Saturday, July 26, 2008

Week 7 - Jose

This week I taught my final CPR/Standard First Aid course at Southside Presbyterian church in Tucson, Arizona. It was an amazing experience to teach individuals who are activists of their community and to give this course in such sacred place - this church has a history of focusing on social justice issues since the 1980’s when the Sanctuary movement began, co-founded by John Fife. The class was full this time. I actually had one student audit the course because I had gone over the limit of 10 students per class session! The class went very well; they asked me a lot of questions about CPR and First Aid, and at the end of the class, they left confident about their newly learned skills. I was really happy for them. After all, this is the main purpose of the class: to make each student who takes the course to feel confident about using these skills that could, one day, save someone’s life. While at times this community service activity seems trivial, I think that little by little it will someday make some kind of impact in the community.

Additionally, I got to visit Sells, Arizona, the capital of the Tohono O’Odham Nation (a Native American group living in the Sonoran Desert of the US southwest and Mexican northwest). A group of us got to see the hospital. I was able to talk to someone who knows about the healthcare system at the Tohono O’Odham Nation and stumbled upon the question about medical/dental care and access. Having previous knowledge that part of the nation is on Mexican soil, I asked this expert: Do Mexican Tohono O’Odham receive the same type of medical/dental care as their US citizen counterparts? I was expecting for the answer to be “Yes” since the US government made a promise that any individual from the nation would receive free medical/dental access and care. Surprisingly, the expert said “The answer is complicated – yes and no.” While the hospital has doctors and nurses that offer medical care, not all specialties are being covered. For instance, there is no one who can perform general surgery and there are no ultra-sound machines in the hospital. In this case, the patient requiring any further medical help not offered in the clinic is referred to a pre-selected hospital in Tucson where the government has agreed to pay for the costs. Everyone in the nation may go through this, but there is a catch. While Mexican Tohono O’Odham people can come to Sells or any of the other three clinics to receive free medical care, they are almost exclusively limited to what is offered at the nation’s clinics. Having Mexican citizenship prevents them from receiving the same benefits that the federal government offers to US citizens. Even though they might have all their relatives living in the US, and they themselves could have been born at a remote area in the outskirts of Arizona and outside of the Tohono O’Odham clinics, the US government would not cover their expenses outside the clinic, say in Tucson, Arizona because they do not have a birth certificate that would prove their US citizenship otherwise. Since medical costs are expensive these days, Mexican Tohono O’Odham will just be able to receive basic medical and dental care.

The interaction between the Mexican and US Tohono O’Odham people parallels the relationship between US and Mexican citizens and border communities that were merely divided by an invisible line. These individuals are part of families that have been separated by laws and regulations that have broken the ebb and flow between both sides. As the Tohono O’Odham put it, “We did not cross the border, the border crossed us.” The same thing has happened to people in other border cities such as in Ciudad Juarez/El Paso and Laredo/Nuevo Laredo. Long-time neighbors are now divided by walls or other physical barrier and this has had noticeable repercussions. Such isolationist policies have divided these individuals into two very distinct communities with different life opportunities, yet with common relationships and universal goals.

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