Hispanic Heritage: “Flint Water Hero”

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FLINT, Mich. (WLNS) – In the dark and unaware, is how San Juana Olivares says the Latinx community in Flint lived through the water crisis.

“Some of the parents said yes, I received a letter, but I didn’t know what it said,” Olivares said. “So I threw it away. My child tried to translate it, technical words couldn’t really translate it.”

That 2015 letter was a warning in English about the danger pouring from their taps.

As “San Juana Olivares” soon found out it was a warning that an estimated 4,000 people in the city had no idea about. Because most of them don’t speak English.

“I started looking more into it,” she said. “So I said something’s happening. We are not getting the information, sure enough we weren’t.”

Everything “Juani” found on the water crisis was in English and that’s a huge problem.

“It was just a complete nightmare,” Olivares said. “I had to do something for this community. Because they are the ones that are always left behind. The invisible ones. And if we don’t do it then who will.”

Juani quit her job and helped start the Genesee County Hispanic/Latino Collaborative Centro Informativo, better known as ‘La Plazita.” It’s a hub that provides information in Spanish, serves as a water and filter pick up location, a food pantry and a center for health fairs.

“We started delivering water everyday to those individuals,” Olivares said. “Like I said the families had no idea that there was led in the water. he ones that did know did not know what lead was, so they were boiling the water not realizing that they were increasing the amount of lead in the water and giving it to their families.”

However, servicing documented and undocumented families is no easy task.

“It’s always you have to have a birth certificate, you have to have a social security, proof of income, citizenship,” she said.

Being questioned and asked for documents just to receive clean water sent ripples of fear in the community.

“When they were lead testing, that’s one of the reasons we created the mini health fairs because some of their parents were being asked for their citizenship to get just their kids tested,” Olivares said. “So they stopped going.”

For many, like her name suggests, ‘San Juana’ has been a saint.

And while the water crisis still continues, she says she’ll continue shedding light on the needs of the Latinx community.

“I think we made a difference here bringing out what’s been happening specifically with the Latino/Hispanic community and how things still are not being translated and how they are still being forgotten,” she said. “And bringing it out to a national level…where people are like oh, we have to help our community.”

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