On August 13, residents and community organizers in the San Gabriel Valley held a Dia de los Muertos-style rally during Quemetco’s annual Summertime Open House. Organizers led a somber funeral-like procession across from the entrance to the facility. They emphasized the deadly threat that the lead smelter poses to people and the environment.
Several demonstrators were dressed in black, or bright and beautiful zarapes and rebozos, and had their faces painted with calaveras. They marched on Clark Avenue through a nearby Hacienda Heights neighborhood with flowers, tombstones, coffins and signs before arriving at the Open House. The coffins and flowers were laid across from the entrance to Quemetco’s facility to honor all victims of environmental injustice, while community members shared their concerns through a loudspeaker.
Samuel Vasquez, a member of the Avocado Heights Vaqueros, led the procession: “We are going to commence the funeral proceedings for all the people who have passed away and for those who are sick because of environmental injustice. We are here today in the face of this factory that spreads death.”
He listed the toxic chemicals Quemetco is known to emit throughout the SGV and condemned local organizations, including the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley, Industry Sheriff’s Youth Activities League, Youth Science Center, City of Hope, and Western University of Health Sciences, for participating in Quemetco’s Open House and called for them to support the community instead.
During the event, residents and organizers from AHV, La Puente Mutual Aid, Coalition Against Lennar, DSA and PSL LA shared their thoughts. “We are here mourning the lives lost because of Quemetco’s contamination in our water, our soil and air. There are many schools and homes in the nearby neighborhoods of Avocado and Hacienda Heights. We are here and we aren’t going anywhere!” proclaimed Yvette, a local resident and organizer. She also shared her struggle with cancer and how she attributes it to her environment. Others also linked both personal and family health issues to the facility.
The neighborhoods surrounding Quemetco are largely made up by people of color. Ahsoka, a SGV resident, addressed Quemetco’s workers who were staffing the entrance for the open house: “When we stand up for Latino and Black kids, we stand up for everybody. We want everyone here, including the facility’s workers to have healthy air, soil and water. Who wants to inhale lead? We know the consequences. There is no safe level of lead in our bodies. We can’t ignore this.”
The Dia de Los Muertos-style demonstration outnumbered the attendees of the Open House and received support from local residents passing by. Quemetco’s public relations stunt was overshadowed by the collective spirit of working people in the SGV.