How the Latinx community built Con Confianza y En Comunidad

Written by Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno, with contributions from Mary Rabourn and Giselle Zapata-García.

Something special has been quietly occurring for 52 consecutive weeks over Zoom since the pandemic started: Con Confianza y En Comunidad (“With trust and in community”).

Since May 2020, a group of Spanish-speaking community members, doctors, parents, promotores (community health workers), faith-based leaders, lawyers, and other leaders in Spanish-speaking and Latinx communities, along with Public Health—Seattle & King County staff, have been gathering every week without fail to share critical COVID-19 information and resources in Spanish.

This is part of the county’s Latinx Community Response Team, created to close the equity gap in Latinx communities during the COVID-19 response.

Every Tuesday, Manuela “Manolita” Slye, a respected leader in the Latinx community, moderates a community forum that features COVID-19 updates from Matías Valenzuela (Equity Director at Public Health – Seattle & King County), and with topics selected and presented by the community.

More than 70 presenters from across the county have hosted a topic through Con Confianza y En Comunidad.

Not a single Tuesday night has been missed since the first meeting. Even holiday weeks did not slow down attendance, and community members asked that sessions continue over holiday breaks, like Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Rooted in community

Confianza (“trust” in Spanish) is one of the most important ways to get communities to unite and effectively respond to COVID-19, especially during an era of misinformation and disinformation.

For Spanish-speaking and Latinx communities in King County, COVID-19 has been devastating, leading to more deaths, hospitalizations, and hardships than the communities imagined.

When COVID-19 started spreading in King County, information about the virus and the disease was confusing, constantly changing, and predominantly in English. Penny Lara, a Transportation Planner with Metro, and Giselle Zapata-García, with Public Health – Seattle & King County, were supporting King County’s COVID-19 Latinx Community Response Team.

Lara and Zapata-García were hearing from the Spanish speaking community that critical information was not reaching their communities. Dr. Julián Pérez of SeaMar Community Health Centers was one of the original contributors to Con Confianza y En Comunidad, and remains a key source of information every week. Dr. Perez noted that “at the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials noted the high incidence of disease in the Spanish-speaking community, yet there was a lack of translated public health information coming out of the formal health care system and public health organizations.”

In response, Valenzuela, who also leads Public Health’s COVID-19 Community Mitigation & Recovery, organized a group of bilingual Public Health and King County staff, including Penny Lara, Giselle Zapata-García, and Mariel Torres-Mehdipour, to set up a community conversation with leaders in the Latinx community.

The group asked Manolita to be a moderator, given the trust she’s built in the community and provided compensation for her time. Lara and Zapata-García promised the meeting to be for community and by community, with Public Health’s role being staffing support and sharing COVID-19 updates that the community requested.

The Con Confianza team waving over Zoom.
The Con Confianza y En Comunidad team waving over Zoom. Pictured from left-to-right starting at the top: Megan Holmes, Penny Lara, Giselle Zapata-García, Lluvia Ellison-Morales, Ginna Hernandez, Mariel Torres-Mehdipour, Lily Alexander, Manuela Slye, and Matías Valenzuela.

Manolita accepted this position because of the value the meeting could provide. “I think it’s very important to bring reliable information to our communities given there is so much misinformation out there,” she said.

Manolita moderated a discussion about COVID-19 over Zoom with over 40 representatives of Spanish-speaking and Latinx-based community members.

After the first meeting, community attendees were providing suggestions for future topics and conversations. They were sharing masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment with others on the call who were seeking tangible support.

In the first meeting, it was clear that the format worked. Guests appreciated the updates about the pandemic, the special guests presenting on the topic, the sharing of community resources and tools, and the time to discuss what they were hearing.

Organically, the meetings continued occurring, and Lara, Zapata-García, along with other Public Health staff and call attendees, named the meetings: Con Confianza y En Comunidad: Hablando sobre COVID-19 y temas que nos afectan (“With trust and in community: Discussing COVID-19 and topics that affect us”).

A meeting you keep coming back to

“The fact that early in the pandemic, Public Health—Seattle and King County created a response team in Spanish to provide official information based on science greatly impacted our community,” said Mario Zavaleta, founder of Latino Northwest Communications.

Zavaleta is a regular attendee of the Con Confianza y En Comunidad calls. “As a media producer, for me is vital to be informed from reliable sources. Having access to first-hand information that experts provide every week during these forums, it’s a privilege that I really appreciate. That’s why I want to be part of the audience and/or participate every time I can.”

For Dr. Pérez, being present in these meetings and seeing members of the community continue to return gives him a sense that Con Confianza y En Comunidad cultivates renewed trust in the government. The organizers of Con Confianza y En Comunidad are “the trusted advocates in the Spanish-speaking community. Knowing one another is just as important to hearing the latest public health data from Dr. Matias,” he said.

Cecilia Martínez-Vásquez, a community services program coordinator for the City of Bellevue, is also a regular attendee. She believes the meetings have been a source of connection and networking with leaders in King County and centers the voice of communities. Con Confianza y En Comunidad has been a “grassroots movement to reach the community,” said Martínez-Vásquez. “It stays true to the concept of Con Confianza y En Comunidad!”

Since the first meeting, Manolita continues to moderate the calls. “I want to do anything I can to provide information and help others feel empowered to be well informed and make the best decisions for their families,” said Manolita. “I also want to show my community that we can speak up, ask questions and get answers that can have a positive impact in their lives and those of their children.”

The future of Con Confianza y En Comunidad

The Latinx Community Response Team and community leaders behind Con Confianza y En Comunidad hope that an iteration of this forum continues beyond the pandemic, to serve as a place where diverse Spanish-speaking and Latinx communities share critical information that support the public’s health.

Lara believes in the power that these kinds of forums have over the long-term. She continues to be a part of these meetings, even after returning to her original position at Metro, because of the commitment she has, “not only as a public servant but also as a member of these communities.”

Con Confianza is something beautiful,” said Torres-Mehdipour, who currently serves as King County’s Equity Officer for COVID-19. Torres-Mehdipour sees opportunities for future meetings to expand on equitable access to information and help reach other Latinx communities that are marginalized, like providing information for indigenous communities from Latin America.

“During these challenging and uncertain times, it is imperative to establish connections with all communities, but especially communities who historically the system has failed to serve. Right now, immigrant communities are facing so many additional uncertainties, so it is our duty to eliminate language barriers and provide crucial information in culturally relevant and accessible ways.

In the long run, this investment can save lives and will result in a thriving and healthier community.”

 – Penny Lara and Giselle Zapata-García, Co-Leads of the Latinx Community Response Team.

Originally published May 18, 2021.