to run a business together and quarantine together.

My community is literally on fire

You won't hear this on the news, so I'm sharing. Toxic chemicals are filling the air in my hometown right now after the Marathon Oil Refinery on the border of Carson & Wilmington, CA, exploded, leading to a 2-day fire.

Although you have most likely never been to Wilmington, I want you to imagine what it's like growing up hearing refinery explosions, having sports practice canceled because the air quality is too bad, and missing school because of asthma. That's what 60,000 people in my hometown experience regularly, where 99% of people are Latinx & the rate of childhood asthma is double the national average.

No matter what industry you are in, I want you to care about this.

I want you to care about the fact that our reliance on oil and plastic means the oil industry can continue to evade California's environmental regulations. I can’t blame the industry for doing its job to meet our demand for oil. And I can’t blame us for relying on cars when getting around SoCal without a car is extremely challenging.

I want you to care about the fact that Marathon refinery became the largest refinery on the West Coast coast after the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), our air quality regulator, conducted a flawed environmental impact report. The AQMD became more industry-friendly after a Republican takeover of its board in 2016.

I want you to care about the terrible typical media reporting on this incident that completely lacked any conversation of environmental justice or the social and political context that allowed this fire to be.

I want you to care about our city planning and housing system that keeps low-income brown folks segregated to polluted communities without many options for leaving and keeps us reliant on cars.

I can't do anything about the oil refinery fire, but I'm committed to passing policies & making infrastructure investments that make it easier for us to get to jobs and live without reliance on oil. I'm committed to people in low-income communities of color, having more opportunities to live in healthy neighborhoods. I'm committed to having government regulators and politicians who protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations, rather than catering to industry lobbyists.

Before you vote in the upcoming primaries, I urge you to research your local representatives and ballot initiatives. Those votes are the most critical and where you can have the most impact.

Manifesting 2020: Radical Imagination & Hope

Hello from Singapore!

I spent a month in the Philippines connecting with my husband’s massive extended family, and now I’m traveling between Singapore and Malaysia.

2020 is passing rapidly.

Every January, I conduct a thorough Annual Review. I synthesize everything I did, didn’t do, learned, and am grateful for in the prior year and then create my vision and goals for the new year. You can follow along my Annual Review process in this video. I even analyzed my 2019 reading in this blog post on my favorite books of the year.

I’m always shocked when I reflect back and see how powerful this ritual is for generating insights and manifesting my goals.

I had two significant insights. The first is that I’m an artist. I embody it in every form and bring it into every aspect of my life and work. My theme for 2020 is radical imagination and hope. In these trying times, having hope is a radical act of resistance. It’s going to take a creative spirit to reimagine what is possible for our country, the human race, and the survival of earth. I’m channeling my artistic spirit into generating possibilities rather than sulking in the doomsday future our media is continually projecting.

The second insight is that mentorship and collaboration have been missing in my work lately. I miss having others around who teach me and push me to grow. This year, I’m intentionally putting myself outside of my comfort zone to reach out to people, network, and build partnerships.

What are you creating for 2020? I would love to hear from you!

I've arrived

Advent [ad-vent]:

(noun) a coming into place, view, or being; the arrival

My theme for 2019 was Advent: my year of arriving or coming into being. Most of my life, I've been focused on the next thing I need to do or achieve. This year, I decided, I'm here. I'm where I need to be. There is nothing I need to prove or achieve.

Dropping my job title and career labels allowed me the freedom to explore and be who I am.

What I am is an artist.

I spent the year dancing ballet and contemporary almost daily and learning to oil paint. I also wrote and performed in a Mexican play and sang with a 14-person mariachi band.

My first ever oil painting

What I am is a teacher, mentor, and counselor.

My superpower for teaching emerged out of my Fulbright course. I set unreasonable expectations for my students and smother them with encouragement until they discover what they are truly capable of.

Since the course ended, I started a YouTube channel focused on helping college students and recent grads figure out their life path, creating content on applying to grad school, jobs, etc. I also became a mentor for the Clinton Global Initiative University Program. I created part of their online curriculum for over 600 student leaders across the globe.

What I am is a content creator.

I created two websites, managed two blogs, wrote 21 blog posts, produced 13 videos, and grew 3 newsletters. My content reached almost 14,000 people. I published this blog post on what I learned from my year of content creating, which blew up on Twitter.

What I am is a productivity nerd.

I led our Forte Labs consulting projects, facilitating, and coaching. I've leveraged my nonprofit and community development work into expanding our impact with mission-driven and community-serving organizations. I recently kicked off this blog series on productivity for nonprofits.

What I am is fluid.

What I am is continuously evolving and adapting. I struggled not identifying myself as a community development nonprofit person. All year, I couldn't answer the question, "What do you do?". I've been going through a grieving process letting go of the career I spent 10 years developing. I have growing pains and crying fits as I uncomfortably develop into this new phase of life.

I'm ready for what 2020 will bring.

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