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Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA
  Consuelo Garcia

PROFILE:

Consuelo Garcia, Environmental Health Coalition


As a result of the border industrialization program that the U.S. and Mexico signed, as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement, we have here over 300 maquiladoras — foreign-owned companies that operate in this industrial park behind me.

This site is Metales y Derivados, a highly toxic site abandoned by a foreign owned U.S. company. And the people who live around here, in this valley, they live with the constant exposure to the toxics that come out of this maquiladora.

The health problems that people suffer from are related to contaminants in the water. We know they don't drink but they can't help using it to wash their clothes, to wash their dishes, so eventually some of it does get into their system. Kids who bathe in this water suffer from skin rashes and constant stomach problems.

Salvador Torres

Salvador Torres, Artist and Barrio Logan resident

Here we are. We’re faced with pollution of our community. The freeway’s coming through, the bridge. Suddenly industry starts developing here, and with this comes our community being assaulted with toxins.

Chicano Park, to me, represents the struggle of our community. This idea was to develop monumental murals that would represent our history, that would represent the feelings that we have growing up in this community — our successes and our failures, our victories.


Paula Forbis, Environmental Health Coalition

The studies have been done across the country showing that people of color and low-income communities are much more subject to being the targets of industrial sources moving into those neighborhoods than into other neighborhoods. This has resulted in a variety of health impacts — 20 percent of the children in Barrio Logan have either asthma or probable asthma.

The celebration is to mark the closing of Master Plating and the reduction in toxic emissions from that facility. We’re happy to report that there will be a 75 percent decrease in chrome levels at the houses around Master Plating and that results in much less of a cancer risk to residents in this immediate area.

 

November Second is known as the Day of the Dead, Mexico's most important and festive holiday. In Tijuana, families are joining together at the graves of their closest relatives to honor and celebrate their memories. It is believed that the souls of children will be the first to be saved — food and gifts appropriate for their age decorate their gravesites. Unfortunately, there are too many graves of young people in Tijuana.

Not far from the center of town, along the border with the United States, is a tariff-free industrial trade zone. Thanks to NAFTA, these factories provide nearly 140,000 jobs for the people of Tijuana. But at what cost?

Discarded tire near the Alomar River in the poorest part of Tijuana.

Discarded tire near the Alomar River
in the poorest part of Tijuana.

In 1994, the Mexican government cited this American owned battery recycling plant for failing to dispose of hazardous waste. In response, the owner abandoned the location. When threatened with arrest unless he cleaned up the site, he fled across the border to San Diego. Left behind were over 46 million pounds of toxic waste baking in the sun. It's been poisoning the soil and the air for more than a decade.

In a valley just below the industrial park is Colonia Chilpancingo, a community of about 10,000. When it rains a nearby creek is flooded with chemical wastes from the industrial park. They include lead oxides, sulfites, heavy metals, sulfuric acid, and arsenic.

Over 90 percent of the children of Colonia Chilpancingo tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood.

As this highly contaminated waterway weaves its way through the shantytown community, it poisons everything and everyone in its path, including the community's only source of water. Recently, over ninety percent of the children of Colonia Chilpancingo tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood. An abnormally high number of them suffer from birth defects.

For years, the community petitioned the Mexican government to clean up the site. Their pleas were always turned down. The six million dollars needed to stop the pollution was never made available. And the children — whose toxic playgrounds are less than a mile from the United States — are the innocent victims of a trade agreement that has no provision to force compliance with environmental laws. Even worse, the parents of these children have few choices other than to labor in the same factories that are poisoning their families.

Girl behind slats—Colonia Chilpancingo, located at the foot of the Otai Mesa Maquilladoras.

Girl behind slatsóColonia Chilpancingo,
located at the foot of the Otai Mesa
Maquilladoras.

At the end of the day, thousands of workers head home. Though their jobs pay about fifteen dollars for a ten-hour day, they still cling to the dream of living in a healthier and better place. It's an optimism sparked by the recent success of a Latino community located just 17 miles away in one of California's largest and most affluent cities.

San Diego has always been known for it's scenic waterfront. Its nearly perfect climate also makes it a popular sailing and tourist destination. But tourists never see a small neighborhood hidden away between the Coronado Bridge and a large waterfront industrial complex.

Barrio Logan is three miles long and just six blocks wide. This is one of San Diego's poorest Mexican-American community's and its residents have long been the targets of environmental discrimination. Forty years ago, the city of San Diego tried to force people out of Barrio Logan to make room for commercial development. Zoning laws were changed overnight. Small factories, junkyards, and auto-wreckers were encouraged to move into the residential neighborhood. The community was outraged.

Unable to stop the construction, anger surfaced. And when the city reneged on its promise to build a park under the bridge, the people of Barrio Logan demonstrated.

But most families were strongly attached to their neighborhood and refused to move. It didn't take long for city planners to try another tactic. They cut off Barrio Logan from the rest of San Diego by making it the site of an expanded highway system and a new bridge. Once again, the neighborhood was under attack ó this time by enormous amounts of auto emissions.

Unable to stop the construction, anger surfaced. And when the city reneged on its promise to build a park under the bridge, the people of Barrio Logan demonstrated. They formed a human chain around the site and refused to leave until the city gave them their park.

Mural in Barrio Logan

Mural in Barrio Logan.

After a two-week standoff, the demonstrators won their recreational area, which they proudly called Chicano Park. Today the pylons that support the bridge are covered with murals that celebrate Barrio Logan's Latino culture.

Though Barrio Logan won its battle for Chicano Park, it still struggles in its fight for clean air. Each day hundreds of diesel trucks, nearly 300,000 cars and dozens of factories operate in and around this residential neighborhood.

The failing health of the children sparked a new community protest. This time they went after Master Plating, a factory located in the residential heart of Barrio Logan that used hexavalent chromium ó a known cancer-causing chemical. A few days after Master Plating closed down, the people of Barrio Logan gathered to celebrate the shutting down of a factory that has been poisoning their community for decades.

For the people of Barrio Logan this victory is one more milestone in their against discriminatory zoning regulations and their struggle for environmental justice.


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