Toxic Churn

On a crisp, fall day in Santa Ana, California, Mary Acosta Rodriguez Martinez Garcia steps forward gingerly, leaning on her cane as she walks to the spot along the railroad tracks that intersect with Santa Ana Boulevard. This is where her grandfather’s house once stood, before it was swallowed whole by the expansion of the boulevard that today leads into the heart of Santa Ana’s downtown and the Orange County Civic Center. Like her grandfather’s home, where she lived most of her childhood, most of the landmarks from her formative years during the 1940s and 1950s — the places and buildings that she cherished the most from her youth — have long disappeared.

Surrounding orange groves, walnut and apricot orchards gave the Logan barrio, one of Santa Ana’s oldest neighborhoods, a pastoral atmosphere throughout Garcia’s childhood. But the barrio was also squeezed between two railroads on its eastern and western boundaries. The neighborhood was originally settled by European Americans, and as they moved out, Mexican and Mexican American residents moved in. Many of them, like Garcia’s uncles, worked the orchards harvesting oranges, or in packing houses, sorting the fruits of Orange County’s citrus and walnut trees.

During the early part of the 20th century, trains hauled goods ranging from citrus to lumber out to destinations across the country. But by the middle part of the century, as the city welcomed industry, the goods reflected the new businesses that the city allowed into the neighborhood and throughout the eastside of Santa Ana: among them oil, petroleum, aviation gasoline, lead ore, metals, chemicals, fertilizers, and herbicides. 01-13-22

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