CREDIT: Allison Sanchez
Marlene Cordova with family at her high school graduation in June 2017 at the Covina Valley District Field.

I learned of the first outbreak of the coronavirus in my city the night of March 15 when my co-worker came back into the restaurant’s kitchen from break and then freaked out.

Credit: Katherine Conchas

Marlene Cordova

“They found a case of the virus linked to West Covina High School,” she wailed softly.

I couldn’t engage in the conversation — speaking of the virus only made it more real to me. I waited my turn to go on a break to check for myself. I opened Instagram and saw “West Covina” and “Covid-19” in the same sentence. I closed the app and pushed away my phone because I did not want to read any more and couldn’t risk experiencing an anxiety attack at work.

That moment required me to be an In-N-Out associate and not a scared girl with big plans for her future.

Yet I am scared because I have never been through anything like this. Back in 2009, when the swine flu was the scariest thing threatening my life, I was 10 and didn’t fear anything. I didn’t have anything to lose. Now I have investments in my future. I have bills and responsibilities.

I am a first-generation college student and would be the first in my family to attend a four-year college and graduate. There’s a ton of self-imposed pressure on me to finish school and begin a career. I want to help my family who took care of my two sisters and me when my mom had to work. I think my family needs that success story to tell and I would love to be the one to give it to them.

I’m three years into college and although my path sometimes is unclear to me, I have kept going. I also work because I realize how hard it is for my family to put me through school. Things are unclear now and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. I’ve lost hours at work and while I want to give my online classes all of my attention, It’s hard to focus when all I can think about is the uncertainty of the economy. If I can’t complete my courses this semester, I don’t have the money to take them in the summer.

The pandemic scares me because of how uncertain things have become. If the economy takes a hit, then what’s going to happen to me? Would I have to pick up a second job? I plan to graduate in the spring of 2021. It would suck to have to put that on hold.

Yet, as much as I want to take care of myself and help my family, that isn’t entirely up to me.

Southern California has been living with coronavirus concerns for weeks. My classes at California State University, Los Angeles, went from face-to-face to virtual sessions on March 12. As there was no longer a need to be on campus, I stopped riding the potentially infectious train. My everyday life was put on pause out of concern for my well-being. I thought that these rapid changes meant things were going to get better.

But things have become worse. I have come to realize that no matter how hard I try to keep myself safe, others aren’t taking the same precautions.

While the media is reporting about panic-buying of toilet paper and pasta in the face of quarantine, my friends treat this pandemic like it is no big deal. They try to quell one another’s fears by saying, “It won’t affect us; we’re young.” Or, “This is nothing, Marlene: Look at all the cases of recovery.”

As much as I want to live my life without fear and hope everything will turn out OK, I am trying to take small preventive measures because, at this moment, I can’t be selfish.

I stopped going to the gym and started a new workout program from home. I disinfect everything and limit my social outings. While I might not be as prone as others to infection, I would hate to be the source of contagion if my family got sick.

My mom raised three girls solo and instilled in us how important is to take care of yourself and each other. My family always supported everything I wanted to do, whether it was by buying me paintbrushes, cupcake trays, books or basketball shoes. I had it all because they believed and invested in me.

I just recently discovered what I want to do with my life. I want to pursue a journalism career. I want to write about important issues in a way the everyday person can understand. I promised myself to go all-in to achieve my goal because I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Now I don’t know where to go from here.


Marlene Cordova is a journalism student at California State University, Los Angeles, and a writer for the California Student Journalism Corps.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource seeks to publish pieces that reflect the diversity of California’s education system and how teachers, students and the community are facing the coronavirus crisis. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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