Note: The photo of the fire is from Drew Dellinger. More photos of the fire are on his blog.
My mother left me a voice message Monday night. She said “Rhinita, close your windows and try not to go out. There has been an explosion in Richmond.”
I couldn’t make sense of her message. She is the one that lives in Richmond at an elderly low-income housing project along with other Latino, African American, and Asian senior citizens. She is the one that lives within minutes of where the Chevron Refinery fire and explosion had occurred.
As soon as I got home and heard her message, I turned on the TV to watch the news as the fire continued to burn. I called her to know if she was safe and if I had to go to pick her up. She explained she was fine, but was clearly nervous. Her building manager was taking care of the residents and had advised them to stay indoors with their windows closed. We agreed that if she was to be evacuated, I would bring her to my place. I finally felt relief.
It is completely insane that the only affordable housing available for my 67 year-old mama is located in one the most polluted neighborhoods in the United States. And even crazier to me that Chevron doesn't do more to alleviate the record high rates of asthma, cancer, and respiratory diseases their pollution causes in the community of Richmond.
My mother was so happy when she landed this apartment two years ago. She prides herself in being an independent lady who creates community wherever she goes. She is everyone’s Abuelita – grandma and she cooks the best meals you can imagine. My mother worked as a housekeeper for many years since she arrived to the US in 1982. She was a registered nurse in El Salvador and knows how toxic those fumes could be. I can't help but feel both mad and sad that my mama really has few options but to live next to the Chevron refinery.
When I checked with her this morning. I was happy to hear that the smoke had already dispersed, and that my mother had felt up to do her morning exercises. I told her that I have heard in the news that Chevron representatives had apologized publicly to Richmond residents. My mom said “that’s not enough. I am sorry doesn’t fix how scared we were that night.”