For Some Calif. Students, Virus Hits Home

In Los Angeles, college students from Mexico are watching the latest developments in the swine flu outbreak as they wrap-up their studies and prepare to head back home for the summer. And in the city's public school district, some Latino parents worry about the safety of taking their children south of the border to visit relatives.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

To California, now. In Los Angeles, there have not been any confirmed cases of swine flu, but the city is still deeply concerned. Ties to Mexico run deep in L.A., and as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, many people are worried about their loved ones south of the border.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Chochitl Flores-Marcial(ph) and Luis Antonio Dominguez(ph) came to UCLA from Mexico. Like most of the Mexican students in California, they worry about the news from back home.

Ms. CHOCHITL FLORES-MARCIAL (History Student, UCLA): Influenza porcina - swine flu.

Mr. LUIS ANTONIO DOMINGUEZ (Seismology Student, UCLA): (Spanish spoken)

DEL BARCO: Dominguez, a 20-year-old seismology student, wonders how long the outbreak will last. And Flores, who's getting her PHD in history, is concerned it might provoke a backlash.

Ms. FLORES: This just adds to those people who already have something against Mexicans, it just adds to that.

DEL BARCO: Flores and Dominguez say they are trying to stay calm, despite the death toll in Mexico. They plan to go back home soon, when the school term ends.

Ms. FLORES: I have to, but I want to as well. That's where my research is, so I'm in Mexico City when I go to the Archivo General de la Nacion. Actually, one of the metro stations that I use is probably one of the most congested.

DEL BARCO: So you're not nervous about going back there?

Ms. FLORES: You know, I think that what I'm really curious about - I want to know why people in Mexico are dying. That's that I want to understand.

DEL BARCO: L.A.'s strong ties with Mexico are also evident in the city's public schools, where three-fourths of the students are Latino. And at Shenandoah Elementary, many of the children also have questions. Here are fourth graders Adrine Peters(ph), Javis Bivens(ph), and Ricardo Zacobo(ph).

Ms. ADRINE PETERS (Student): I heard people died in Mexico, and that this is a deadly virus that's swarming around.

Mr. JAVIS BIVENS (Student): When do scientists predict that the cure will be out?

Mr. RICARDO ZACOBO (Student): How many more cases there gonna be?

DEL BARCO: The school nurse, Holly Nuckles(ph), tries to answer as best she can. She advises students to wash their hands thoroughly and to sneeze or cough into their elbows, using what some school officials are calling the Dracula method.

Ms. HOLLY NUCKLES (School Nurse): We sneeze into our sleeve, and you have to do it with that accent, of course, the Dracula accent.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Ms. NUCKLES: I want to take your germs. Let's practice. Ah-choo. Okay?

DEL BARCO: It's not just the kids. Plenty of parents also worry about the health threat. Mexican-born music producer Betto Arcos lives in L.A., but frequently travels back home. In fact, he just returned from a trip to Mexico with his wife Josephine and their nine-year-old son, Augustine(ph). Arcos says his friends in Mexico City are terrified, but his family in Veracruz say the danger is being exaggerated.

Mr. BETTO ARCOS (Music Producer): Honestly, I'm going back to Mexico next month. Maybe when it's time to go and I see that this thing hasn't gone away, I might be worried then. But right now, I'm not worried. I'm afraid and I'm concerned about Mexico, because it's as if - you know, they don't have enough problems. As a Mexican living in this country, I hope this ends soon.

DEL BARCO: At L.A.'s Grant Elementary, a mother worries about the flu spreading into the city's schools.

Ms. MONIQUE GONZALEZ: Even I see people wearing masks, and it scared me. Like, wow, that was a little scary.

DEL BARCO: Twenty-four-year-old Monique Gonzalez(ph) says she, her husband, and their two young sons usually cross the border every couple of weeks. But not now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GONZALEZ: We're not going to Mexico to visit family. We're not going to the park. We try to keep them in the house. I'm not going keep around kids - I mean, I went out and I bought masks just in case it does get that bad here.

DEL BARCO: The encouraging news is that so far, California has gotten off fairly easy, with no deaths and only a handful of flu cases requiring hospitalization. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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