It’s a no-brainer that the pandemic has turned regular life upside down for everyone. Many are working from home, students are attending school online, restaurants are open only for takeout, and the streets are eerily quiet as everyone has been sheltering in place. But recently I had to ask myself, “How has the pandemic affected me?” Sure, all my schoolwork has been on the computer, I can’t see my friends, and I only leave my house to go to the store or for the occasional walk, but fundamentally, nothing has really changed for me. My family has been lucky enough to be a part of the small percentage of Americans who can safely work from home while still earning the same income. I still have a roof over my head, food on my plate at every meal, and a warm bed to sleep in at night. Unfortunately, many Americans have not had the same pandemic experience as me.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of late March, 29 percent of white Americans said someone in their household had lost their job or work-related income because of the pandemic. However, 36 percent of black Americans and 49 percent of Hispanic Americans said the same. In addition, results taken from a survey conducted by the University of Chicago showed that low-income households were the most concerned about jobs, income stability, and health care coverage. One key finding from the household impact survey states that "More than half of low-income respondents reported being worried about losing their job, compared to less than 20% of higher-income Americans.” These alarming statistics have made one thing clear: the pandemic is disproportionately affecting racial minorities and low-income individuals and families.
In the upcoming months, and maybe even years, there will really be two pandemics in America. The first will seem frightening to its victims, but thanks to their existing advantages and privileges, they will likely emerge from it physically, mentally, and financially stable. But the other pandemic will devastate those who have endured it, leaving lasting scars and changing life as they know it. Which of these two pandemics any given American will experience will be determined by a mix of race and class—influenced strongly by inequality—and random chance.
As the pandemic has furthered the already existing disparities in America, it’s important to take the time to reflect on one’s own pandemic experience. If you find that your experience is likely to be similar to the first pandemic listed, like me, maybe the more important question to ask yourself is not how the pandemic affected you, but how you can use your privileges to help those who are in need.
Ever since I was young, I have noticed that the Bay Area was steeped with people from various ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. I was surrounded with peers who lived in a different environment than I, who often had to face difficult challenges. Although I did hear about the digital divide, I did not realize how large in magnitude the issue was until I started to teach piano to underprivileged kids in the Bay Area. I joined Little Mozart, a program that my piano teacher initiated in which all of her graduated piano students would have the chance to teach kids who did not have the expenses to pay for piano lessons. This program provides free lessons and pianos, allowing kids a chance to learn more about music without the fear of money getting in the way. As I delved further into teaching piano, I discovered more of the difficulties my students had to face on a daily basis. Some of them came in late due to their parents’ work, and most could not understand English well. Through teaching piano, I realized how socioeconomic status reduces the opportunities for kids to learn and to grow to their full potential. It stood out to me that our community should provide more to help these children.
COVID-19 changes our lives tremendously and sets a new normal. Recognizing I could do more for our community, I co-founded a not for profit organization called LiveWell Care Packages. We provide free care packages for those in need during this difficult time, especially to low-income families. Through learning about how much these families enjoyed our care packages, it has led me to want to help underprivileged kids in a greater capacity, which guided me to BridgingTech. Working as a Bridging Tech High School Ambassador has given me the opportunity to supply children with tech devices during this pandemic. Being able to promote equitable learning for disadvantaged children in the Bay Area by improving tech access is a major step to bridging the digital divide in America. I am proud to be part of a major initiative to ensure that all students have the resources to engage in online learning.
Growing up in San Jose, I was surrounded by the most diverse set of peers - all shaped by different experiences as well as varying socioeconomic and racial identities. I saw my privileged friends agonizing over what shoes they’d buy at the mall later, but I also witnessed some of my classmates deal with familial and financial hardships that seemed alien to me. This divide in my classmates and friends helped me realize that I was at the center of an acute economic and digital divide.
Events such as the recent pandemic and social justice movements have only emphasized the injustices and inequities in our current world. They have exposed the digital divide - the gap between people who have constant access to devices and a remote Internet connection and the people who don’t. This gap is often defined by varying social classes as well as racial and cultural identity.
Attending school in the Bay Area has put me in a unique position where I’ve been able to observe how cutting edge technology has greatly improved life, but disadvantaged others who don’t have the financial means to afford these devices. It’s also helped me realize that we have both the financial and material means to close this divide that prevents some from receiving an equal and fair chance at an education. Bridging this gap will break cycles of poverty, often connected to racial or religious backgrounds, and help provide all with the opportunity to learn.
Bridging Tech takes a direct approach at closing this gap, by using donations to provide children in homeless shelters with suitable learning devices - especially helpful as most learning has recently moved online. Every day, the inequity caused by the digital divide deepens, and we must work to close this gap and supply all with their fundamental right to an education.