The city of Mendota is located in the heart of California’s fertile Central Valley. Originally a railroad station built in 1891, and later incorporated as a city in 1942, it’s nestled in western Fresno County 40 miles west of the city of Fresno. The railroad closed the station in 1910 and agriculture took over as the major industry for employment in the area. A city now known as “The Cantaloupe Center of the World,” with a population estimated at 11,014 residents, over 95 percent of the population is Latino and 50 percent were born in another country. With nearly half the community being immigrant farm workers, there is a separation between residents which is further exaggerated by a communication barrier on how to improve Mendota from within.
There are a few recurring problems that plague residents of Mendota, as well as most people who live in nearby small communities: accessibility to healthcare and health insurance, nutrition habits and Mendota's water shortage. Rural farming towns constantly deal with issues that arise from a lack of major resources not commonly lacking in larger cities. Mendota has no hospital and only two healthcare clinics, one of which does not always have a physician, but rather a physician’s assistant on hand. With so little access to healthcare, problems for both healthcare providers and patients are unavoidable. Physicians and healthcare providers in our local clinics are constantly overworked and cannot put in the necessary time each patient needs to understand his or her illness and how to manage it.
There's also the problem of language barriers. When a monolingual Spanish-speaking patient visits an English-speaking doctor, it's difficult for the physician to explain the importance of preventative care. Several residents say that they worry about the doctor not getting all the correct information, because they're either feeling unsure about the translator or the way the doctor is interpreting information. Issues with communication cause patients to avoid visits with the doctor and wait until their illness progresses beyond repair, requiring a trip to the Emergency Room. In the case of an emergency, our nearest hospital is located in Fresno, approximately an hour’s drive away.
Not many residents of Mendota have health insurance and most that do have Medi-Cal, California’s insurance program for low income individuals. Medi-Cal is the only way many of our city’s residents would have access to healthcare. In order to receive Medi-Cal individuals have to live below the poverty line, meaning they often encounter financial troubles due to seasonal field work. With unemployment in Mendota reaching over 40 percent in 2009, it makes life difficult for residents - especially when attempting lifestyle changes recommended by their physician to improve their health.
Undocumented residents encounter much more trouble because they have no access health insurance at all. Undocumented workers in Mendota often rely entirely on the emergency rooms in Fresno to receive treatment, or they wait until they go back to their home country where healthcare is more affordable and accessible.
California’s continuing water shortages have left many farmers with no choice but to lay off workers, and for some farm owners, sell their land. California’s Central Valley has been dealing with a three-year drought and a political conflict over where northern California’s natural water sources should be allocated. “Water Wars,” as they were called in a 2009 Newsweek article, have caused rivers to run dry, the accumulation of dead fish near pumps, and continuous water shortages. Agriculture being the primary source of income for most members of the community, it is easy to see how issues with the water have left residents desperate to make ends meet.
Many people from Mendota have no choice but to consume fast food and foods high in carbohydrates (rice, tortillas, etc.) because these foods help to make what little money they have last. Also, upon arriving in the U.S., many migrant farm workers do not adopt healthy eating habits. Many “Mendotians,” as they're called here, are susceptible to many health issues due to extremely high carbohydrate diets. Tortillas and pupusas, both very high in carbohydrates, are being consumed at a rate of ten to fifteen per meal in most households I’ve visited. These high carb diets are adding to chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. After discussing this with relatives who work in farm labor in the community, I was told that many undocumented field laborers experienced food scarcity and hunger in their home countries. Consequently, many migrant residents over-eat and pass these habits onto their children.
The health concerns plaguing Mendota are much like the types of issues affecting many small farming communities. With so many people in Mendota living in poverty, many experience the sorts of illnesses that accompany communities with low incomes, like depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, drug addiction, STDs, domestic violence and obesity.