Guest post by Jonna Huseman
Note: Husband and wife Geraldina Dominguez and Reemberto Rodriguez chose to complete an interview together. Their answers are below.
What is your profession/involvement in the community?
G: I work for the federal government at the NIH as the director of the AIDS Malignancy Program at the Cancer Institute. My professional involvement is more at the national and international level. Since I live in the community and am married to Reemberto, I try to support him to keep this area vibrant and equitable. It may sound like a passive second role, but it’s what I like to do. I try to be his cheerleader.
R: I am the regional area director of Montgomery County. The work I do with the county takes me into the community. We live, breath, and enjoy all that is Silver Spring.
How has your life changed since the community has been impacted by Coronavirus?
G: It has changed everything, in a way. The way we do our jobs has changed. We can’t travel, which was a very strong component of what I do personally. It has put us in a holding pattern. We are trying to support our respective programs, but it has changed everything, really. Even though NIH was ahead of the curve—we were ready to telework, that was something that had been worked on for years now—laboratories have shut down unless you work on COVID. It has created a lot of anxiety. Personally, I don’t get to see my children and grandchildren as much as I’d like to. We are very blessed—I’m not complaining. It’s a matter of hanging on and staying positive and doing all you can.
R: We’re blessed to both have steady incomes. We work out of the house and are actively and professionally involved in an area we are both personally passionate about. But both of us being in the house at the same time is new to us.
Are you working more or less?
G: I’m working about the same, because there are so many things we can do via the internet. But I’m also traveling much less. I’ve had two meetings cancelled already. I was supposed to go to Africa. That’s been cancelled and it doesn’t look like that will be rescheduled anytime soon. There is more anxiety and uncertainty associated with work, but the number of hours is about the same.
R: Thanks to my work with the county, I’ve always been 24/7 anyway. The intensity and urgency are constant. Right before this interview, someone was trying to dial me in to a Zoom call and it didn’t work. Last night at 7 p.m., we had a call from a restaurateur who couldn’t get to the system to apply for assistance before 5 p.m. She was literally crying. It’s painful, so we contacted a couple of people who are going to try to help her. I’m not necessarily working more, but there is a new level of intensity and urgency in the work that I do.
What are you most afraid of?
G: Since I’m a scientist, I understand the severity of the disease and the pandemic that we’re going through. I’m reading every article that comes out to better understand it. I want to do everything I can to keep myself or family members from becoming infected. It’s really about staying informed and being educated. There are many people who don’t understand the nature of this virus. They are still trying to equate it with the flu. That’s probably my biggest concern: that people are not understanding this disease as something totally different—something that we haven’t seen before.
While it’s probably a true statement that most people who get the disease will survive, what concerns me is overloading our hospitals to the point where no other patients can be seen and having our nurses and technicians, and even the people who clean the hospitals, become deadly afraid of going in to work.
R: As all great faiths tell us: “Be not afraid.” We are not so much afraid as highly concerned that not everyone will recognize this pandemic as a cataclysmic event requiring a reboot, redesign, and reinventing of systems, institutions, the economy and government. Some folks are not taking this seriously. Family members of ours from Miami used a line that I really like: We need to take a great pause and do a global reset.
What are you most hopeful for?
G: I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll be able to be done with stay-at-home orders and self-quarantine. That will come all of us have put in something positive to make that happen. It’s not going to happen just by magic. It’s going to take the whole population of the world to really make that happen.
I’m also hopeful that I can get back on an airplane and will be able to travel again—both for professional and personal purposes. We love to travel. That’s my silly hope. Through travel, you get to see other people and customs, and you learn to appreciate other cultures.
R: We moved to Silver Spring 15 years ago. This is an amazing community. To see so many people caring for others makes us hopeful. We have a team of local folks on the council, our county executives, our district and state folks, who truly care. We are very hopeful for our community that we will come out of this even stronger than before.
What has been the most challenging part of this experience for you?
G: Grocery shopping! It’s become like a job.
