To say that 2020 was an overwhelming year is an understatement. 2020 touched us all, rich and poor, people of color and white people, and West Coast to East Coast. No country went untouched by the pandemic and its economic impacts. We all have a 2020 story to share.
Though the pandemic surpassed borders and class, its effects have lasted longer for some compared to others. For the uninsured and underinsured, the underemployed and unemployed, health care and essential workers, among others, the pandemic has created deep wounds.
This year has shown us how interrelated our inequities are in society. We saw how the pandemic devastated communities of color because of high risk factors related to general employment industries, crowded housing conditions, lack of appropriate access to health care, lack of child care, and more.
We also saw the unjust burden that health care workers were forced to carry with limited personal protective equipment, limited staff and technology. All this while political leaders refused to provide a consistent plan of action for relief and certain faith leaders offered controversial opinions on the role of the church during such a time.
I've been asking myself, Why is it so hard for us to understand the concept of solidarity and creating a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable? Why do people believe in conspiracy theories more than experts and public servants who have dedicated their lives to serving us?
For nearly a decade, I've worked as an advocate of vulnerable communities along with other nonprofits, government entities and health care providers. In my experience, we are most successful when we work together, not against one another.
Even if we may have fundamental disagreements, say on a topic like immigration, we still must have a dialogue and find a solution we can agree on. We use facts, research and people's experiences to make our recommendations.
Solutions don't come overnight, and the process can be cumbersome and frustrating. Even then, we choose to continue the dialogue. We come back to the table.
However, is it just me, or does it seem like people just quit on one another when it came time to discuss the pandemic? I often heard phrases like, "Do what's best for you." Yet, this method doesn't work for a crisis. It doesn't bring solutions to the table. It brings confusion.
I wish I could say I had a plan or a solution to share. I don't. I only have my reflections as I work to bring this year to an end.
Perhaps because we have so much in the U.S., we struggle to understand the concept of solidarity with those who have less. Perhaps because we live in an age of relativism, where everyone is right in their own way, we struggle to understand when things are truly wrong and unjust.
In the end, you may agree 2020 was a dark year, but it wasn't pitch black. There were glimpses of light shining through.
I witnessed so much hope. I saw hope in the doctors, nurses and health care staff who opened their doors to all who needed them. I saw hope in the immigrant farmers working through clouds of smoke to make sure we had fresh fruit and vegetables on our tables. I saw hope in grocery store workers who put themselves at risk so that we could have food and other necessities at home.
I saw courage in the marchers who risked it all so that Black voices would finally be heard. I saw strength in the immigration advocates and attorneys who worked to reunite separated families. I saw life in all those who chose selflessness this year.
As I think about this Christmas season, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude to all who lived through 2020 with great bravery and humility. I once read that love is a balm for our suffering. May we all choose to be love for others.
Mother Mary, cover us with your mantle and bring us healing in 2021.
(Edith Avila Olea works in immigrant advocacy. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master's degree in public policy and a bachelor's degree in organizational communication.)