Our tools to combat a virus that has spread worldwide are simple. We’ve been told to wash our hands, don’t touch our faces and practice “social isolation.”
This last one seems easy but it can be difficult to achieve, specially if you come from a culture that demands hugs or kisses as part of greetings. And when that contact is not provided, it may be taken as a sign of disrespect.
This week Jennifer Jacobus, the sister of Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz, turned 40. She’s a Latina. The question was: should this milestone be celebrated or not?
Several considerations were on the table: at the time, on Sunday March 15, the recommendation was to avoid gatherings of 250 people or more. There was no way 250 were to attend. Plus, Jacobus has been battling an illness since 2016, so making it to the age of 40 was worthy of a celebration.
Family and some friends attended. But, to kiss or not to kiss among Latinos is a heart-wrenching decision.
University of Texas anthropologist Richard Flores says culture may weigh heavily on us – but it is “not an iron cage.” When the decision to be made is between keeping a group healthy, or honoring our cultural norms, culture “[is] not something we inhabit and therefore there is very little latitude in how we sync back.”
According to Flores, social isolation is an achievable goal. But it is harder when you live in a multigenerational household, like Yuri Ramírez. She is married with three young children. And her mother lives with the family – her mother has a disability.
“My mother is deaf,” says Ramírez, “so, there is no way that we can isolate ourselves from her.”
Her mom is at higher risk to be severely affected by COVID-19 because she is elderly, overweight and has asthma.
But, if grandma gets sick, Ramírez says there’s no way she can be left alone.
We have to be able to see her so she can sign to us and we can understand what she’s telling us,” she says.
The North Austin Muslim Community Center is a congregation lead by Imam Islam Mossaad. Just like the rest of Texas, this faith community is multicultural and multigenerational. People from about 60 different nations attend the congregation, and they’re from many touchy, feely cultures. That’s why Imam Mossaad cancelled their main service on Fridays as a way to encourage social isolation.