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By Hannah Guzik

A group of 13 women sit in a circle under a painting of ancient Mesoamerica featuring the first indigenous president of Mexico, Benito Juárez. Under the painting is a quote by Juárez, in Spanish. Translated, it reads, “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.” The room is sparse, with folding chairs, incense burning on a small table and blocks in a corner for the toddlers who sometimes come with their mothers. The women, wearing the same jeans and T-shirts they wear to work in the fields, sip tea in paper cups. There’s a printout of a chrysalis and butterfly taped to the wall.

The women here at the Mixteco/Indigena Organizing Project in downtown Oxnard are part of a new support group and are learning how to manage stress and deal with difficulties in their lives, sometimes including domestic violence and mental illness. As indigenous people, they’ve felt their “outsider status” in both Mexico and the United States. They face other troubles every day as members of an often invisible minority group in California.

The support group is sponsored by the nonprofit Organizing Project, formed in 2001 to help indigenous immigrants in Ventura County and statewide. As the Affordable Care Act has expanded health care to much of California’s population, the nonprofit has stepped up the services it offers to those who have been largely left out of health reform: undocumented residents.

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By Hannah Guzik

When Irene Gomez emigrated from Mexico at 14, she immediately began working in the strawberry fields in the Oxnard Plain.

The work was exhausting, poorly paid and unreliable — but that was the least of her problems. She was also helping a friend escape from a violent relationship and was worried about living in the U.S. without legal papers.

She was overwhelmed, but felt she had nowhere to turn.

Gomez speaks Mixteco, an indigenous language that existed before the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. She’s among the estimated 165,000 indigenous farmworkers who have immigrated to California in the last two decades. About 60 percent of them do not speak English or Spanish.

Although many counties have programs that provide at least some medical care to this population, access to mental health services is extremely limited in most parts of the state.

This is despite the fact that indigenous farmworkers are believed to face higher amounts of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population, said Sandra Barrientos, a therapist with the Ventura County Health Care Agency.

 

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By Hannah Guzik

Demetria Martinez is sitting in a state funded children’s center in Oxnard, wrapping her baby daughter in a shawl, when worry invades her face. Her daughter is sick, she says. Something about her heart. The doctors told her, but she didn’t understand.

Martinez is speaking Mixteco—an indigenous Mexican language full of clicks and tones not used in English or Spanish—but she conveys her emotion without words too. Twisting the ends of her rebozo, frayed from all the baby wearing and worrying, she says what she does understand is that she’s still making payments on a $1,700 hospital bill for the tests doctors did on her 5-month-old daughter.

“I can’t afford it,” she says, speaking through an interpreter. “I’m worried too much about it, and I don’t know what to do. They said her heart isn’t working right. They said her heart is not OK.”

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By New American Media Health Editor Viji Sundaram

Originally published on the New American Media website on June 30, 2013.

New American Media Editor’s Note: After spending two years among indigenous farm workers in Mexico and in labor camps in the United States, medical anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes documents how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism undermine their health and access to health care in his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. He spoke to NAM Health Editor Viji Sundaram.

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By Kate Moser
California Health Report

California has some of the nation’s toughest laws meant to ensure equal health care services for people who aren’t fluent in English.

But many limited English-speaking patients still lack the interpreters necessary to have meaningful communication with medical providers, particularly in emergency scenarios. The problem is acute for the communities of indigenous Mexican immigrants in California, advocates and practitioners say.

“The root of the problem is that until fairly recently, the huge indigenous population in California was under the radar,” said Sandra Young, a family nurse practitioner at a clinic in Oxnard and the president of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project.

Many indigenous Mexican immigrants are farmworkers, the most recent arrivals in the state’s agricultural labor market, according to the Indigenous Farmworker Study, a California Endowment-funded study completed in 2010.

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