CIRS Blog about Rural California
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.
FRESNO — Hmong parents and community members gathered for a listening session here last month where they weighed in on the debate over how local school districts should be allocating their state funds. By the end of the discussion, the message was clear: a lack of translation services for Hmong speakers is the greatest barrier to that community’s engagement with Fresno Unified (FUSD) schools.
“When I go (to school meetings), I feel like I’m an outcast,” said Yeng Xiong, a mother of two and a native Hmong speaker. Xiong said she still attends the school meetings, even though there is never a translator for her.
Hmong youth make up the second largest group of English Language Learner (ELL) students in FUSD, with Spanish-speaking students being the largest, according to the California Department of Education. Hmong are the largest Asian ethnic group in the City of Fresno, with a population of 31,771, or 3.6 percent of the city’s total population, according to 2010 census figures. In the U.S., only Minneapolis boasts a larger Hmong community (64,422) than Fresno.