Unheard Voices of the Pandemic: Narratives From the First Year of COVID-19

About the Book

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in early 2020, it was clear that it would only exacerbate existing inequities. Marginalized communities were being disproportionately affected by the virus and accompanying crises of unemployment, housing and food insecurity, and inadequate health care. We worked with our narrators, editors, and grassroots partners to gather the stories of what was happening, to begin to uncover the many ways that the pandemic was acting as yet another vector for the spread of injustice.

Unheard Voices of the Pandemic reveals through personal narratives what happened the first year the pandemic swept across the United States. The narrators were already among those who have been failed by US policy and the fraying social safety net during the best of times—people impacted by migration, displacement, incarceration, and other intersecting injustices. The 17 first-person stories included in this booklet speak to the precarity, inequity, and uncertainty of that year, but also to bravery, solidarity, and generosity. Although the shadow cast by the COVID-19 pandemic is long, we hope the insights gleaned through listening will last longer.

Narrators Include:

ROBERTO, an undocumented farmworker in California’s Coachella Valley.

FARIDA, a nurse and organizer working in a Los Angeles COVID-19 ward.

SHEAROD, a 52-year-old man incarcerated at Parnall Correctional Facility in Michigan.

EMMANUEL, a father of three who lost his job as a dental assistant in Puerto Rico.

About the Editor:

Dao X. Tran is the managing editor of the Voice of Witness oral history book series. Before joining Voice of Witness, Dao was a senior editor at Haymarket Books and a freelance book editor. She co-edited 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History. Born in Mỹ Tho, Dao was a youth and community organizer in Philadelphia and has been politically active in Providence and New York City, most recently focused on equity in public education.

Related Resources

Book Club Discussion Questions
Use these questions to encourage meaningful conversations about the book.
Read a Narrative in The Guardian
‘The sun is hot and you can’t breathe in a mask’ – Life as an undocumented farmworker.
Read a Narrative in Prism
An incarcerated man in California shares his experience contracting COVID-19 behind bars.
Read a Narrative in The Nation
After fleeing Honduras, one young man shares his challenges in San Francisco.

This book, and all VOW oral histories, offer powerful insights into the narrators’ life experiences, as well as serving as an important example of oral histories as an educational tool for social change.

Rachel Brand, University of San Francisco