By Gaige Davila
We’re wandering in a well-lit room. We being any of us taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. In that well-lit room, there’s an elephant we can see clearly, the gravity of the contemporary world’s first global cataclysm, screaming as we go from the rooms’ four corners: shopping at H-E-B in ill-fitting masks, binge-watching Tiger King, walking outside and tracking everything COVID-19, then repeat ad nauseum.
That is the best I can describe being under a shelter-in-place order, unable to answer when, or if, culture and society will return to “normal.” Few times has this area collectively double-thought their way through the day, perpetually anxious and calm, pretending we never had the option to eat inside restaurants, cut our hair, lift weights, get tattoos or sit on the beach while thinking about nothing but doing all of those things.
Four weeks ago, when we could do any of that, seems beyond any measure of cognitive time. This lapse of reason is no longer momentary. That being said, I hope that some facets of that “normal” don’t return.
What I mean is, we now know too much, collectively, to return to the “normal” that has carried the weight of every “that’s just the way it is” ever uttered. We know now, collectively, that we laborers and consumers are powerful. We are especially powerful in communities reliant on hospitality industries, such as South Padre Island, Port Isabel and Laguna Vista, and beyond to Brownsville, San Benito and Harlingen, where school districts, production and retail reign.
That’s gone now, where many in Cameron County, now unemployed, don’t know if their “normal,” an already strained ability to survive, will return. I hope that “normal” doesn’t return.
Oppressive debts like student loans, exorbitant rents, health care, registration fees de anything, can be eliminated or, at a minimum, be decreased considerably, we now know. This can and should continue after the rebuilding of our world and collective healing of this global trauma, a trauma further agitated by a presidential administration that seeks only to pacify.
So I testify, that this collective strain that may be this community’s first universal exile, could have been prevented entirely, by empathy alone, if China’s president, Xi Jinping, or the United States’, Donald Trump, had any. As reported by the Washington Post, both are responsible for a late response to preventing COVID-19’s spread and a failure to mitigate its damage once it did. Never forget that thousands of deaths (or hundreds of thousands) could have been prevented, had they acted early, and if our healthcare industry didn’t rely on profit over its essential function to save lives.
There are still people in this community, county, state, nation, whatever, that are more concerned with the legalities of the restrictions placed upon us rather than the risks associated with not following them.
The Laguna Madre area may be as escapist as a place can get. People raised here, like myself, those who visit and those who moved here, understand that. I believe this is why it’s so hard for me and many here to accept what’s happening, even as our mobility is capped, our socializing limited and our health, mental and physical, compromised.
But most of us understand the need to comply, for the greater good, to survive past this aberrant period, knowing that optimism for a post-pandemic future that works for us is the only option. To concede otherwise is to admit there is no reason for anything at all.
For those who don’t understand, and will scale this hill decrying their individual liberties being infringed, may find comfort in figuratively dying on it, but literally doing so is not worth it. Shift your thinking towards the collective, and hold those who got us here accountable, by any means necessary.