Medical tourism in Mexicali extends beyond nose jobs to pet care

CALEXICO, Calif.–She packs up the pet crates, medical records, her passport, and up to four—of her seven—dogs at a time.  Her armament and precious cargo are stuffed into her car for passage into Mexico and the often-precarious return to the U.S.

For Elva Lomas, that is what a typical veterinary visit consists of. “Going over [to Mexico] isn’t even hard for me,” Lomas said.  “Having a SENTRI pass, I can take and bring my dogs really easily, and since I have all these dogs it’s just cheap and easy for me.”

Lomas has been traveling to and from Mexicali for years—by car and on foot—to have her beloved dogs cared for by Mexican veterinarians who charge far less for the same services and medicines than their American counterparts do.  She is among a new crowd of Americans looking for lower-cost health care, not for themselves, but for their four-legged companions. “Medical tourism” in Mexicali typically comprises physician care as minor as root canals and as major as plastic surgery, the pursuit of less expensive pharmaceutical goods, and even veterinary care.  Mexicali Mayor Francisco Perez Tejada said more than 150,000 U.S. visitors in 2010 generated more than $16 million for the local border economy. For people like Lomas, a trip across the border is a small sacrifice for an affordable price. Lomas pays about $50 dollars a month on dog food alone.  Adding required annual shots, initial spaying and neutering, and any emergency care and medication her dogs might need could drift expenses into the four-digit range every year on this side of the border.

Stringing music for young people in the Imperial Valley

IMPERIAL, Calif. – “Strings in general, even at schools, aren’t a big thing but we kinda need it if we’re going to have any future in the orchestral music,” said Dr. Matthew Busse, instructor for Beginning Strings Orchestra and Southwest High School Orchestra teacher. Two years ago Busse started an orchestra program at Corfman Middle School in El Centro, but recently moving from El Centro to Imperial, he said his wife suggested that he start the program for orchestra lessons in Imperial, after she saw flyers about guitar lessons and other lessons that the City of Imperial has to offer. Busse thought about it and decided to expand it to see what happens. So far, the turnout of students is fairly small with two students from Ballington Academy and a few from Imperial, but  Busse wants to invite anyone who hasn’t had any kind of experience in orchestral music and students who don’t have the opportunity to perform in their schools orchestra to join the program.

The real assets in Calexico High’s ASSETs program

CALEXICO, Calif.–Jovan Rojas had a lot of trouble making friends on his high school campus. For a lot of adolescents, painful insecurities can be a repellant to their peers. “I was not very mature and had problems socializing with anyone,” said Rojas, now 18 and a senior at Calexico High School. “After joining the program I have felt improvement in myself and I am told from tutors that I have improved a lot.”

That program, the After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens, or ASSETs, a grant-based project provided under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and administered by California’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, was launched at Calexico High in February 2010 with a five-year $1.5 million grant. ASSETs is aimed at involving latchkey kids, or at-risk teens who have no place to go and nothing to do when that final school bell rings for the day.

Stemming the strays through Imperial Valley’s S.A.N.D.S.

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.–It is difficult to commute from town to town here without encountering any number of dead animals on or near the roadway on any given day; some motorists swerve around the remains, others seem to deliberately aim at the already-decimated animals—dead pigeons on city streets, rabbits or coyotes on rural roads, and countless other carcasses on the I-8 freeway heading east and west between Arizona and San Diego. But most of the time, the heart-wrenching sight of small furry victims on any local street or major byway are stray dogs or cats whose owners might, or might not be wondering where their pets have gone. “From June to November, 500 dogs were picked up (both alive and dead), 169 cats (both alive and dead),” according to Beatrice Palacio, animal control supervisor for the Imperial County Public Health Department, which is charged with policing a 4,500-square-mile realm outside of the county’s cities’ limits. “Live roosters and chickens, dead raccoons, dead skunks, coyotes, and a live sheep, for a total of 707 animals.” And that’s only what Palacio has been able to log in a five-month period of 2012, unknowing if the animals were abandoned, lost, or feral. Holiday generosity and a bad economy

Usually this time of year animal rights organizations often use statistics like those about stray animals to illustrate to holiday revelers how ill-advised impulsive buys of pets as Christmas gifts can be for recipients who may or may not want a furry or feathered friend; who may or may not know how to care for them, or cannot afford to.

