For many teens, COVID-19 started out as an extended spring break, only to swell into a whole year of distance learning, isolation, and social turmoil. At an age when they usually would be building a sense of self and community on school campuses, they felt their days shrink and flatten into zoom grids. In the diaries below, composed between August 2020 and February 2021, a select group of California high schoolers reflect on the many different ways that this pandemic has upended their lives.
These authors and artists are participants in the BioJam Camp program, which introduces youth of color to bioengineering and bio-design via their own cultural knowledge, lived experience, and creativity. They come from communities in the Greater Bay Area, which suffered a devastating fire season on top of the pandemic. Between smoke and aerosols, balancing younger siblings and economic uncertainty, these brave teens planned a range of community impact projects. They organized face mask distributions for fieldworkers, an art installation for the San José International Airport, a webinar for the agricultural area of Salinas, and a workshop for a scientific conference. These Pandemic Diaries, spanning spoken word, video, poetry, and cartoons, are an opportunity for them to tell their side of the story — their experience of growing up in devastatingly historic times.
Casi no se escuchan de ellos,
Pero deben saber para ser sinceros.
La gente campesina se agachan,
La gente campesina cortan las hojas de brócoli,
La gente campesina siembran y crean frutas y vegetales,
La gente campesina lo empacan todo,
La gente campesina alimenta América.
Las reglas del campo recompensan más por las horas que trabajen.
Y después entra la pandemia,
Que nomás hace su trabajo más laborioso.
Con solo una mascarilla reusable para todo el año.
Vienen al trabajo enfermos porque la falta de trabajo les hace mas daño.
Les pagan menos si se enferman y dejan de trabajar,
Pero tienen que luchar.
Luchar por sus sueños,
Luchar por sus familias,
Luchar por la renta,
¡Luchar en alimentar a toda la gente!
Dedicada para la Cuadrilla 254
They are hardly heard of,
But you must know them to be honest.
Field workers bend down,
Field workers cut broccoli leaves,
Field workers plant and grow fruits and vegetables,
Field workers pack and sort everything,
Field workers feed America.
The rules of the field pay more for more hours they work.
And then the pandemic comes,
Making their job much more laborious.
Provided with only one reusable mask for the whole year.
They come to work sick since missing work hurts them even more.
They get paid less if they get sick and stop working,
But they need to fight.
Fight for their dreams,
Fight for their families,
Fight for their rent,
Fight to feed all of America!
They are fighters.
Dedicated to Crew 254
Designed by BioJam teens, From a Distance is a collaborative poster selected to be exhibited in the Holding the Moment, 2-D Work Exhibition at Norman Y. Mineta International San José Airport. Participants and teen mentors drew on the same paper forms they used to grow conceptual mycelium PPE face masks. They decorated these templates with personal stories about their experience of COVID-19. These might be seen as prompts, encouraging others to reflect on their own self-care routines, their community, their health knowledge and practices.