EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — As a community where everyone is connected by someone who knows someone, El Paso and its tight-knit communal values face one of the biggest challenges this holiday season: celebrating at a safe distance.
“Usually, since the family is real big it’s usually 50 to 60 people in the house, but this year we’re just celebrating just us,” Roberto Rueda said.
The holidays are a time where family is supposed to come together, but the holiday season dimmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s hard because it’s been dragging on for a long time,” Rueda said.
Cristina Morales, a sociology professor at UTEP, said it’s challenging for El Pasoans and many families across the country to avoid family gatherings this Thanksgiving.
“The family comes before the individual self,” Morales said. She added, in largely predominant Latinx communities like El Paso, the culture and behaviors are family-centered.
Morales said hundreds of thousands of El Paso families are also multigenerational, making it nearly impossible to stay apart or even isolate in a household if a member gets infected.
“You have you know, grandparents in the household, parents, three generations sometimes even four,” Morales said.
She said families may live together because of cultural reasons, but also economic-driven reasons.
“It’s sort of a way to support each other, sometimes its too expensive to live on your own or you’re looking after a grandparent who you don’t want to live by themselves and even youth as they are going through college,” Morales said.
For families who live in multiple households, Morales said it can also be difficult to only celebrate holidays with those living in one home.
“The more mainstream American way of looking at family is the nuclear family and we think of family as the extended family,” Morales said. “We think of family as the extended family so that makes it that we’re around bigger groups and the opportunities for infections also increase because of that,” Morales said.
City-County officials encourage families to gather in socially distant ways such as drive-by parades or connecting virtually on the holidays, but Morales said sometimes it doesn’t always work for all families.
“It’s hard to tell grandma to get on the Zoom when she may or may not know how to work a computer,” Morales said.
However, the professor is confident families can find other safe ways such as leaving gift baskets on doorsteps of loved ones or gathering outdoors with face masks and in groups less than 10 people.
She said what she believes is really affecting El Paso’s health crisis is the growing need for resources as virus hospitalizations and deaths increase.
“We have very different needs than the rest of the state and we have a very different economic situation,” Morales said. “We’re so far removed from the rest of the State then there’s a lack of understanding of what’s really going on here.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott told KTSM 9 News that no other region in Texas has received more resources than El Paso.
“So it’s just very easy to blame the culture when there’s other reasons, very big important reasons why we’re in the situatuion where we’re at,” Morales said.