Recession strikes hard in a historic shopping area

EL CENTRO, Calif.—Only fragments of history were left on the floor of Cathy Dobson’s antique store here following the April 2010 7.2-magnitude earthquake.  Dobson said she was in shock to see that fine china, glass bookcases, and $300 lamps, among other beloved treasures, had become mere scraps of debris to be fed to the dumpster. Business owners in the historic downtown district suffered losses in the hundreds of thousands to damaged merchandise, store closures, and mandatory moving expenses.  But the earthquake was only the latest in a series of jolts to rock the 100-year-old downtown area as competition from online retail and a new regional shopping mall wooed away the local customer base.  And, then the recession hit. “For about a year, between the earthquake and the economy, business was terrible,” said Dobson, who owns Dobson’s Antiques on Main St. in downtown El Centro. “There’s a lot of empty buildings and there’s more so now than there was before the earthquake.”

Dobson is one of about 10,000 independent small business owners in the Imperial Valley and one in nearly 28 million nationwide struggling to win back the loyalty of local consumers.  But, even a national push to send consumers to Main Street America’s independently owned businesses has not paid off locally.

Un coquí puertorriqueño atisba su futuro desde el Valle Imperial

EL CENTRO, Calif.– Después de la huelga estudiantil de Mayo 4 del 2010, que forzó el sistema universitario de Puerto Rico a cerrar por tres meses, muchos estudiantes dejamos nuestras casas y familias para continuar nuestros sueños de hacernos profesionales algún día. Siendo una de esos estudiantes que emigramos de Puerto Rico buscando un mejor futuro en los Estados Unidos, me mudé para California para poder continuar mis estudios y no me arrepiento de mi decisión. Me mudé para Imperial Valley porque mis hermanos han estado viviendo aquí desde hace tres años y porque mi hermano mayor vivía en Mexicali, Mex. con su esposa mexicana mientras el terminaba su internado en medicina y ella terminaba su bachillerato en artes plásticas. En su momento decidieron que lo más cercano a nuestro hermano mayor, mejor.

Unwritten rules guide homeless in Imperial Valley

EL CENTRO, Calif. – Vagabonds, vagrants, transients, nomads, hobos, or even the more polite term we use for them, the less fortunate. There are plenty of names for them, but they all refer to the homeless – a subculture of our society that some people often feel uncomfortable with. We often encounter them on a daily basis. At the end of freeway off-ramps, in city parks, fast food restaurants, or sitting outside our own homes under a shady tree.

Behind the scenes of "Annie" at Palmer Auditorium in Brawley, Calif.

Behind the scenes of “Annie” at the Brawley Palmer Auditorium

BRAWLEY, Calif.—The classic Christmastime play, “Annie,” was presented by the North County Coalition for the Arts at Palmer Performing Arts Center here in May, with local lead actors Georg Scott as “Daddy Warbucks,” who shaved his head just for the part, and 11-year-old Molly Wilson as “Annie.”

But, as any theater aficionado knows, all the magic begins back stage. Most of the stage crew consists of high school students from the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program under the instruction of Jason Contreras, known fondly as Mr. C by his students and colleagues. The following video is a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

Imperial Valley residents feel the financial pinch a year after the Easter earthquake

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.–Recovery from the Easter Sunday 7.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked California’s Imperial Valley on April 4, 2010, has been slow for many whose homes or business buildings suffered damage in the historic temblor. In the county seat of El Centro alone losses are estimated at $8 million to buildings and property, according to Ruben Duran, city manager for the City of El Centro. “Everything that we are doing, we are doing on our own dime,” said Duran, who explained during a March 22 news conference that a big part of the county’s recovery is the actual financing of repairs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency committed $178,000, but that might not materialize for decades, Duran noted. FEMA’s contribution is assigned by Congress, but subsequently declared disasters can bump funding for the previous ones.

