Indigenous communities in LA have experienced a lack of support during the COVID-19 crisis. CIELO has made a concerted effort to address the problem, creating and distributing materials in dozens of Indigenous languages.
Comunidades Indígenas en liderazgo (CIELO), an Indigenous women-led non-profit organization that works jointly with Indigenous communities residing in Los Angeles, featured in Vogue recently for its outreach work during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Co-founded by Zapotec grassroots organizers and cultural workers Janet Martinez and Odilia Romero, CIELO advocates for the basic human rights of Indigenous workers and families.
Recognizing the lack of supportive spaces created for indigenous women around LA, Martinez and Romero decided to form CIELO, as well as the National Indigenous Interpreters Conference (NIIC), the only one held in the US offering a space for Indigenous language preservation.
“When we come here not speaking English or Spanish, not knowing the system, and we end up at a hospital or court of law, we’re given a Spanish-English interpreter,” said co-founder Odilia Romero. “However, those interpreters are usually not aware of our language diversity—there are 68 different languages spoken in Mexico alone.”
Since COVID-19, CIELO has had to redouble its efforts to get sufficient information to Indigenous communities around the Los Angeles area, including creating a video series with several Indigenous language translations to contextualize the virus.
“We felt it was important to develop this message in video and audio formats because a lot of the people who speak these languages transmit them orally,” said Martinez. “When we develop the materials, we’re trying to be really mindful that access to education is really limited. Not everyone can read or understand in full the English- or Spanish-language flyers or infomercials the government is distributing. That’s why we’re creating videos.”
Through fundraising and grants, CIELO has been able to allocate over $750,000 to over 500 Indigenous families in Los Angeles, including a $200,000 grant from California Immigrant Resilience Fund. Noting the large presence of Indigenous workers in the hospitality industry, both women expressed how crucial a role these funds have played in keeping many families afloat during the industry’s downturn. Still, these funds represent the only financial aid for many of these families.
“Undocumented people are not exempt from paying taxes if they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and they have it registered with their employer, which many do,” said Martinez. “They still have to pay the same taxes that all of us pay, except they don’t receive the same benefits. They don’t have access to Social Security, unemployment, or the recent stimulus check.”