About 55 of us had expected to board buses at noon and head across the border on the eve of our “Public Health Without Borders” meeting, but recent drug-related violence had the San Diego Maquiladora Solidarity Network cancel the tour for the first time. The group organizes regular tours to bring light to the often intolerable conditions in the foreign-owned factories in Tijuana known as “maquiladoras.”
“It’s not because Tijuana is any more violent than say Chicago or Los Angeles,” Brown said. “It’s that the violence has become more rampant and generalized.”
Antonia Arias, a Mexico native who has worked in several different Tijuana factories, spoke at the presentation about the conditions in far too many work environments, where workers handle toxic, carcinogenic chemicals without protective equipment and are exposed to sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and low wages. Antonia said that after seven years of handling acetone at a factory producing glass lenses, she cannot be near the chemical without her throat and mouth burning. Other commonly used chemicals have been linked to lung disease in long-time workers.
Giving proof that community-level activism can change the world, Amelia Simpson of the local Environmental Health Coalition told how, after more than 15 years, an abandoned factory site with thousands of pounds of toxic waste was cleaned up. Lead levels at the Metales y Derivados abandoned lead smelter were up to 250 times higher than acceptable federal environmental standards. But the coalition, working with a group of local activists, convinced the government to step in and oversee the clean-up.
“This is an example of how a marginalized, very low-income community can raise their voices and get justice,” Simpson said.
Vist the blog tomorrow for a one-on-one interview with Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network Coordinator Garrett Brown.