Mendota: 'The Cantaloupe Center of the World'

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Mendota is Fresno County, California.

Mendota is in Fresno County, California. (photo: Samuel Rubio)

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.

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About Sam Rubio

I was born and raised in western Fresno County. I graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. Upon receiving my degree, I returned to Mendota and accepted a job with the local school district. I taught high school science for a year; I also accepted the position of head wrestling coach which I held for three years. After teaching at the high school I opened a small café in my hometown. Since returning to my community, I have led countless projects to beautify the city. I have worked with volunteers to plant trees and educate the residents of Mendota on smoke detector safety and proper litter disposal. I have led volunteers in projects painting murals, cleaning parks, pulling litter out of local canals and cleaning graffiti in efforts to show the community the power of organization and group efforts. I have recently completed a Post-Baccalaureate program through the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, and am currently applying to medical school.

Comments (6)

  1. Rebecca says:

    Sam – I really like your first blog post! I’m glad you can add the San Joaquín Valley’s voice to this blog. Look forward to reading more.

  2. Maggie says:

    There is a major problem with healthcare in Mendota. The fact is that 90% of physicians go into specialty care and the other 10% do not want to practice in towns like Mendota, thus making it hard health centers to attract physicians. Then on the other hand you the State making major budget cuts to Medical and Medicare. The State is currently proposing to put a soft cap on Medical, which would limit the visits a medical patient can go to the Dr. throughout the year.

  3. Samantha says:

    Superb, Sam! I look forward to future blogs.

  4. Edward says:

    These are all well known problems…what’s being done about it, is the real question???? And also, there seems to be a negative connotation to having non doctor providers. Why is that? Another thing, access to doctors is not the biggest contributer to “good health,” but we’ll see what others say…

  5. Miguel says:

    As a Life Science teacher in a small school, I may be a bit bias but I think reaching “good health” begins with a “good education”.

  6. Gil Vasquez says:

    Sam – great report! It ironic that when I ran into you, we were talking about healthcare in the Mendota/Firebaugh area. Looking forward to your next report….