My story as an undocumented American is not a unique one. Surprisingly, stories like mine are becoming very frequent in the media. Oftentimes, the media only captures our resilient work towards education and the aspirations we have for the future. We are labeled “Dreamers,” leaving behind other issues that our immigrant families face. We are a community that struggles with multifaceted issues, from immigration status to college affordability, from lack of job opportunities to health care. The latter being a pivotal factor for the overall wellness.
My journey began in Mexico City, Mexico. I was only four years old when my mother, a single parent, immigrated to the United States and left me with my grandmother in a remote town in the southern state of Oaxaca. Her hope was to find a better future for us. My mother returned and then in 2004, at the age of ten, together my mother and me, embarked on a journey that millions have endured, across the Sonoran desert of northern Mexico. We traveled hundreds of treacherous miles until finally, we reached our destination, Madera, California.
Soon, after we arrived, the grape season began. My mother was unaware of labor laws, so she took me to my first job, harvesting raisin grapes in triple digit weather. About a month later my mom learned that because I was underage she had to enroll me in school. Eight years later I began to attend Fresno Pacific University (FPU). We had to spend all of my personal and family savings to pay for just the first year of tuition. I continued to struggle financially, working three jobs at times to pay my expenses. Throughout my educational journey I met amazing people who opened doors for me. It was through these mentors that I was able to experience an abundance of opportunities. In spring 2016, I graduated with a B.A. in Political Science, Spanish Language and Culture, and a minor in International Relations thanks to a full-ride institutional scholarship I received during my second year at FPU.
In the four years of college, I never visited the doctor for a regular checkup. A key factor was lack of health insurance. I could not afford to pay for private insurance. I also did not qualify for Medi-Cal because of my immigration status. I would come home on weekends and complain to my mother about back and bone pain. She would insist on paying for a medical appointment. I kept in mind how much she had already invested in me. So, I respectfully refused by pretending to feel much better after a massage she would give me, or after she would prepare home remedies for me. As for eye care, I was very fortunate to have access to the Migrant Education program which graciously funded a vision check-up and covered the prescribed glasses I received as I graduated from high school. These glasses helped me get through arduous nights of studying when my eyes felt like they could not read one more word.
About a year ago, I learned that stones were detected in my mom’s liver. She had been keeping it a secret, because she had no health insurance and she did not want me to worry. Even now, as a college graduate, I find it difficult to
visit a clinic for a basic checkup. It is very sad to imagine the stories of other immigrant families who work year-round in the agricultural fields of Central California harvesting our food, exposed to extreme weather conditions and toxic pesticides with no access to a clinic for basic check-ups.
According to a by the California Research Bureau, the agricultural worker’s average life expectancy is just forty-nine years. This is dramatically low in contrast to other industries. A direct connection is limited access or no access to affordable medical care.
Providing access to health clinics should be addressed with urgency. I was thrilled when I first heard of the work that AMOR is doing. It will help improve the lives of hundreds of migrant farm workers and other low income families. Having access to a primary care clinic will make a positive change in the community of Mendota and should be replicated in similar cities.
Jose E. Chavez and his wife, Marlene are currently serving in Guatemala for a year, with the organization, UPAVIM – a women’s cooperative. He has served as a parent coordinator at Every Neighborhood Partnership and has been actively involved in the Fresno and Madera communities. You can keep up with Jose and learn more about his story by visiting his blog at: https://chavezje.wordpress.com/
*Photos courtesy of Jose E. Chavez*
View Jose’s photos on Fresno and Madera farmworkers.