Mexico supports Wellness Center

By C.J. Barbre

What if it were different. What if our perceptions were wrong. Yes, Mexico has problems, but so do we.

In the city of Lindsay's desire to address concerns about the health and wellness of its citizens, 76% of whom are Hispanic, with school enrollment at 85% Hispanic, it has for five years been planning and finding support through grants and loans for a proposed Wellness Center.

Several months ago the city hired political consultant Arnoldo Torres to help with the Wellness Center proposal and with AHORA, (Academic, Health,Occupational, Residential Advancement) a proactive group of Hispanics, regarding their needs.

Torres, who works out of Sacramento and is very well connected in Mexico, said the city should approach the Mexican government for support, for a cross-border, bi-national program particularly with the states of Michoacan and Jalisco, the points of origin for the vast majority of farm workers who reside and work in Lindsay and surrounding areas.

An executive summary report by Torres stated, &#8220The participation of and partnership with Michoacan and Jalisco will allow these much needed services to be culturally and linguistically competent so as to insure that investment of service dollars effectively deal with the needs of mono-lingual Spanish-speaking working families.” In other words, financial support and cultural exchanges would benefit both countries and the migrant farm workers needed by the U.S. agricultural industry, who send millions of dollars back home to Mexico. The report noted that Lindsay was designated &#8220Medically Under-Served” at this time, and the Wellness Center would bridge that gap, not just for Lindsay, but for much of the South Valley.

The report went on to say, &#8220It is important to note that no such initiatives of this nature or magnitude have ever been pursued. The Wellness Center will serve as an inspirational model for other agricultural communities to study and follow in the future.”

On Sunday, May 21, a contingent of 23 people from Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida to Lindsay Police Chief Ramon Figueroa, to Visalia City Councilmember Jesus Gamboa, who is also Chief Operations Officer for Proteus, a job service and retention program, and an appointee to the Institute for Mexicans Abroad advisory group, flew to Mexico to meet face-to-face with potential supporters of a bi-natioal approach to the proposed Lindsay Wellness Center. After three days of non-stop meetings with every government department that might possibly be interested, it was apparent that both sides had a lot to offer and a lot alredy invested.

The group would first visit with the Assistant Secretary for North American Affairs, Geronimo Gutierrez, at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 22 in Mexico City. Arriving in Mexico at 6 p.m., Sunday, there were still a couple of hours of daylight left after going through airport checkout, enough to stop by the different churches of Our Lady of Guadalupe, built about a century apart beginning in the 1500s and all located in the same plaza area within an easy walk of one another.

According to Wikipedia, &#8220Despite disputes as to the veracity of the legend, the Virgin of Guadalupe has proved very popular in Mexico over the years. A church was built in 1533, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thereafter, Spanish missionaries used the story of her appearance to help convert millions of indigenous people in what had been the Aztec Empire. Our Lady of Guadalupe still underpins the faith of Catholics in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and she has been recognized as patron saint of Mexico City since 1737.” Torres lit a candle for a loved one while one of the van drivers gave an impromptu hisory lesson about the churches.

That evening, on a rooftop restaurant overlooking Constitution Plaza, the largest town square in the Western Hemisphere, people were listening to contemporary musicians performing on a stage, sounding much like Rave music, while a huge Mexican flag gently waved in the chilly night breezes.

The following morning the Lindsay group arrived promptly at 10 a.m. at the offices of North American Affairs.

&#8220You come obviously at a very critical time, and a very hectic one,” Assistant Secretary Geronimo Gutierrez told the group, referring to the revamping of immigration policy taking place in Washington, D.C. last week.

Lindsay Mayor Ed Murray shared about the small farming community with eight packing houses - farming oranges, olives and grapes. He told how the hospital closed in 2000; how the Wellness Center idea came about; about a trip some Lindsay representatives made to Guadalajara two years ago to find out how to make the center work for Lindsay.

&#8220If it's just for Anglos it won't work,” Murray said. &#8220The project will cost about $8 million. We have raised about $5.5 million and want it to be for all the people, with health services in English and Spanish.”

Lindsay Director of Special Projects, Kindon Meik, explained that the Health Care Advisory Committee had spent several years studying the situation and focus groups had been formed to collect information so that, &#8220We have developed what we think is an ideal resource for the agricultural worker community, a model that can be copied. We're real excited,” he said.

Supervisor Ishida said, &#8220One of the most important aspects is collaborating politically, a win-win for us. When Vicente Fox meets with the Governor of California he can say, we are looking at the health of the people.”

Torres noted that all of the elements and infrastructure are in place. &#8220There are three players, the city, county government and Michoacan,” he said. &#8220A contribution by Mexico makes the whole point - a buy-in.”

&#8220Let me, in a very honest way, commend you for making the effort to pursue an idea, a model that is really unique and important,” Gutierrez responded. &#8220I know how difficult it is to advance this type of project.” He then pledged the support of the Mexican government. &#8220I cannot say at this time how, but we will find a way to channel financial support,” he said.

Gutierrez suggested establishing an office at the Wellness Center much like they have health consultants who make referrals for health needs now. &#8220I find no reason we could not establish a Plaza Comunitaria there.” In fact, at a press conference held at the Consul of Mexico in Fresno on Friday, May 19 by the City of Lindsay, where it announced this delegation's travel to Mexico, a representative of the Consul stated that she would be placing a Plaza Comunitaria and other services in the Wellness Center. The &#8220Plaza Comunitaria” is a program offered to Mexican nationals who desire to finish their educational studies that they began in Mexico, in the US

Gutierrez said his office could contact multinational firms regarding funding. &#8220I think some would be willing to support it.” He said they could also look at funding on the part of the Mexican government, but legal aspects made that difficult. He said one option would be to establish a mobile consulate.

&#8220The nature of this project is precisely what is needed at this time - a way to take advantage of the migrant phenomena - a crucial aspect emerging out of this debate. I'm very confident it will work out over time. This appreciates that without workers [U.S. agricultural communities] will not do well. This is the right way to start, and with the help of Mexico. The concept of shared responsibility is crucial.”

Gutierrez said he was confident that the U.S. Senate would move forward with comprehensive legislation. &#8220When that happens, these types of projects will be extremely important.” He said solutions to assimilation problems were desperately needed. &#8220Mexican officials feel responsibility for so many people in the U.S.” He said Mexico must work to make sure immigration is not a forced decision, noting that 40% of Mexicans have a friend or relative in the U.S. Mexico City alone is the 10th most populous city in the world, with 8.6 million people, according to Wikipedia.

&#8220Our median age is 32, yours is 38. There is a need to assure the movement of people across the border is legal and safe. This does not promote immigration. Mexico looses when people leave.” Gutierrez said when people start thinking on both sides of the border with more commitment, it would be better for all.

&#8220There is going to be a new face of the U.S. melting pot, so these projects are crucial. Take back a clear message. We will support your project. We will try to make sure this example gets raised with Governor Schwarznegger and President Fox this week. I really commend you for taking this leadership. We would be crazy to ignore it.”

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