Diaries from the Epicenter: Immigrant New Yorkers Talk About COVID-19

May 29, 2020

Nearly every day since April, 14 New Yorkers from diverse backgrounds speaking 10 different Himalayan and Indigenous Latin American languages have been recording diaries of their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic at the epicenter of the epicenter: NYC’s multilingual immigrant neighborhoods. Now hundreds of these recordings are freely available via Soundcloud, with English summaries for over half (when viewed on a computer).

Explore and get to know the Himalayan New Yorkers who are recording diaries: an expectant mother, a nurse battling the virus herself, an amchi (Tibetan doctor) trying to help his patients, a worried parent, and others. Listen to language varieties like Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan), Dolpo (from a remote Himalayan valley in Nepal), and Amdo Tibetan (with its long nomadic pastoralist tradition). This playlist contains the most recently uploaded entries for each diarist, but you can click on any individual diarist to see all of their entries, for instance Yeshi’s 54 entries.

Another set of diaries look at the experiences of Indigenous Latin American New Yorkers — speakers of Mixtec, Tlapanec, and K’iche, including essential workers and those involved in mutual aid efforts. There are corresponding Spanish audio summaries by the speakers themselves for most of the Indigenous entries.

Free and open to all for non-commercial use, the “New York COVID-19” diaries form just one part of an emerging project which also includes ELA’s supporting role in direct aid; individual interviews with community leaders; multilingual materials related to the pandemic and community responses; and a separate but closely related effort to map the city’s languages. We’re doing this for community members, first responders, scholars, policymakers, and the general public — not just to grapple what is happening right now, but to increase understanding in the likely event of future public health and socioeconomic crises.