by Josue Chavarin
Having the opportunity to work on the BRAVE study with Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants has made me think about my upbringing and about my immigrant story. I was raised in a Mexican and Filipino neighborhood in Salinas, California. Even though Salinas is located only a few miles away from some of the wealthiest cities and towns in the U.S., like Carmel and Pebble Beach, Salinas is a fairly poor and under-resourced farming community. The people living in my neighborhood are almost all first generation immigrants, a majority are undocumented, and they mostly work as farmworkers in Salinas Valley’s rich fields.
My parents who came to the U.S. from Mexico spent 15 years laboring in the artichoke fields alongside my next door neighbors who came from the Philippines and worked in a nearby mushroom farm. I often remember coming back from school and watching my parents and our neighbors come back exhausted from work. In the evening, the air would be impregnated with the smell of fertilizer, mud, and pesticides. Perhaps, our families never acknowledged this aloud but we were united in our struggle. In the monotony and struggles of daily life, both of our families would support each other. We attended the same churches, greeted each other as we headed off to work and school, and shared the fruits of our labor, whether it was artichokes or mushrooms. We were united in our desire to survive, thrive, contribute to our communities and be treated with dignity. It is this same spirit of solidarity that has motivated me to participate in the BRAVE study.
I am proud to say that I am from the Salinas valley and like the artichokes and mushrooms that my parents and neighbors cultivated, I too am a product of their labor. And here I am years later working to cultivate the #Health4All campaign, a movement that advocates for access to basic health care services for all Californians, including the undocumented. Ultimately, the #Health4All campaign recognizes that California as a whole suffers when undocumented Californians; Latino, AAPI, African, or otherwise, are locked out of care. This campaign recognizes the economic contributions that the undocumented community makes to California, it uplifts the value of extending preventive services to everyone, and it stresses that access to health care services should be a basic human right.
The campaign humanizes the impact of locking out undocumented Californians from care. With the help of our partners, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Pre Health Dreamers and Aspire, we have been able to uplift stories from the AAPI community. Stories of AAPI undocumented individuals who unfortunately passed away because they did not have access to basic treatment services to help stabilize their diabetes. Or stories of individuals who are currently suffering from late stage cancer that could have been detected and treated if they had access to basic preventive health services.
This effort is now reaping what it has sown because as early as May of this year, all low-income undocumented youth, including AAPI youth, will have access to all the services offered by Medi-Cal, our state sponsored health coverage program. Collectively, we rejoice because we all had a role in this effort. This movement has grown off of the backbreaking labor and efforts of many. Yet we know that there is still much work to be done. The BRAVE study, by interviewing and working with AAPI youth throughout California, will help us understand the health inequities that impact this community. The importance of further understanding the needs of the AAPI youth community cannot be overstated. I look forward to analyzing the findings and to working collaboratively with all of our partners to ensure that we truly achieve #Health4All.