Border Angels: Help for deportees changed my perspective

MEXICALI, Mexico—While waiting in line at the U.S-Mexico border in Calexico, CA, a person can see on the other side of the border fence people with backpacks looking frightened and lost, some even dirty, asking others for help or money. Many, including myself, just turn away or just say no, not thinking of what they have gone through and automatically judge the person as a bad person, and steer away from them.  These people are deportees a long, long way from their homes and families. After spending 12 hours at a Mexicali refugee camp, Angeles sin Fronteras, a few blocks away from the international border, my perspective towards deportees completely changed. Not only are they good people, but the backbone of America. They do the jobs that many Americans would not even consider doing.

Bilingual workers a plus but not a necessity in Spanish-speaking Imperial Valley

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.– The second most common language in the United States, Spanish, is the primary language spoken at home by more than 35.5 million Americans aged 5 or older. Businesses all over the nation are looking for bilingual applicants to help turn these people into new customers. But how important is it in the workplace? Being only minutes away from the U.S.- Mexican border, it would seem local businesses are favoring bilingual applicants in order to provide better service to a wider range of customers. “It is very helpful because a lot of our customers come from across the border,” said Alfonso Ruiz, store manager of the Imperial Valley College bookstore.

Teen authors of the California border pave their way through self-publishing

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.–Teenagers all over the world are anticipating the June 30 movie release of “Eclipse,” the third installment in the phenomenal “Twilight” saga, to see how the romantic fantasy about a teenage girl and her intense love affair with a vampire continues to play out. The “Twilight” books, written by Stephanie Meyer, inspired the movie series and a cult following of both readers and movie-goers around the globe.  But during the last decade, that inspiration was not limited to just reading or watching the mythical and unorthodox teen romance stories; inspiration bled over into the minds of young writers, including those in the Imperial Valley. Often seen as culturally dry as the desert it occupies, the Imperial Valley is home to several young authors who have crafted their own fantasies in the pages of books that are sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, at the local bookstore, and can be found in local libraries.  These youthful writers have not experienced the notoriety of Meyer – at least not yet. Angela Ly, 16, is writing her second novel.  “The book is going to be about a different dimension, but in this world,” Ly said.  “There will be action and adventure, somewhat like Twilight.”  The Brawley High School junior self-published her first book, “Birds to Fly Me to You” in 2009. Fantasy adventures like “The Way to Fairyleland” and “The Collusion Series” have sprung from the minds of local teen authors prolifically in recent years.  Publishing house Wandering Sage Books recently released a commemorative edition of “The Way to Fairyleland,” by Belén Ramos, and a third young writer, Alexandra Lopez, is penning her third and fourth books.

Slab City artists play their music free and easy

NILAND, Calif.–In a small secluded area on the outskirts of this desert town, a mish-mash of trailers and tents surround a big stage that unites the people of Slab City in a very unique way and brings their musical talents to life every Saturday night. Slab City is a tiny “town” where there are no bills to pay, no running water or electricity, and when nature calls, you choose your bush.  And yet there are about 50 people who live here year round, even in the harsh summer months when temperatures can reach 118 degrees and “residents” spend a lot of time cooling off in nearby irrigation canals. “Most of the people who live out here in Slab City have lost their home, money, and family, so they have nowhere else to go,” said Sean Paul, a U.S. Army combat veteran. “I can eat out of a can. I am used to this, but a suburban American might find living here a challenge.”

Paul said he arrived in Slab City about 13 years ago and he chose to stay because life at the Slabs is free.

Welders and fabricators move beyond industrial work and into art

EL CENTRO, Calif.–From a typical viewpoint, it’s hard to see the field of welding and fabrication as an art,  because the conventional idea focuses on the production of industrial parts. “Most people see it as an industry, and it is,” says Scott Baker, a welder and fabrication foreman for EW Corp. in El Centro.  “Even for me it’s hard to see it as a craft sometimes.”

