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How The Coronavirus Pandemic Changed One Latina Teen's Political Outlook

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Young people in San Diego will be feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their mental health and political views for decades to come.

Speaker 1: 00:00 In the past month, San Diego teenager, Marlene Herrera has turned 18, graduated from high school and decided how she's going to vote in her first presidential election as part of a collaboration with the world's every 30 seconds, which looks at the young Latino electorate in the U S KPBS reporter. Max Rivlin nether tells us how the pandemic will leave a lasting Mark on a generation of new voters.

Speaker 2: 00:33 A group of 20 people surrounds Marlene Herrera out in a yard. They're mostly social distancing. The crowd is singing, urging her to not lose momentum. Marlene is wearing a cap and gown and she's swinging what looks like a bat. She's just happy to finally have everyone in one place. Again,

Speaker 3: 00:51 It's been over two months. So I was like, Oh my God, I get to see you again. I get to hug you. And I was like, are you okay with huggie?

Speaker 2: 00:57 There were two pinatas. And the shapes of the number one and a number eight Marlina celebrating both her 18th birthday and her high school graduation. Finally, the periodic brief Marlene tells me she's had a lot of frustration to work through over the past few months. First, the pandemic hit and then she had to complete her senior year from home. During that time she's been living in a crowded house with five kids under the age of nine. Marlene says in this new reality, she and many of her friends feel powerless.

Speaker 3: 01:29 A lot of us, we kinda got to the point where we burst into tears.

Speaker 2: 01:34 Merlin has been thinking a lot about mental health and in college this fall, she plans to major in psychology. The mental health impact of the coronavirus pandemic, especially on young adults will be felt for years to come says Tina Casola, she's a San Diego based family therapist who specializes in trauma and the longterm impacts of stress.

Speaker 4: 01:52 We're going to be paying for this for a long time because the betrayals or the feelings of being behind those are going to last for people

Speaker 2: 02:01 Because Sola thinks that well Marlene's age group is far more supportive of one another than previous generations. It's going to be up to older people to model how to get through this.

Speaker 4: 02:10 We have to figure out ways of getting out into our communities and giving them support to work through this time. Even though none of us have the answer, we don't have a blueprint for this.

Speaker 2: 02:18 The pandemic and its mental toll are not the only thing on Marlene's mind. She grown up always worried about her family's finances. It was a huge relief when her mother received a stimulus chat.

Speaker 3: 02:28 It's a big family here. We kind of needed that.

Speaker 2: 02:31 Still Marlene wishes more had been done during the stay at home order to prepare for reopening businesses safely.

Speaker 3: 02:37 For us, it can't afford to not work. We still gotta pay rent. That's not going to stop. I don't want to come home and like be the one who infects my family. For some reason,

Speaker 2: 02:45 The government's response or lack of response has Marlene thinking about how politics directly impact her life. After her first choice for president Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race in April. She was undecided on who she'd support the general election.

Speaker 3: 03:00 I could go in for some way, could count for something. And I'm hoping it counts for something like I'm gonna do it

Speaker 2: 03:05 More recently. She says the protests over the killing of George Floyd and other acts of police violence against black men and women have had an impact.

Speaker 3: 03:13 I think I'm leaning towards white. Um, not that I'm entirely happy with him, either

Speaker 2: 03:18 To her president, Donald Trump crossed a line when he sent in the national guard during the black lives matter protest,

Speaker 3: 03:24 You're just adding more fire. You're adding more fire and fire. And how is that? Okay. You know, I want a change.

Speaker 2: 03:31 And she says former vice president, Joe Biden might be that change

Speaker 3: 03:35 As much as people want to say, Trump is good. I think it's time for someone new. You can still be living in that time where it's kind of like, what is he going to say? We've had so many scares with him.

Speaker 2: 03:49 Marlene says, she's ready for a government that doesn't scapegoat or target minority groups.

Speaker 3: 03:54 Not even just talking from a Mexican point of view is a person of color, point of view. You know, there's so much oppression of we've had, I just want a government that I died. I don't feel like it's working against me.

Speaker 2: 04:04 Looking ahead to a long summer of helping take care of her cousins and trying to safely see friends when she can. I asked her what she would change about this year. If she had a magic wand,

Speaker 3: 04:14 I want to be selfish with this question just as my senior year, Marlene says this will forever Mark her generation. It's always gonna stay with me. It's always going to be on my mind. It's always like, even when I tell my kids, they don't, if they're going to ask like, Hey, how was your prom? Well, I never had one. I'm sorry. Can't help you with that.

Speaker 1: 04:31 Johnny maze, KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler, and max, welcome to the program.

