The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates our dependence on digital technology and the need for equitable internet and computer access, especially in times of crisis.
As our world shifts to digital platforms, digital connectedness has become necessary for everyday tasks and responsibilities such as professional life, access to government services and resources, and schooling. Yet, across the state in 2019, 33% of immigrants and about 26% of the U.S.-born population did not have access to a computer or high-speed internet at home. This gap was wider among immigrants, as 48% of undocumented residents, 32% of lawful residents, and about 27% of naturalized citizens lacked access to a computer or high-speed internet at home. In 2020, The Greenlining Institute conducted a study assessing how Californians in Fresno and Oakland were impacted by the lack of access to internet. Their analysis included a 2020 heat map of high-speed internet accessibility in Oakland, revealing that quality high-speed internet was less available in low-income communities of color, primarily in census block groups that tend to be both low-income and have a high share of Black residents. Coupled with this analysis, the Greenlining Institute conducted interviews to capture the challenges that children and adults faced. One 16-year-old Asian American Fresno student shared with Greenlining: ‘“My mom pays $160/month for internet but she’s behind every month so we owe about $637. In the past, we have lost the internet twice [due to nonpayment] for a week or two. We usually don’t lose the internet for too long because my mom ends up borrowing money from someone because we need it. If we don’t have it we can’t do our work to catch up on classes and we can lose points for turning in assignments late.”’ In June 2021, community members, organizers, advocacy groups, and political stakeholders asserted that California had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the digital divide by adopting a statewide broadband infrastructure plan. By July 2021, California adopted that plan, designed to expand broadband infrastructure and access to affordable and quality internet, especially in underserved areas of the state. To read the Greenlining Institute’s full report and policy recommendations click here.
Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) is one key organization advocating for and supporting Indigenous migrant youth in California’s Central Coast.
Organizations like MICOP and others estimate that there are about 20,000 Indigenous migrants from Mexico living in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Work by scholars sheds light on the challenges and discrimination that Indigenous youth face—particularly in their studies, by peers, and in the school system, more broadly. One of these challenges is a lack of access to resources necessary for language acquisition and accessibility. Historically, many Indigenous migrants have been misrecognized as Latinx and believed to be Spanish speakers, when in reality many are not proficient in English and/or Spanish. This has contributed to a widespread lack of educational and language infrastructure even in areas with more concentrated Indigenous migrant populations. It is not uncommon then for Indigenous migrant youth to be tracked into special education classes, even when they may not have a disability, hindering their academic progression and participation in the U.S. school system. Further, communication between parents and schools can often depend on whether translation is available and this ultimately limits parents’ ability to advocate on behalf of their children. An article by Cal Matters shed light on similar issues that were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic when schools transitioned to remote learning.
For two Indigenous migrant youth featured in the article, and like many others, at the onset of the pandemic, they turned to working in the fields to assist their parents who experienced either job loss or contracted the virus. This challenge coupled with linguistic and digital divide barriers, impacted their education. The two sisters are members of the Tequio Youth Group, a program of MICOP, a grassroots organization based in Oxnard that is working to support, organize, and empower Indigenous migrants throughout the state’s Central Coast. This youth group focuses on leadership development to promote Indigenous pride; promotes educational attainment; and advocates against bullying. For example, in 2012, members of the youth group, advocated for the implementation of a policy prohibiting the use of derogatory terms used against Indigenous students in local school districts. Between 2014-2015, youth also partook in the “Fields to College” campaign, advocating for language resources for both students and their parents in the Oxnard Union High School District. In addition, the group established the Tequio Scholarship Fund to provide funding to Indigenous college students in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. In general, it is important to note that shared languages and culture are critical components of the organization that have allowed them to build trust with community members given that as of 2021, 85% of MICOP’s staff are from the Indigenous communities the organization intends to serve. To learn more about MICOP visit their site here. Read more about MICOP’s other efforts during the pandemic here.