Editor's Note: The unincorporated community of Mecca in Riverside County has a host of environmental concerns, from well water with naturally-occurring arsenic to toxic dump sites. When people talk about environmental justice here, Eduardo Guevara is always cited as a leader in the community. But Guevara says that five years ago, after moving here from Mexicali, Mexico, he wasn’t involved in any kind of activism. After his wife was hospitalized twice for asthma, Guevarra learned that their environment might be contributing to his wife’s health problems. As part of our series “What’s Your Story?” we hear from Guevara about how he, his wife and his son started attending community meetings to get some answers.
Since no one had the [the answers as to why my wife got sick], I started to try to get them for, not only for me, but for her, and for my son.
And then we went to a meeting, where the Air Quality Management District was at the panel, and out of nowhere the kid is like, "You know what? I saw a kid reading a letter. I’m going to write one, and then I’m going to read it." You know, my son.
And he took the letter, went to the microphone, read it aloud. He said, "Hi, I’m Eduardo Guevara. I think that the government has to do something about the toxic things that they throw in Mecca. I am worried for my mom because she had asthma and because of those smells she could get asthma again. Thank you."
And then he finishes, and I say, if the kid is worried, I need to do something. It’s not only about me; now it’s him trying to do something because he’s worried for his mom. We need to go on. So we did.
We started working with people with the same worries we had. I started learning the names of the people in the agencies. I started being the guy that sometimes asked the questions nobody wanted to ask. They saw me and they were like, "Oh my god, this guy again.” It’s a lonely road sometimes, but it had to be done. Someone had to do it. If no one’s going to do it, the worst that could happen is that it will stay the same way as we are, right? So I have nothing to lose.
It was a really intensive capacity-building time, because it was like learning a new language: cumulative impact, environmental justice, California hazardous waste. There’s a lot of terminology that I’d never in my life heard before.
In the area we have at least two dump sites. We have areas with arsenic in the water. We have sewage problems in mobile parks. Any place you look to, we have a problem.
I think that the greatest success I've had is to get him, my son -- actually -- I didn’t get him involved. He got involved because he saw me, and he cared for his mom. So I think if I’m not here, for whatever reason, I will still be here because of him. So I think that will be the biggest success I’ve had.
Lisa Morehouse was the reporter for this story.