By Beatrice Sanchez
It’s been three years since I lost the most important person in my life.
My mother passed away from congestive heart failure in a nursing home in Oakland. She was only 55.
I was seven years old when my mother wound up in the emergency room in a coma for two months before miraculously waking up. The doctors diagnosed her with type 2 diabetes, a disease that could have been prevented if caught earlier.
Running to and from the emergency room is no way to manage diabetes, but she was undocumented. If she’d had access to preventive services through affordable health care, regardless of her immigration status, my mother would still be with me today.
Unfortunately, my family’s story is not unique.
Since living in the U.S., we always used over-the-counter medicines for illnesses and would only go to the hospital in an extreme emergency. Benadryl became our go-to medicine – not enough for illnesses like diabetes.
In 2004, my mother slipped on an uneven bathroom floor and broke her ankle. Unable to work, the medical bills piled up.
Just when I thought things were getting better, in 2012, my mother and I were hit by a car as we crossed the street. I stood up and turned to see my mother lying hurt on the ground, tears running down my face, knowing no amount of Benadryl would rid her of the pain.
This year, my mother’s life was celebrated at a unique altar in Los Angeles for the annual Dia De Los Muertos festival at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
In the final years of my mother’s life, I felt helpless and hopeless. There was little I could do to help the woman who spent her life supporting me and my brother, working back-breaking hours as a domestic worker.
But, I have hope for solutions that can’t come soon enough – locally in Contra Costa County where supervisors are considering funding expanded health care for families like mine, and similar conversations happening around California.
Last year, I became one of the tens of thousands of Californians granted deferred action status through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I can now access Medi-Cal and get the care I need before it becomes an emergency.
California also just adopted a state budget that opens up Medi-Cal to all children, regardless of their immigration status.
These are enormous steps in the fight for health for all, and it’s a fight most Californians already support. A recent Field Poll found a growing majority of California voters back the idea of expanding Medi-Cal access to undocumented immigrants.
Even with the recent steps taken to expand access to affordable, quality health care in California, more than a million people could still wind up like my mom because they continue to be locked out.
My mother’s death should not be in vain, and I won’t stop fighting until everyone gets access to health care.
No matter where you were born, we’re all human. And health care is a human right.
Beatrice Sanchez is undocumented and unafraid. She is an activist leader at ASPIRE, Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education.