Proud veteran and Mexican-American organizer Chris Ascencio told me all the talk in his barber shop is regarding the Flint water crisis. Ascencio owns a barbershop on the East Side of town. The barbershop’s zip code of 48506 is known as the Latino neighborhood of Flint. In fact, the 2014 American Community Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, released data that Flint is close to 3.7 percent Latino, but this particular zip code is 6.3 percent Latino.
The FlintWaterStudy Team at Virginia Tech released data of Flint residents who were tested for blood lead levels. According to this first draw sampling for residents across the city, the average lead levels for 10.646. The average lead level for residents of this particular neighborhood was 12.173. Anything over five is considered the trigger for health intervention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In zip code 48503, 4.03 percent of the population is Latino — which is higher than the 3.7 percent average for the city. This neighborhood with higher Latino population had an average level of 10.956 for their blood lead level as according to the Flint team from Virginia Tech.
While the news has noted repeatedly that the two zip codes of 48503 and 48504 were at increased risk for lead exposure, the heavier Latino neighborhood of 48506 has not received the same level of coverage.
During the Flint water crisis, the state and city have neglected and were desensitized to the particular concerns of Latinos. When news reports started to emerge that Spanish-speaking Latinos were the last to know about the water crisis, I was making phone calls to fire stations, help hotlines, libraries and city hall to ask about translation services for Spanish-speaking families. Workers remorsefully stated to me that the city does not have Spanish-speaking services available.
One worker even said to me, “Flint is very poor. We don’t have money for such resources.” In fact, I was even told that I might have to do the translation on the phone to assist people. I have tried to make calls to nonprofits that help with language, but none were available to pick up my phone calls.
Ascencio even told me that their kids do the translation work. Imagine being a six-year-old Flint resident with a Spanish-speaking parent. The child would have to translate between their parent and a health worker that the child himself may have brain and cognitive problems due to the lead levels. While the average age of a resident of Flint is 34 years old, the average age for a Latino in Flint is 28. Nearly eight percent of the total population of Flint is under five years old, but 12.8 percent of the Latino population of Flint is under five. Skewed younger as a population, the Latinos are especially at risk for lead exposure.
When I asked about the need for documentation, workers told me that nobody should require paperwork like IDs to get blood tested or to retrieve water bottles. When Vmilitant of Instagram released a video of a fire station that required IDs, what was stated to me on the phone did not match what was being released on images through social media. (An official Michigan government release did say that no IDs were required.)
While many businesses are struggling to stay open as Flint’s population shrinks and moves to find jobs elsewhere, Ascencio stated that his business is busy with his Latino clientele. While Michigan is the only state in the nation that lost population between 2000 and 2010 Census, the 30 percent increase in Latinos across Michigan kept the state’s population from declining even more.
Latinos are essential to the current and future economic vitality of Flint and many other towns across the Rustbelt. When I asked Ascencio about the Latinos of Flint and their on-the-ground reaction to the water crisis, he stated to me, “Michigan really don’t care about Flint. They care about Flint’s Latinos even less.”
You can follow Christina Saenz-Alcántara on Twitter @ctsaenz.