Episode 215: First-Gen Ivy Leaguer Straddles Two Worlds; Actor Luis Guzmán On Living In Vermont

The pandemic has been a balancing act for first-gen college students like Mikayla, who attends Brown University while worrying about her family back home. This week on NEXT, Mikayla’s audio diaries on navigating 2020 as an Ivy Leaguer and the daughter of undocumented immigrants. Plus, when a student gets COVID — what’s it like in the “isolation dorms”? And actor Luis Guzmán on making Vermont his home.

‘Balancing Act’: Navigating College And Family During A Pandemic

Mosaic Host Ana González and Mikayla outside Mikayla’s off-campus apartment in Rhode Island. (Cheryl Adams Photography)

We’re still in the middle of a pandemic that has hit communities of color the hardest. That has worried people like Mikayla. She’s a first-generation college student at Brown University in Rhode Island, keeping up her studies while her family is back home in Los Angeles. Mikayla’s parents are undocumented Mexican immigrants, so we’re using a pseudonym for her.

In March, when Brown decided to transition to remote learning, Mikayla began recording audio diaries, sharing her life with us as she straddles two very different worlds — and tries to build a future despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. She navigated a summer internship and preparing for school in the fall, all while wrestling with a decision to visit her family in California.

“I always struggle with feeling guilty about doing something that makes me happy, especially during this pandemic because it is a danger,” Mikayla said. “It is a public health hazard.”

Balancing Act‘ is the Season 2 premiere of Mosaic, a podcast about immigration and identity, produced at The Public’s Radio and hosted by Ana González.

In The Isolation Dorm: Doubts, Fears And Tedium When A Boston Student Tests Positive

Demonstration of Covid-19 sample stations process at Boston University. (Janice Checchio/Boston University Photography)

Northeastern University in Boston recently dismissed a group of  11 students for the fall semester after they were caught breaking COVID safety rules. But that wasn’t the thing that ticked people off so much — it had more to do with Northeastern keeping the students’ $36,500 tuition and not issuing refunds, the Boston Globe reported

About two miles away at Boston University, administrators have also instituted safety protocols, including frequent COVID testing for students. As WBUR’s Angus Chen reports, those tests have added anxiety to an already unusual back-to-school season. When students test positive, they are removed from their housing and placed in isolation dorms. Microwavable food is delivered to them, and the university checks in by phone to see how they’re doing at least once a day.

“It’s been pretty taxing on my mental health,” said Nabil, a student who was sent to an isolation dorm. “All you can think about is am I sick, will I be sick, will my roommates get sick, etc.”

Since Boston University started testing for COVID in late July, more than 77,000 tests have been conducted and 99.9 percent have come back negative.

Actor Luis Guzmán Finds His Home In Vermont

Actor Luis Guzmán outside his home in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. (Jon Kalish)

If you’ve watched movies over the past few decades, which you probably have, chances are you’d recognize character actor Luis Guzmán.

Guzmán, 63, has acted in more than a hundred films and dozens of TV shows. Born in Puerto Rico, he grew up in New York and lived in the city’s Lower East Side. The first time Guzmán visited Vermont, he was a teenager in a program that brought him to Goddard College’s Institute for Social Ecology, then housed on a farm in Plainfield, Vt. It was the mid-1970s.

“The air, the vibe, you know, growing your own food and solar energy,” Guzmán recalled. “These guys were doing all this type of stuff, you know, and I was going to the quarry and swimming and everybody was butt naked and stuff. Oh hell yeah. You don’t see that stuff in the city. So you kind of discover a new sense of freedom.”

Independent producer Jon Kalish reports on Guzmán’s connection to Vermont, where he has lived since 1995, and what it’s been like for the movie star to raise his Latino family in a mostly white state.

NEXT Wants To Hear From You:

Next week, we’ll begin featuring a series of special episodes on racism in New England, a collaboration between the New England News Collaborative and America Amplified. And we’d like to hear from you:

What questions do you have about the history of racism in our region? And how have you experienced this history?

Leave a voicemail on our comment line: 860-275-7595. Or send us an email at next@ctpublic.org.

Also On This Week’s Show:

About NEXT

NEXT is produced at Connecticut Public Radio
Host/Producer: Morgan Springer
Executive Editor: Vanessa de la Torre

Senior Director: Catie Talarski
Contributors to this episode: Sarah Gibson, Angus Chen, Ana González, Jon Kalish and Ryan Lindsay.
Music from New England musicians: Todd Merrell, “New England” by Goodnight Blue Moon, “Kennebec” by Ben Cosgrove, “It’s A Conspiracy” by Kerrin Connolly, “Tracphone” by Latrell James, “King Vice” by Binger and “Outro” by West End Blend.

New to NEXT? You can find every episode or one you missed within our archives

We want your feedback! Send critiques, suggestions, questions and ideas to next@ctpublic.org. Help us spread the word! If you like what you hear, rate and review us on iTunes.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.