The eldest of five children, Jessai Flores ’23 is hunkering down in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie, Texas, for the quarantine and thinking about his mother, a healthcare professional.
Flores is a first-generation, low-income student trying to find ways to support himself and his family amid the coronavirus pandemic that upended his first year at Yale. Like many, he left behind friends, projects and extracurriculars after the University told students to vacate their dorms. At home in Texas, Flores worries about his family, their financial stability and the future on the whole in a state that has been slow to respond to the unfolding public health crisis. Separation from his academic and extracurricular activities has become the new normal for Flores as he looks to find a job in the summer to help support his family.
“The biggest thing is that my schedule just basically doesn’t exist anymore because back at Yale, I would wake up, go to breakfast and then get ready for class. Afterwards, I would have extracurriculars or meet up with friends,” Flores told the News in an interview. “But now that while we’re stuck at home, it’s usually you wake up to get ready for your video conference and then you basically have the rest of the day with either nothing to do with housework or homework. And then after that, you just start the whole day over again, and I will say that it does get boring, but if it means that we keep people safe then that’s okay with me.”
Flores, who has written for News as a guest opinion columnist, is a first year in Davenport College. He wants to major in English and Political Science, but at the moment, he remains undeclared.
For Flores, life at Yale is characterized by routines now irrelevant to his current daily life. On campus, he is involved in both the FGLI community and at La Casa Cultural. However, he has not stayed in touch with the groups since leaving campus. For him, the biggest difference is that he doesn’t “have that feeling of social interaction anymore.”
His parents’ house in Grand Prairie is crowded, as Jessai’s four younger siblings also no longer have school in-person. He has two sisters aged 15 and four, and two brothers aged 12 and six. His father, whose business working as a remodeling contractor in the area has been deemed non-essential, stays home now as well.
The only person who regularly ventures out of the house is his mother Ada Lechuga. She works as a Spanish medical translator at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
“It is really different because I work nights. So, my schedule is I try to sleep during the mornings,” Lechuga said. “Everyone’s up at different times. So, it’s hard for me to rest and then I have to help them with whatever I can with the homework because I have a six year old that needs help obviously with homework and the 12 year old, he suffers severe anxiety and all of this has not been so good for him, being apart from his daily routine.”
Even though the hospital has been taking steps to protect Lechuga and her colleagues, like translating over the phone when possible, Flores still worries for his mother and the rest of their family if she gets sick. Not only will they all get sick as well, but she is currently the family’s only source of income. Lechuga said that she already had to ask for an extension on the mortgage payment for the first time ever because she could either pay that bill or buy food for the family — not both.
For Flores, trying to find a space to call into his classes on Zoom and complete his homework has become a daily struggle in the house. He is also looking for work in Texas now after he held down irregular jobs back on campus. He was slated to work Commencement and the alumni reunions in May, but those have since been cancelled. The family had planned for Flores to come home for summer anyway, but the crisis has reduced the number of available internship opportunities, so he is searching for employment wherever he can find it.
Overall, Flores fears that life will not go back to the way it was. Some days, he said, everything seems out of control and “there’s nothing you can do about it.” A recent social media post from a high school friend about how her godmother had been infected and hospitalized hit home for Flores. So did a recent trip to his local Walmart where staff were using shopping carts as barricades and there was a line to get into the store.
“It made me emotional because, you know, this is my neighborhood where I’ve grown up and just to see it the way it is,” he shared. “It’s a blow to the heart.”
For Flores, what makes him feel hopeful, however, is that he gets to spend more time with his family, even if he has to fight for a space to do his schoolwork.
Jose Davila IV | firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is part of a larger series profiling Yale and New Haven community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more, click here.