Lourdes, with her neighbor, Olga, in Colonia Chilpancingo

Lourdes becomes an environmental activist when she finds out the chronic rashes on her skin might be the result of toxic wastes left behind by a departing battery-recycling factory in her colonia. The wastes from the abandoned site, along with those of currently operating factories on Otay Mesa, drain directly into her neighborhood's water and air. Like many residents of Colonia Chilpancingo, Lourdes' skin is covered with scabbed sores. Sitting beside the creek which runs past her home, where her family used to swim and fish when she was a child, Lourdes says:

It used to be so pretty here. Now, sometimes the water going by is red, green, or foamy, and this is when I have to struggle to breathe. I get sick, I get sores on my arms. Just touching the water my skin begins to itch and burn.

Magdalena, a cross-border organizer from San Diego, works with Lourdes to demand a clean-up of the abandoned factory site because she believes that, whichever side of the border we live on, all our fates are linked:

The air and water are shared. The run-off from the Industrial City flows into a stream in Colonia Chilpancingo. ... The pollution produced in Tijuana equally affects the people of San Diego. In addition, the capital which comes to Tijuana is American capital, which for the people here produces only a little money and a lot of pollution. People in Mexico need this work desperately, but it doesn't allow them to live in dignity or comfort. This type of injustice is not tolerable, and this is why we work together.

Magdalena, bi-national environmental activist

In Lourdes' neighborhood of Chilpancingo, community activists continue their struggle to have the government take responsibility for removing the lead- and arsenic-contaminated soil left behind at Metales y Derivados, the abandoned battery-recycling plant. The owner of the company that created the toxic waste dump lives a few miles away in San Diego, untouchable under international laws. Lourdes and her colleagues celebrate progress: they've opened an environmental office on the main street of the colonia and they've succeeeded in bringing a federal official to the factory site to show him evidence of the pollution it causes. Neighbors are beginning to take note of their efforts and to join in.
Lourdes and Magdalena, activists from both sides of the border, hope that cross-border organizing will one day reduce the terrible health problems in neighborhoods affected by industrial pollution.

Battery waste, including lead and sulfuric acid, at the abandoned factory site of Metales y Derivados, Col. Chilpancingo, Tijuana.

fotos: Darcy McKinnon y Vicky Funari