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This Texas Teen Worries About Prom, Graduation — And The Economy

Courtesy of Izcan Ordaz
Izcan Ordaz, 18, is a senior at Central High School in the Keller Independent School District. He voted for the first time on Super Tuesday.

Izcan Ordaz voted for the first time in Texas’ Democratic primary on March 3, or Super Tuesday. As an 18-year-old high school senior, he was excited for this milestone in his young life.

That was just before the U.S. became an epicenter in the coronavirus pandemic.

The election issues Ordaz was most concerned about were the cost of college and student loans. Now, the U.S. economy and job insecurity are at the top of his mind. Meanwhile, his other high school milestones, like prom and graduation, have been postponed until coronavirus restrictions are lifted. 

As the November presidential election nears, Ordaz — a Central High School student in the Keller Independent School District — said he’s paying more attention to what candidates do and say on the economy. 

“I know if layoffs continue to escalate, if unemployment applicants continue to rise, then it could really start to reflect what is being done. And people are going to want to see what's being taken care of,” said Ordaz, whose father is an immigrant from Mexico. 

Democratic Party leaders in Texas say the Latino vote is an important voting bloc, one that could help make the state less red. Nearly 40% of Texas’ population is Latino, and about one in three eligible voters is Latino. The majority tend to vote Democratic, but the Republican-led state still sees higher levels of Latino support during elections compared to other parts of the country. In the 2018 midterm elections, 42% of Latinos voted for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Unlike many other young Latinos who flocked to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ordaz said he wasn’t sold on the man often affectionately called “Tío Bernie.” Sanders recently dropped out of the race for the Democratic Party presidential nominee and has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden.

Ordaz describes himself as more of a centrist and said his parents are more liberal than he is: They were Bernie Sanders supporters.

Credit Courtesy of Izcan Ordaz
Izcan Ordaz (center) stands with his mom, Xochitl Ortiz (left), and dad, Simon Ordaz (right).

The family lives just outside Keller, a suburb of Fort Worth, known for good schools and good neighborhoods and where the average household income is more than $145,000. Ordaz said growing up in a middle-class home and going to school alongside conservative classmates has influenced his political views. 

“Ideologically, some of the socialism things that [Sanders] embraces, I just understand that America is just still more individualist, and so some of these ideas are really not going to fly with a lot of the more moderate thinkers.”

Ordaz said he liked Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg at first, because he thought Bloomberg could compete against President Donald Trump as a successful billionaire businessman. But he said Bloomberg’s decision to enter late in the presidential race hurt him, and Ordaz thought the candidate didn’t have the support he needed to win the Democratic nomination.

So he voted for Biden in the Texas primary. 

When it comes to Trump, though, Ordaz and his parents agree: They don’t want to see him re-elected. Simon Ordaz, Izcan Ordaz’s father, said Trump’s rhetoric on immigration has been hard on him. 

“It’s been very difficult, and definitely politics and race is a main topic,” Simon Ordaz said. “Obviously, I'm a citizen of the U.S., but I’m also an immigrant from Mexico and very proud of that culture.”

Izcan Ordaz’s mother, Xochitl Ortiz, who was born in Chicago, said most immigrants who come to the U.S. are seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Credit Ana Perez / KERA News
Izcan Ordaz and his mother, Xochitl Ortiz, have a close-knit relationship. In February, she took him to a student leadership conference in Fort Worth.

“To see immigrants being portrayed in such a negative way is just really — I think it’s un-American, first of all. But it’s also very hurtful for people who are here, who are immigrants,” she said. 

Even though immigration is an important issue to him and his parents, Ordaz said he’s now much more worried about COVID-19’s impact on the economy. 

Like most high school students across the country, Ordaz is trying to adjust to doing schoolwork from home amid a pandemic. He connects with teachers via the online video-conferencing app Zoom and he’s turned his bedroom into his classroom. 

But it hasn’t been an easy transition. 

“Overall, I think it’s been pretty hard to study and to try to learn something,” he said. “It might just be mixed with, like, a little bit of senioritis that I’m already feeling, but I think the loss of schedule and the loss of routine has really made it hard for a lot of students to stay on top of the work.” 

Credit Ana Perez / KERA News
Izcan Ordaz, a high school senior in Keller ISD, attends a student leadership conference in Fort Worth before the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he waits to learn if prom and graduation will take place this year, Ordaz said he was looking forward to performing a song he co-wrote with a friend at prom. The song, called “Friday Night Lights,” is an ode to their high school years. 

“That would be really unfortunate, you know, if I wasn’t able to [perform] that, because that was kind of like a dream that we had,” he said. “But obviously with no prom, there’s no possibility for that.”

This story is part of "Every 30 Seconds," a collaborative public media reporting project tracing the young Latino electorate leading up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond. KERAPRX, The World and public radio stations around the country are participating in the year-long effort.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.