The industrial side of the welding and fabrication business has long overshadowed any notion of welding as an art. When a typical bystander walks into a fab shop, there isn’t much in the way of traditional art—drab pieces of metal, drills, and complicated machinery take up most of the space.  Those in the fabrication world are usually not the type that are into the arts.  In fact,  West Coast Choppers CEO Jesse James, one of welding’s most famous faces, is known as a tough-talking bad boy. But the guys wielding those fiery torches on sheet metal

at shipyards and auto body shops are not just a bunch of gearheads–they are artists with a passion and creativity as ancient as metal working itself.

Facing a Decaying Mural and Fading Message, the Calexico-Mexicali Camaraderie Struggles to Survive

CALEXICO, Calif.–This bustling border town in Southern California’s Imperial Valley was quite different in the 1960s than it is today. People filing through the international port of entry merely had to state where they were born in order to enter the U.S.  Port vehicle traffic flowed in just two lanes rather than snaking through the 12 they have today.  The friendship between Calexico and its sister city, Mexicali, on the Mexican side was so casual, kids in both countries could share what could be called a bi-national game of baseball. But, more than a decade ago a solid brown metal fence was erected as part of Operation Gatekeeper, President Clinton’s answer to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico into the U.S. between California and Texas. “When this fence went up, the ability to perceive and to sense this community, this trans-border community all of a sudden became harder because you couldn’t see across the fence anymore, and so both sides of the border expressed outrage,” Herrera said. Herrera, a history professor at the San Diego State University Calexico campus, was among a small group of citizens who felt saddled by the offending fence, but did not feel they had to settle on its appearance, so they set to work on making it more aesthetically appealing.

Diversity in the Imperial Valley Promotes Cultural Understanding

EL CENTRO, Calif. – The cash registers sit patiently, like Venus flytraps eager to be fed. Employees begin to prepare themselves mentally. Suddenly, a mob, a stampede, a crowd, a giant mosh of consumers makes its way through the doors of the Imperial Valley Mall. Lines form at almost every store.

Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo

BRAWLEY, Calif. – Heart beating wildly, crowd cheering madly, Trevor Smith climbed over the bucking chute and carefully balanced his weight on a two-ton, half-crazed-bull. His gloved hands quickly worked the bull rope that would allow him to maintain balance. As his name was announced over the loud speakers, Smith, like any bull rider, was focused on an adrenaline rush to get him through the next eight seconds. The chute flew open and the two-ton bull bolted straight out the gate.

The Desert of Inspiration

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif. — The U.S. Department of Education in 2003 called the Imperial Valley the most illiterate county in California. Despite that bad rap, however, this desert valley next to Mexico is home to an artistically literate community of young and old poets who say this area gives them uniquely positive and negative inspirations. “The negative is that the valley is boring, isolated and full of mean people,” said Mark Garcia, 42, a poet from Calexico, “while the positive is that it’s peaceful, slow-paced, and there are some nice people as well.  This is what I call my desert of inspiration.”

Poet Sandra Hernandez, 38, of Calexico writes, “I had precious moments, I had terrible heart breaks, I had arrogance thrown at me… In this deserted paradise I call my home”. The valley people, rather than the vast, lonely desert inspire local poets.

“Obscured Eye” Art Show Opening

The opening featured four artists —Alexandra Balestrieri, Jennifer Cuellar, Elizabeth Lopez, and curator Kyle Herrera— in an exhibit that comprehensively explores, “perception, cognition, and the obstacles imposed on them,” through the mediums of photography, painting, drawing, and interactive mixed media.

California’s Hispanic border women overcome obstacles to success

“Because their families are not wanting them to take that step of independence,” Shavers said. She explained that women of the border face special issues that people elsewhere wouldn’t such as health issues and mainly trying to find their identity as Mexican-Americans. “While their traditions are Mexican and they have a lot of language and culture, ethnic foods, and music and things, they are really more American than they are Mexican because their expectations, their rights as women are based heavily on what they live in the United States,” she said. Shavers said young women of Hispanic descent aren’t driven to succeed. They don’t get as much encouragement from their families to go off to college and become successful.