Swine Flu Has Many L.A. Immigrants Reconsidering Mexico Travel Plans

Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2009

If his future weren’t on the line, Cal State Fullerton student Carlos Reyes says, he wouldn’t be flying to Mexico. Not with swine flu loose and having killed nearly 150 people there.

Nothing short of becoming a legal resident–and eventually, an American citizen–could compel him to go right now. On Monday, Reyes went to the campus health center and asked if there were any shots he could take to protect himself. There aren’t. So tonight, Reyes, 27, will step onto a plane at LAX armed with surgical masks, sanitizers and two boxes of hand wipes that his even more anxious parents bought for him.

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As cases of swine flu and the number of deaths have swelled in Mexico–and begun to appear in other countries–Southern California’s vast Latino immigrant community has been increasingly on edge and questioning whether traveling there is a good idea. The U.S. government recommended that people not go to Mexico unless it is necessary.

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“I wouldn’t even go there as a joke,” Bertha Dominguez, a native of Mexico City, said as she took a break from shopping in Huntington Park. “I would maybe go if an emergency presented itself. Maybe.”

Dominguez said the epidemic was just the latest reason not to return her home country, on top of a flagging economy and a gruesome drug war.

“Here, poor or rich, they’ll take care of you if you get sick,” she said. “I’d rather get sick here.”

At El Mercado, a bazaar and indoor swap meet in Boyle Heights, Peruvian immigrant Armando Parodi, 50, said he canceled a trip this weekend to the state of Tlaxcala in Mexico, where swine flu has been reported. He had planned to go to a fair where vendors sell baby Jesus figures–like the ones clad in papal and Aztec outfits he peddles here–but changed his mind because of the swine flu.

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But Fernando Martinez, 26, owner of Antojitos Chilangos Mexican restaurant in Highland Park, said he wouldn’t hesitate to travel to his native Mexico City, or elsewhere in Mexico. “If someone gave me the money, I’d go there right now,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about as long as you stay away from places you’re not supposed to be at.”

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