Once was not nearly enough for Araceli Guevara to soak up everything the health fair at the Mexican Consulate had to offer. Neither was twice. Thrice didn't do the trick either. Last week, Guevara was on her fifth consecutive visit to the health fair and, already, was looking forward to No. 6.
Guevara is perhaps a bit more of the lifelong learner than the average visitor to the Mexican Consulate's monthly health fairs in North Natomas. But her enthusiasm is hardly atypical.
About 150 to 300 people a month drop in, depending on whether it's harvest time and whether workers are able to get away from the fields and orchards. Many who do come by are repeat visitors. Once or twice, the fair even drew Russian immigrants.
All comers are welcome, says the Mexican Consulate, which is fulfilling a sense of duty developed in the 1940s when the Bracero program recruited Mexicans to work in place of war-bound Californians. Back then, the mission was to keep the field workers healthy and to look after their legal rights.
Now, driven by Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez's leadership, services have been broadened to include a focus on the health dilemmas of the day most prominently, obesity and diabetes.
Studiously following worldwide health trends, González Gutiérrez reads up on and cites studies by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showing that, of all the Spanish-speaking countries, Mexico has the highest rate of obesity about 30 percent of the population.
That figure becomes doubly alarming when you factor in the notion that Mexicans who come to the United States are in a foreign culture where an even greater rate of obesity exists 33.8 percent of the U.S. population is obese, according to the OECD, notes González Gutiérrez.
So, for the past year and a half, the consulate's health fair has expanded, including free weigh-ins, body-mass-index calculations, nutrition counseling, medical exams, consultations, dental exams and clinic referrals.
As well, people come for advice about their legal rights as workers, guidelines for safe use of pesticides, instruction on avoiding toxic exposure in treated fields and orchards, access to health care through community clinics, warnings about human trafficking and information on avoiding the West Nile virus.
Last week, Guevara was absorbing information from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's presentation on keeping cool and insulating your home safely. She spent about 25 minutes carefully examining materials and listening to the SMUD representative's pitch. She decided to take a brochure home that showed how to plug some gaps in her ceiling, so precious air conditioning did not escape.
"I come every month because there's very good information," said Guevara, a 35-year-old baby sitter with four teenagers of her own. "I learn about important issues like nutrition, general health. Last month, I got the mosquito district to come out to put mosquitofish in my swimming pool, so we didn't get West Nile virus."
Guevara has been in California for 10 years and lives in Natomas. She said she looks forward to returning to the consulate's health fair every month. "Every time I come, it helps me a lot because I always learn something new," she said.
Isabel Ramirez, 40, was a newcomer to the consulate's health fair last week, seeking a dental exam because she had no health insurance.
Originally from Michoacán, Ramirez came to California seven years ago. She said it had been four years since she had her teeth examined, and she was suffering some pain.
She and her husband, Jose Garcia, from Mexico City, said they felt comfortable being able to visit their home country's consulate for free health advice, information and exams.
González Gutiérrez, with jurisdiction over 24 counties in northeastern California, said he knows of no other nation that offers consulate health fairs as does Mexico.
With a master's degree in foreign relations from the University of Southern California, he played a prominent role in securing the modern, 33,000-square-foot building on Arena Boulevard, with its spacious interior, natural light and abundant free parking.
During the relocation from a 9,000-square-foot downtown Sacramento office last year, González Gutiérrez realized the consulate had room not just for health fairs but for a separate one-stop Ventanilla de Salud, or Window of Health, with its permanent library of resources on health services, access to health care, insurance information and tables of colorful brochures with information on how eating well and exercising can enhance one's quality of life.
One striking study on the health of immigrant Mexican women in the United States shows they are healthier than their American counterparts.
However, the report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, released in October 2010, said Mexican women "are at risk for serious health problems in the future."
The study said risk factors include a "strikingly high incidence of overweight and obesity, with about half lacking regular structured leisure-time physical activity."
In addition, "they are more frequently diagnosed with diabetes (9.1 percent vs. 5.7 percent for non-Hispanic white women) than their counterparts."
Said González Gutiérrez, "In every health fair we find extreme cases of people who have blood-sugar levels that are way out of the park. In many cases, they go from here right to a clinic.
"They may not have the best opinion of the Mexican government," he said of some immigrants, "but we are a safe place to get information, and to some extent, we are their sanctuary."