Mexicans in NY Worry About Family Back Home

As the Swine Flu continues to make headlines, Mexicans in New York say they are keeping tabs on their family back home while trying to stay healthy here. Many in this immigrant community are from the state of Puebla, just south of Mexico City and say family members are reporting few illnesses so far there. WNYC's Cindy Rodriguez reports:

REPORTER On Port Richmond Avenue in Staten Island, Mexican restaurants, bodegas and supermarkets dominate the area. Hortencia, Martinez works at Centro de Inmigrante, a neighborhood advocacy group that helps Mexican immigrants with everything from labor disputes to health issues. And lately she says she's been trying to educate people about Influenza Porcina - the Swine Flu. She reads from a memo sent to her by the Mexican Consulate:

MARTINEZ / ENGLISH TRANSLATION: If they have a high fever above 102, a cough a headache, muscle aches, watery eyes. If they have those symptoms they must go directly to the doctor.

REPORTER: Martinez says she has a good relationship with the Consulate General's office and is trying to keep people informed about what's happening in their homeland. Florentino Melendez has been calling home to find out how his family is doing. His hands are full of tomatoes as he stops stocking fruits and vegetables for a moment:

MELENDEZ / ENGLISH TRANSLATION: He says of course we are worried about our families...but so far everything is ok.

REPORTER: Melendez says they are wearing masks and staying indoors. The Mexican immigrant says he has been in New York 3 years and so far the illness has not caused much of a stir Staten Island largely because no one has been directly affected. But he says everyone should take precautions.

MELENDEZ / ENGLISH TRANSLATION: ...because it's not an illness that's only affecting Mexicans its everyone all over.

REPORTER: Down the street at the Latin Empire super market Araceli Ramirez is not taking any chances:

RAMIREZ / ENGLISH TRANSLATION: She says because of everything that's happened she will no longer send her kids to see their Grandmother in Mexico even though she had already purchased their plane tickets and gotten them passports.

REPORTER: Martinez says she's worried about her Grandmother especially because she is already in bad health and likely would not be able to survive an illness like the swine flu....

REPORTER: Miles away in Queens, other Mexicans are grappling with travel plans. Mariela Elizondo was born in Chicago but her family lives in Mexico. She says she will be attending a wedding there next month.

ELIZONDO: I leave on the 16th so I was a little worried about it especially because my flight is stopping in Mexico City.

REPORTER: Elizondo says she will wear a mask but wonders how much good that will do on a plan with no ventilation:

ELIZONDO: The oxygen is just being reused and reused so i really don't know.

REPORTER: Elizondo volunteers for the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York. On a recent evening at the group's Jackson Heights office most people were more concerned about immigration reform than the swine flu. Omar Benitez said he did worry about his family from Mexico City but he was also worried about himself:

BENITEZ: On Thursday I was very sick you know I lost my voice I don't know if you can hear it. I was kind of scared you know.

REPORTER: Benitez says he went to a pharmacy and got a shot and now he feels better. He says many uninsured immigrants find it hard to get medical help and are often turned away from hospitals. Nearby pharmacies say people have been buying up hand sanitizers and two businesses have run out of masks only to find out the wholesaler has as well.

for wnyc, I'm Cindy Rodriguez