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Coronavirus Upended Her Family, But This Latina Teen Is Determined To Make Her Vote Count

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First-time voter Marlene Herrera is undecided when it comes to the 2020 presidential election. The coronavirus has upended the issues she is watching.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Just a few months ago, 17 year old Marlene Herrera was looking forward to graduating from high school, going away to college and voting in her first presidential election. Now her life has been turned upside down like so many other Americans 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 Nadler tells us how one San Diego high school senior is fairing during the pandemic.

Speaker 2: 00:30 I first met Marlene in February. She's a senior at Scripps ranch high school. She has her entire life planned out in a notebook that she keeps color coordinated and marked with sticky notes in it. She was keeping track of all her college application.

Speaker 3: 00:46 You're a lot more organized and I feel like I'm not going crazy, especially during finals week that I'm just like, where's this? Where's that? Where's that?

Speaker 2: 00:51 She's the first person in her family to go to college, so it is up to her to figure out how to pay for school.

Speaker 3: 00:57 So it was kind of just a little like, what do I do? Like what I put here, what I put there, and I know my mom had tried helping me a lot with like the application process, like telling me what she could tell me, but there was stuff like even her like she didn't know like, Oh wait, what am I supposed to put there? So

Speaker 2: 01:11 Marlene wasn't yet old enough to vote in the March primary, but she was following the election closely before the pandemic hit. She said that she didn't want to see a repeat of the 2016 presidential election where her family members were turned off by both parties and their failed promises.

Speaker 3: 01:28 My family members, they of, once it came down to the two candidates, they kind of were like, well, now we don't want to go

Speaker 2: 01:33 now. Months later Marlene's carefully planned world has been turned upside down by the Corona virus pandemic. No grad night, no prom, no graduation. Marlene is splitting her time between her two parents for the first month, the quarantine Marlene and her younger brother stayed with her father, a first generation Mexican American. He manages a grocery store and has been working nonstop during the pandemic.

Speaker 3: 01:58 You just, you could notice Lisi how much more tired he is. So there's times where it's like he doesn't even want to stay up to eat cause he's not tired. So um, a lot of times it's like the minute he gets home, my brother and I like, okay here's your blanket, here's your pillow cause he, he does this thing where you pass it on the couch first before he goes to bed.

Speaker 2: 02:16 While her father was at the grocery store, Merlin and her brother were stuck inside. Marlene spent time taking online classes from a nearby community college and

Speaker 3: 02:26 I picked up gaming [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 02:29 She borrowed her brother's PlayStation four and is now meeting up with her friends on grand theft auto online.

Speaker 3: 02:35 We were, we actually did a joke where we were like, we're going to use the pier on the game as our grad night.

Speaker 2: 02:42 Marlene moved back in with her mother last month. Her mother had spent weeks at home sick with flu like symptoms, but she never got tested for Corona virus because she's uninsured and worried about costs. A few weeks ago. Marlene's mother was also laid off from her job at a law office and had to apply for unemployment. Still, even with all the uncertainty, Marlene has had some recent reasons to celebrate. Her mom's business was able to hire her back last week, thanks to a government loan and Marlene got into her top college choices in the fall. She'll be attending San Francisco state virtually. That is,

Speaker 3: 03:19 it's never really gonna be back to normal when you really think about it. Cause like a lot of schools shut down. A lot of kids have to do online. Like I know a lot of colleges for now, like they're kind of being lenient on, especially us for our grades and stuff. So it's just, it's kinda like I, I just don't know what to expect really.

Speaker 2: 03:37 In college. Marlene wants to study psychology, so she's closely watching how the country's healthcare industry is responding to the pandemic. Marlene says her family has experienced what happens when healthcare comes at a cost.

Speaker 3: 03:51 You know, I am a low income as well. You know, I know that feeling, you know, the feeling of like, like good, like thank God I'm like my little sister and I have like healthcare. Um, but it's like my mom doesn't, you know, so like whenever she gets sick it's like she needs to just fight through it. So it's just, it frustrates me

Speaker 2: 04:07 with everything going on now. The general election is still far from Marlene's mind.

Speaker 3: 04:12 There's just a lot going on, especially now. Like I'm not happy with either of the candidates, but then again, I haven't really searched into what it is they're promoting. Winners are doing

Speaker 2: 04:20 with Marlene's future, very much up in the air and the stresses of the pandemic weighing especially heavy on her family, her first presidential election as a voter. This November still feels like years away.

Speaker 1: 04:32 Joining me as KPBS reporter of max Rivlin, Nadler and max, welcome to the program. Hi. So there's no prom, no graduation ceremony for Marlene. And of course, so many other kids at San Diego who've worked so hard to get their diplomas. Isn't there anything she'll be doing to Mark the accomplishment?

