I grew up in New Haven in the 1970’s having friendships with children of immigrants from Europe, South America, as well as from Puerto Rico, and a best friend whose parents were Black from the U.S. South. We all had parents working long hours to make ends meet. Winters were cold with unreliable old oil furnaces. I was an undocumented Guatemalan child. As with many immigrant families, I had a mom who cared for us five children and a dad with two jobs.
My Black father, Frank, was a social justice activist and a singer whom the Guatemalan government attempted to kill because of a textbook that he published. The textbook made education accessible for indigenous children by offering a curriculum in three subjects, in one affordable textbook. For over 30 years, indigenous and their school teachers were murdered by the Guatemalan government. The government represented the interests of U.S. corporations and domestic elites.
My father managed to save us by moving to Connecticut, with the help of my African-American uncles. My father then became director for many years at Junta for Progressive Action, the oldest Latinx-serving nonprofit in Connecticut.
I followed in my father’s footsteps. I worked directly for racial justice, leading and supporting policy advocacy, organizing, and economic justice strategies for 32 years nationally, and in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The wealth disparity has only continued to grow in Connecticut and nationally. More and more people struggle to make ends meet, and their well-being is stolen.
This requires the exact need for the work at Universal Health Care Foundation to be co-conspirators for justice as an antiracist foundation. I have witnessed for decades what like-hearted folks, much like Universal’s Building Power Partners and co-conspirators, can accomplish together to strengthen human rights.
We believe the people most impacted are the closest to knowing the solutions. Co-conspirators take calculated risks, willingly step into discomfort, and center on achieving social justice; while being led by the folks who are directly impacted. Since joining six months ago as president of Universal, I have felt the pain and hope of the times that we are in.
Connecticut’s legislative bodies failed in 2023 to address the needs of thousands of adults (including those caring for the elderly and children) who lack health insurance, a livable wage, and access to safe and affordable housing in Connecticut. Can we trust that Connecticut will address the serious gaps in the equitable distribution of resources that would save lives in the upcoming 2024 legislative session?
I have seen since childhood how hard families work in Connecticut. The wealthiest 5% of households currently have average incomes 14.1 times larger than the lowest 20% of income households and 4.9 times as large as the average middle-income households, according to CT by the Numbers. It is inconceivable that the wealthiest 5% of the population are working between five and 14 times more to earn as much.
Connecticut is one of the top in the country with the largest wealth disparity, and Fairfield County has the worst in the nation (according to Data Haven’s 2023 report). Under the current conditions, the global colonial pandemic continues to be anchored by racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. The work to undo this will take at least 400 years.
The song and video “La Voce Toa” from Salento, Italy is on my mind as I think about this. The video features a trance-like ancient dance with drums called pizzica, considered rebellious by the ancient Romans for uniting across classes and without considering gender. The vocals, by Piers Faccini, “If there is a hardness in the heart, it must be broken. If there are words inside untold, they must be spoken. La voce toa nu l’hai timire. La voce toa falla sentire.”
Connecticut has amassed a $2.9 billion surplus as of June 30, 2023 during the worst pandemic of our time. The song and pizzica dance “La Voce Toa” continues with “If there are voices silenced in the darkness, louder they’ll shout. The crowds will take the streets, their anger must be let out.” This is the time to take a stand for a more just and harmonious Connecticut. “La voce toa nu l’hai timore. La voce toa falla sentire. (Do not fear the voice. The voice, make it heard.)”
Caprice Taylor Mendez is President of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.