Speaker 5: 04:36 Hi.

Speaker 1: 04:37 Now you've been following the story of Marlene for a while now, have you seen her change because of the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic?

Speaker 5: 04:47 Yeah, so it's really interesting because when I first met her back in February before, you know, everything and feels like a million years ago, she had this color coded planner that she really used to map out all of her college applications, um, everything that she had to get done before she graduated everything that would have to happen when she chose her college and moved up to the Bay area and it was kind of meticulously planned. And it was a, it was a huge activity for her that also her mom participated in. Um, but of course after the coronavirus pandemic, longterm planning became nearly impossible for her. And so I asked her, you know, what happened to this color coded planner that you, you still relied on? And she told me that essentially it's blink right now. She's been doing some designs in it. She's still, um, keeping it, but it, it, it has nothing in it right now. So basically her carefully planned future is really up in the air right now. So I think in terms of stress, that was her coping mechanism was to have this planner. And right now there's just nothing that she's able to plan.

Speaker 1: 05:50 Let's talk more about your conversation with the family therapist about the longterm impacts of this virus and its upheavals, because I don't think there's been a lot of discussion about that. What kind of trauma does this family therapist think the pandemic is going to leave behind? Yes,

Speaker 5: 06:09 We're really worried about, you know, basically the, this generation's trust and institutions and authority, because as we've seen time and again, during the coronavirus pandemic, and again, this isn't necessarily the fault of the authorities themselves, but their guidance keeps changing right? As we learn more about the pandemic and what's safe and what's not safe, the authorities and institutions and our political leaders don't really quite know exactly what to be telling people. So this could, so for decades to come a deep distrust in this generation, uh, of people, you know, in authority positions, um, not only that, but I think, you know, people are going to be, and this is what, because Sola, the family therapist was saying, they're going to be much more independently minded. They're going to say, okay, every person for themselves. And she thinks of that as kind of a real shame because generationally speaking this current generation was much, much more interested in things like mutual aid, reaching out to each other collective action than previous more me-focused generations.

Speaker 1: 07:08 Did she elaborate on how older people, you know, parents and relatives might be able to help younger people process this very strange time that we're in? Yeah, like she said,

Speaker 5: 07:19 We don't have a blueprint for how to deal with this, but just in terms of being older and having dealt with more adversity and different experiences and ups and downs in our lives, you know, that's something that we could relate to kids with and, and teenagers, especially. Um, it's going to be up to the older generation to kind of model behavior that will let adolescents and young adults kind of pave the way forward. And I don't even think it necessarily has to be, um, you know, grandparents, for instance, it could be people like, you know, my generation who graduated and went to college during the great recession. So I think it's certainly an unprecedented moment, but there's not road markers that they can't look to, um, to, to help them out.

Speaker 1: 08:01 Now your original assignment max was about evaluating the mood of young, Latin X voters about the upcoming election. And then of course, as you mentioned, it got completely turned around when the virus hit, how have you seen the Corona virus change the political outlook of these young voters?

Speaker 5: 08:18 Right. So it's interesting, right? Cause this group, this, these young voters were politically active. They were interested in things like immigration, gun violence, the environment, they had a real political platform and agenda. And now you've added to the, to that mix a serious economic collapse that will impact them for decades to come

Speaker 6: 08:38 Overall. It's made them more skeptical of, I think, national politics and things coming from the federal level, but might actually filter down to their interest in much more local politics and how they interact with these institutions, um, on the ground and in their daily life.

Speaker 1: 08:52 Now, does there seem to be any coordinated outreach effort to young voters, especially young Latinex voters by any presidential campaign

Speaker 6: 09:02 Right now just given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. You're really not seeing it. There's not a lot of reaching out to young voters. It's, it's really both sides are rallying to their bases. Um, this kind of expansive effort that you saw in the prime of the democratic primary, where you had, uh, several different campaigns, willing Castro, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, kind of trying to activate young voters to give them that edge in the presidential election and specifically the prime, the primary, um, that's kind of gone away now. It's time to rally the base and young people. Once again are wondering, you know, what's in this for me, why should I vote? So I think, you know, even Mark Marlene was saying, she thinks there will be a huge turnout among young people. And you're seeing this still, even in the, um, elections last night in New York and Kentucky, which were done remotely, um, you know, for the most part and a lot of mail in ballots, you saw a huge turnout. Um, she thinks there'll be a big turnout, but I'm really interested in finding out at the presidential level and in the presidential election, whether you're really going to see this youth vote.

Speaker 1: 10:04 I have been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Revlon, Nadler, and max. Thank you.

Speaker 6: 10:09 Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.