R: We miss human interaction. Our hobby, the only hobby we really have, is going out and hanging out with people. We want to be there not just to eat, but to see the people who are part of our community and check in with them. We love going to the festivals. I can’t imagine not partaking and enjoying those events all around us. We really hope that in Takoma Park and Silver Spring we’ll be able to do that again soon.
Is there anything—even a tiny thing—you enjoy or like about sheltering in place?
G: Our grandson is four years old. His teacher did a Zoom call with the students. My son said it was crazy. The kids just got so excited. Most of us are not lone creatures. We like to interact with people. Thank God for Zoom. That’s probably the only thing that I can say has been a positive.
R: This zooming thing…Last night we had a happy hour with my sister who is in Miami. We had gatherings with family in Florida and Georgia. That’s been kinda cool.
What do you think society as a whole will learn from this experience?
G: Hopefully, the world will be more grateful and have more empathy for those around us.
R: I’ve given this a lot of thought. To synthesize it clearly—we have to put people above profits. It sounds cliché to say, but we have to do that. Our Mother Earth is crying for help. There was an amazing article on how perception of time is really changing. I think that’s a good point. Not everything has to be done today. Most importantly, I hope we learn that relationships make the world go round.
How are you coping with stress/taking care of yourself?
G: I used to do yoga twice a week. Now both of my teachers are doing yoga over Zoom. I’ve kept that up. We have a little mini-gym in our basement. On days we can’t go walk, we’ll go down there and walk. I’m not a person who gets overly stressed. It’s not in my genetic material.
R: We are drinking a lot of local brews! (I’m kidding.)
When future generations ask, what will you tell them about this time in your life?
G: We’ll probably remind our grandkids about the drastic transformative measures we are having to take to collaboratively get over this pandemic. And how we had to deal with a segment of the population that chose “self-censorship,” did not believe in science, and paid the price.
R: I would like to think we would tell our grandkids how drastically transformative it was. I think our challenge is that in a utilitarian government people yearn for information. We live in a democracy, yet we have a big chunk of the U.S. population that actively seeks self-censorship. How in the world do you combat that? You can deal with a cult in the mountains, but when it’s a big chunk of society that doesn’t believe in science—how do you get to them to listen and understand? We have some people with these beliefs in our own family. How can we get through to them? What we share with future generations will depend on how we get out of this.
What would you like your friends and neighbors in Silver Spring/Montgomery County to know?
G: This is a caring community. I see that as a positive. We are hopeful that the vast majority of folks here in Silver Spring will continue rising up to the task of caring for those that are in the fringe, left out, and have little access to capital or healthcare.
R: Silver Spring is a very blessed community. A lot of households here still have stable dual incomes. But in the shadows are pockets of poverty. I get that this is a world pandemic and we want to help throughout the world. But I really hope that people in Silver Spring know there are easy ways to help the folks down the street, or on your own block, who need it. In I hope that the people that can will choose to do good. It doesn’t have to be a lot—something simple can make a huge difference. When you go buy that beer, for example, leave that extra tip. And know there are so many organizations that merit our contributions.
Jonna Huseman is a family photographer who serves Silver Spring and beyond. During the COVID-19 crisis, she is using her free time to document the lives of friends and neighbors living through the pandemic.
Author’s note: Over the coming days and weeks I am documenting the lives of dozens of members of the Silver Spring and Takoma Park community. My goal is to talk to teachers and students, religious leaders, small business owners, frontline workers, parents, elected leaders, and private citizens. I want to learn about our collective hopes and dreams, our biggest challenges, and our greatest triumphs. Mostly, I want to build connection and create community at a time when we need it the most. If you live or work in Silver Spring or Takoma Park and are interested in having your life documented at this time—or know someone who has a unique experience and is willing to share—please contact me. To all those who have made this project possible, including Source of the Spring, I thank you for your time and generosity. To the neighbors who will respond in the future, I look forward to getting to know you. And to everyone reading—stay healthy and safe. We will make it through.