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With swine flu, some debate whether to go to Mexico

April 27, 2009 |  6:02 pm

If his future wasn’t on the line, Cal State Fullerton student Carlos Reyes said he wouldn’t be flying to Mexico. Not with swine flu loose and almost 150 people dead from it.

Nothing short of taking an important step to becoming a legal resident -- and eventually, an American citizen -- could compel him to go right now. Today, Reyes went to the campus health center and asked if there were any shots he could take to protect himself. There aren’t.

So come Tuesday, Reyes, 27, will step onto a plane from LAX armed with surgical masks, sanitizers and two boxes of hand wipes that his even more anxious parents bought for him. “I don’t want to get infected with that,” Reyes said. “I’m very concerned, to be honest with you. Tomorrow I’m going to take a few immunization shots. Even though they don’t work for what’s going on there, better stay on the safe side.”

As cases of swine flu and the number of deaths swells in Mexico -- and begins to appear in other countries -- Southern California’s vast Latino immigrant community has been increasingly on edge and questioning whether traveling back home is a good idea. The U.S. government recommended that people not go to Mexico unless it was necessary. Many people have kept careful track of which Mexican states have been touched by swine flu.

The disease has been found in a milder form in several U.S. states, including California and New York, but has been most concentrated -- and fatal -- in Mexico, particularly in the capital, where many L.A. residents came from and have family.

At El Mercado, a bazaar/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 the swine flu has been reported. He had planned to go to a fair where vendors are selling baby Jesus figures -- like the ones clad in pope and Aztec outfits he peddles here -- but decided not to because of the swine flu.

“If this thing gets really bad and they close the border, you’re stuck over there,” said Parodi, who travels to Mexico once a month. “I don’t have the variety of [baby Jesus] figures I want, but why take a chance and get sick? There’s no way to protect yourself for sure against something like this.”

But Fernando Martinez, 26, the owner of the 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.”

Reyes, the college student, said his flight would take him to Guadalajara, where he would meet with a cousin who would fly with him to Ciudad Juarez, where his legal residency interview would take place. “This is my future. Otherwise, I swear I wouldn’t be going.”

-- Hector Becerra