By Kashvi, Communication Specialist Student Assistant
For Dr. Adán Ávalos, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is what’s going to keep his family and community coming home. The vaccine is essential; it’s not just about an individual, it’s about the community. His focus is on how to protect each other as we, as individuals may survive getting the virus but others may not.
“It’s what’s gonna keep us alive,” said Ávalos, assistant professor in the departments of Media, Communications and Journalism, and Art and Design.
That’s why when two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera approached him about his play, “Vacunate Prudencio” (“Please Get a Vaccine”) to engage the Latinx community and encourage them to get the vaccine, he jumped at the opportunity.
Ávalos was Herrera’s student at Fresno State, and they were both involved in Chicano theatre. Herrera was working on the play after receiving a grant to promote higher vaccination rates among Latinx populations. He invited Ávalos and other Fresno State alumni to collaborate.
“These artists…were my students 20-plus years ago at Fresno State. Talented and keen on the various verbal and vocal styles,” said Herrera.
In the play, a mother of a happy family has a dream about her husband dying from COVID-19. The husband, portrayed by Ávalos, is a machismo Latino who thinks he’s too strong to get sick and doesn’t believe in western medicine. During the rest of the play, his family pleads with him to put on the mask, keep a social distance and get the vaccine.
The piece, Herrera said, was originally recorded for the radio but it was later turned into a live-action Telenovela performance. In order to reach out to the Latinx populations, they performed at the swap meets, which Herrera said is a fantastic venue to socialize and spread the word to a bigger audience. The team performed under the shade of a tent near the entrances as families came into the market area.
“It was noon sweltering heat,” said Herrera. “The event felt ecstatic — to be in the heart of the community. The perfect place to perform a People’s Teatro play. It was done in Farmworker Teatro style of the late 60s.”
By bringing the theatre to the people, they were able to catch people’s attention and make them aware of the vaccine’s importance.
For Ávalos, this play is personal. His brother-in-law caught COVID-19 in December and was admitted to the hospital, where he remained until June and is still healing.
“[He] was in the hospital for six months with COVID, and he’s still trying to recover,” said Ávalos. “Channel 30 did a report on him because he was considered this miracle.”
Seeing his brother-in-law nearly die several times prompted him to be proactive.
“When you see it directly, you’re more likely to go and do it. When you don’t see it, when it’s not in your family, I think it’s easier to dismiss it,” Ávalos said.
Having the programs like the play and vaccine immediately available at the swap meets gave people the push to get vaccinated. Ávalos said the play resonated with the audience as they recognized the characters and that was the beauty of the piece. It was mainly about spreading the word and having fun.
The Latinx community has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, who have accounted for 53 percent of the cases in California, even though they make up 39 percent of the population. According to the Fresno County Health Department, 56 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose while just 42 percent of the Latinx population (Oct. 26, 2021) has been vaccinated. Ávalos says there is still a lot to be done.
Benjamin Kirk contributed to this story.