Back at home in the border town of Mission, Texas, interdisciplinary studies senior Roman Vasquez has taken to walks to help clear his head.

The quarter-mile walk up and down his street is quick and easy, he said, and helps him feel less stuck at home, surrounded by the community he left for college four years ago.

Vasquez has seen a lot of sudden change in all his communities since the outbreak, from the Mission community to his own friends and family, and especially in the Latino community, he said.

“A lot of Latinos are in jobs that don't afford you the privilege to work from home,” Vasquez said. “And even if you could have that privilege, you may not be able to do so. Like if you work for the federal government.”

Vasquez sees the effects of this up close every day because both his mom and stepdad work for the Department of Homeland Security, he said. They work in different areas, but they’re both still going to work.

Vasquez’s mother works cases, and it’s a legal issue to work them from home, Vasquez said. Despite the precautions of speaking to clients through glass, the situation leaves the family uneasy.

“There's more protective gear being used now, obviously, because of whatever, of everything that's going on. But we're still concerned,” Vasquez said. “Just because we don't know if someone is asymptomatic. How are we going to know what we’re interacting with?”

However, not all changes in students’ communities have been worrying. Computer science graduate student Syed Zaid Imam said that since he’s been going on walks, he’s noticed how warm his neighborhood has become.

“People have become very, you know, friendly. Now they wave their hand to me or anyone around them,” Imam said.

Imam said that he thinks this is because being at home for so long has made people miss each other in a way they’d never had a reason to before.

“When I’d usually go to a campus, that was my walk. But after lockdown," he said. "There's no activities and outdoor activities, so I usually go, you know, go out, you know, once a day for about 30 to 40 minutes.”

Imam regularly walks around his apartment building to relax and just listen to songs. He normally sees people exercising too, around 10 or 15, every time he goes.

For Imam, his community of friends and roommates have come together in this time, and are making the most of the hand they were dealt.

“Since I live with my friends who are also students like me, so everyone has become a chef because they’re cooking their food by themselves, and they’re doing activities they don’t usually do, like cleaning and everything, other little stuff.”

Similarly to Imam, economics sophomore Thomas Supina said that he’s going outside the same amount as before lockdown, but instead of it being for class, it’s now for exercise and a little reality check.

“I've been doing a lot of running and biking stuff,” Supina said. “I like working out. Normally I’d do it in a gym, but since everything is shut down, I figured it'd be a good time to focus on cardio.”

Supina has seen his community shift in recent times as well. He lives in Fort Worth, he said, and although he hasn’t noticed the community being friendlier than normal, their numbers have definitely increased.

“I don't really interact with them, but I've noticed that there are just more people outside in general,” Supina said. “I don't know if they're tired of being stuck in the house, or like me, they don't have a gym anymore.”

When he’s outside in Fort Worth, the people aren’t nasty, but they don’t go out of their way to be friendly, Supina said. But when he travels to the town of Benbrook nearby, things are a little different.

“When I go run on a trail, I like to go to Benbrook,” Supina said. “People there are a lot friendlier, you know, they'll say hi, wave hands, stuff like that. So I guess it depends on where you are.”

Vasquez has had a different experience than Supina on his walks, though.

When he feels stuck and like he needs to get outside, he prefers to drive because it’s safer, Vasquez said. But on walks there’s hardly anyone around, definitely less than before the virus.

Vasquez said that it’s actually OK to not see as many people as usual, since he’s seen his social anxiety lessen recently just from seeing neighbors wave from their porches or smile from afar.

“It makes it a little bit easier for me to just breathe and think. It’s through a mask, but I'm still able to breathe and think and kind of clear my head,” Vasquez said.


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