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LA Times' Columnist On Convincing Latino Father To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to talk a bit more now about why some people are still hesitant to get the COVID vaccine. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that the percentage of U.S. adults who are willing to get vaccinated is going up. And that's true across demographic groups. But the poll also shows that there is still significant skepticism among Black and Hispanic adults.

And this scenario will likely be familiar to many people. A lot of those skeptics might be your parents. Gustavo Arellano has lived this. He is an author and columnist with the Los Angeles Times. And this week, he wrote about his father, doubtful Lorenzo, as he calls him, about convincing him to finally get the coronavirus vaccine. And Gustavo Arellano is with us now to tell us more.

Welcome back, Gustavo. Thanks for joining us.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Hola, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, I do hope everybody in the family is doing well.

ARELLANO: We're trying. I mean, the most important thing is that my dad got the vaccine because us four kids, us Arellano kids - we took it serious right from the start. My dad (laughter) - you know, my dad, God bless his soul - he was the one who did it.

MARTIN: Well, tell us about that. Like, tell us a bit more about his attitude toward COVID and the vaccines. And I do want to say that you use a term which we're not going to use here because we'd have to bleep it.

ARELLANO: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But let me just say, you call it, like, the Mexican version of COVIDiots (ph). But he kind of had this attitude. What was it?

ARELLANO: Oh, gosh. What attitude didn't he have? At first, he said there was no such thing as coronavirus. And then he said that it was a conspiracy. Then he actually said, we all have coronavirus, so it's too late now, so why even bother wearing a mask? Then when it came to the vaccine, he said, no, there's going to be a chip in there. The radio told me that if you take a coronavirus vaccine, you're going to die.

His compadre - his - you know, his buddies are telling him that, no, it's going to have these horrible side effects. So every possible excuse that you have seen by far - you know, far worse people, he used it.

MARTIN: Well, you know, you also said that part of it was that he had a preexisting condition called toxic masculinity.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And you said that, you know, he's a stubborn country macho who sees the world and all of its maladies as something to dominate. And so tell me more about that. Like, why do you think that played a role here?

ARELLANO: Well, we know that whether you're from a small village in Mexico or from Appalachia, when you're a rural folk, you really think that the world is to dominate, and you're the tough kind. And that's another thing that my dad said, by the way - that he has strong blood. So when you have strong blood, you don't need vaccines at all. Of course, when it comes to Mexican society, we diagnose that as machismo.

And so machismo in my dad's case was - you know, it was already part of him. It's very much a bad part of him. And we just sort of dealt with it our entire lives. But now we're in this moment of crisis. It's like it came at the worst possible time for this to flare up on him. So sadly, part of machismo is also that you only listen to men, and in a family, you only listen to the oldest son. And so it was my job as the oldest son to talk some sense into him.

MARTIN: So how did you finally get him to go? In fact, you wrote in your piece that he was still, like, making excuses up to, like, the very minute that you showed up to take him to get the shot. How did you finally get him out the door?

ARELLANO: Oh, he had no choice. My sister made the - thank God she was able to make a - book an appointment within half an hour of her trying. Then she told my dad, we're going to take - Gustavo's going to take you to go get the vaccine. My dad, I think, was shocked that it was even going to happen, so he said, OK.

I show up Saturday morning and he starts again. No, I don't need to go because, you know, I have a positive outlook on life, and people who have a positive outlook on life - they survive. So I'm making my quesadilla. I'm, like, OK. OK. OK. I finally get it toasted perfectly. I start pouring on the Tapatio.

And I tell him - in Spanish, of course - (speaking Spanish) look, dad - you've got to stop this. And if you're not going to pay attention to yourself, if you don't care about yourself, then how about care about your children? How about care about your grandson, who you have not been able to hug in almost a year - or, more importantly, your 98-year-old mom, my abuelita, who my dad has only been able to see through a window?

And especially within our family, it was no. (Speaking Spanish) Lorenzo - don't let Lorenzo get close to his mom because he's the one who likes to go out and doesn't believe it. And that finally put some sense into him with the vaccine. By then, though, he was already wearing a mask, thank God.

MARTIN: So you finally get him out the door. Thank goodness - good job. The vaccination site you went to - it's in a majority-Latino city. Thankfully, you were able to get an appointment without too much difficulty. Your sister was able to set it up. It was staffed mostly by Latinos. But what did you see when you get there?

ARELLANO: Oh, it was super-white. We were in Santana, which is one of the most Latino big cities in the United States. We're talking about 80% Latino population - and, of course, everyone over 65, the people who were going to get the vaccine, but overwhelmingly white. There was one moment where I noticed everyone was wearing The North Face fleece jackets. You know, they're retirees, baby boomers. And my dad's in cowboy boots and a Pendleton jacket. I'm wearing Dickies shorts - you know, baggy Dickies shorts and Huaraches, all worn out.

It was the first time I had actually felt like a, quote-unquote, "Mexican" in a long time. I actually had to remember, when was the last time I felt so out of place as a Mexican? And sadly, it was at a vaccination station for COVID-19. Like, Mexicans should not be feeling out of place right now.

MARTIN: And why do you think that is? I mean, I'm sure you - you know, you didn't obviously go up interviewing people there, but why do you think that is? Why do you think that there are - as we've said, the community has been particularly hard-hit? We've just reported on this.

ARELLANO: I mean, the most immediate thing is that it is so hard to get a vaccination. At least in Orange County, California, where I'm based, you have to do it online. Actually, you have to download an app. And if you're a person of color, especially elderly, you probably don't even have access to the Internet. My dad - he still has a flip phone. He does not have a smartphone. And if you don't have children who are Internet - you know, versed in the Internet and able to try to get an appointment hour after hour after hour, you're going to be out of luck.

I can't speak for the rest of the United States, but at least in California, it's been mostly online. And until that's able to be rectified, then you're going to have these terrible disparities - these inequities, really - racial and economic inequities when it comes to the vaccine.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, I'm guessing that there are a lot of people in the same spot that you were in - struggling to convince a loved one to get the vaccine, talk them out of conspiracies or whatever, you know, surrounding it. What would you tell them?

ARELLANO: Be persistent, and be as honest as possible. And sadly, what also helped out my dad was the fact that in the early days, he had no - he knew no one who had gotten coronavirus. In recent months, people have been dying that he grew up with. My sister's godfather died just a couple of weeks ago. So at that point, it's a little bit more real to them.

And just tell him, like, look, it's not even about you. It's about your family. It's about society. If you want to get the United States, the world back to some semblance of normalcy, then you have to take the vaccine.

And, like, when - I think when you put it in such stark terms - and you do it with love. You don't do it out of shame. You know, you can shame people you don't know, I guess, but people you do know, it has to come from a place of love and persistence and patience. And I think especially if your family member ultimately loves you, they'll do it. They will do it.

MARTIN: And he does have to go for his second shot, right? He got the Moderna vaccine. So do you have any sense of how he feels about going back for his second shot? You still - you're going to have to...

ARELLANO: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Love-shame him for the second one.

ARELLANO: No. No, he got it. And, you know, as I wrote in my story, we had to wait 15 minutes to make sure he had no allergic reactions or turn into a Bill Gates zombie. And he came out clear, so he's fine.

ARELLANO: That was Los Angeles Times columnist Gustavo Arellano. His latest column is about convincing his father to get vaccinated. It's titled "My Dad Was A COVID-19 Skeptic, But He Got Vaccinated, And So Can Your" - using a word we're not going to use.

Gustavo, thank you so much for being with us.

ARELLANO: Gracias as always.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLA CRUZ'S "CUMBIA DEL OLVIDO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.