Speaker 4: 04:51 Yeah, I guess that's very much up in the air or a few high schools in the area I know are doing a virtual graduation ceremonies drive through graduation ceremonies. Uh, she had joked, you know, you heard them the feature about doing um, grad night, uh, which they use to Mark vacation for their seniors. It just like more of a fun festival doing that entirely in a virtual world. So it is definitely going to be a strange year for seniors graduating. Um, and, and they're still trying to figure it out. I know I've been in touch with a few high schools that are trying to make sure that it's still special and marks the accomplishment of these teens, but understanding the limitations in the current setting

Speaker 1: 05:29 and then college is going to start for her and, and for many others online. Is she going to stay here or head up to San Francisco?

Speaker 4: 05:38 Yeah. That just shows how fluid the situation is. When I spoke with her a few weeks ago, she was getting ready to move up to San Francisco. She understood that it was going to be a challenging and different freshman year that a lot of people have. But within that time, and when we spoke, California state universities announced that for the most part they will be, uh, this fall. And so I checked in with her and she told me that she will also be starting online, which isn't, isn't how she imagined. It isn't how she envisioned it, but you know, she's just rolling with it because like she said, um, so much is out of her control.

Speaker 1: 06:12 Now it's kind of surprise some people listening to this feature that Marlene as a young Latina is struggling to choose between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. President Trump's policies on deportation and immigration. His suspension of the DACA program have been hard on the Latino population. So why isn't this an easy decision for her?

Speaker 4: 06:34 I don't know if it's necessarily a decision between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but whether, how much to engage with the presidential election? I think you're seeing kind of a legacy of two consecutive presidential administrations that have been fairly difficult on the, um, immigrant population in the U S you had record numbers of deportations under Obama. Um, but you also had the DACA program, but then you saw under Trump, uh, that the DACA program is facing a very possible end. Uh, so these things are tenuous. A lot of the promises that were made, again going back to the Bush administration that have not been tapped, um, not much has changed materially for people who struggle with status, who are trying to get, um, some amount of safety in the U S and this has led to disengagement. So while I, you know, she's undecided, she wants to vote. I think it's whether, you know, not between pulling the lever for Biden or Trump, but pulling the lever at all.

Speaker 1: 07:33 What are her priorities when it comes to choosing a presidential candidate?

Speaker 4: 07:38 Her priorities are pretty similar to what a lot of young people are thinking about. Uh, college tuition, healthcare, um, things like that, you know, as she, her life has really shown her even more so over the past, you know, two months. A lot of the things that we rely on are very tenuous. Uh, her healthcare is tied to jobs. Um, you know, college tuition, if you're going to be paying and going into debt, is it really worth it if you're going to be doing it virtually? Is that the same as getting a full academic setting? Um, you know, these are things that have direct impact on her life and her mom who had become unemployed, um, because of the pandemic and the economic collapse, well then Congress and the president moved and passed a relief package that got her mom back to work. So, you know, these things are all dramatically impacting her life. Politics is not so much an illusion to her. It's very real. And the way she's going to vote is what impacts her life more direct and most directly. And what impacts those of her community

Speaker 1: 08:45 now when it comes to young Latinos as a demographic voting block, what are the challenges candidates face in getting their support and turning out the vote? Yeah, this is a

Speaker 4: 08:56 very savvy, um, voting block. They are plugged in, they show up to vote when they're given something to vote for. I think right now they're really struggling with the idea of let's go back to a system that wasn't quite working for us or let's continue on a path that, um, prioritizes, uh, deportations and the construction of the border wall. And you know, they, they're not seeing too many haplotypes and choices right now. And that has been a challenge for a very long time. And I would say that's challenged for young Latinos, but that's just a challenge for young people in general. Right? They don't vote in high huge numbers, even though they do have specific passions. People Rose up against gun violence in schools, healthcare, school tuition, things like that. Um, but they're not really seeing that connect to a presidential platform. So they might belong to broader movements and not necessarily identify with any candidate in particular.

Speaker 1: 09:54 How do you think the coven 19 pandemic has affected the way Marlene and her family are thinking about the upcoming election? Has it made it more or less important

Speaker 4: 10:05 looking ahead at November? I think, you know, it's a long way off for people. This is miles and miles away from people's minds right now. Um, the outcome of the presidential election will be very important on how the economic recovery plays out in these communities, but, but right now, this is very far from their minds as they deal with, you know, their Mo. Much more material needs.

Speaker 1: 10:28 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler and max. Thank you very much. Thank you.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

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.