Patricia Gonzales, Community Activist, Caring for Pasadena
I grew up in southeast Houston’s Pecan Park area. Eventually, I moved from to Manchester and the Hobby Airport area before finally settling in Pasadena, where I live now.
Growing up, I did not have the breathing problems that my kids and I experience now. I did not realize that we would end up with health issues caused by the environment where we live.
When I was 18, I moved to Manchester with a friend. Over the next year and a half, we started to get sick a lot. I started having asthma symptoms and breathing problems, as well as chest pain and upper respiratory problems.
I also noticed there were frequent and unusual smells in the area. I noticed a potent, sweet smell inside the house was the same as outdoors. I could smell it in my clothes and hair. I would also hear the flares from the nearby refineries. I did not know that was a bad thing when I first moved to Manchester.
After I became pregnant with my daughter, my doctor noticed that my asthma was getting worse. She asked me where I lived. I thought that was an unusual question from a doctor. I told her that I lived near a refinery and industrial area, and she told me I needed to move out of there because I was getting sick from the pollution. She offered to give me documentation to provide my landlord if I needed help getting out of my lease. This helped me see the urgency of the issue.
After I had my daughter, who also ended up with asthma, I decided we had to move. We went to Pasadena. I thought that when I moved to farther away from the refineries, we would be okay, but it still was not far enough. My health did not improve. I later gave birth to twins, who also suffer from allergies and asthma, as well as ear infections and other health issues. My same pediatrician again asked where we were living and confirmed that our symptoms were related to the air pollution in the area.
My fight to help alleviate my family’s health issues is what made me become an activist. I wanted to learn what exactly was happening and how I could fight it. Getting involved with community groups, like Air Alliance Houston and t.e.j.a.s., helped me to become more educated and able to share my story.
In August 2017, I launched Caring for Pasadena. One of the biggest issues we have faced is that many people in the area do not know where to go with environmental concerns and do not know how to navigate the system. We are there to educate and mentor them. We are also working on educating the community on what is in the air and how they can stay safe, how they can approach elected officials to ask for what they need, and how they can advocate for their children through civic engagement.
I believe no refinery or industrial facility should be near a church, school, residential area. I also believe the Pasadena City Council should be place safety measures and instructions on the municipal television channel so that residents currently living, working or playing near these facilities know how to evacuate safely when there is an explosion. We are along the Ship Channel, and it is scary to know there is not enough information easily available to residents.
I believe air pollution is as much a social justice issue as it is a health issue. Elected officials need to open up their eyes and minds and realize that there is an injustice going on and that these releases are happening primarily in minority and low-income areas. Industrial facilities are moving closer to residential areas where the people don’t have the means to quickly move. These residents need financial assistance to move out of harm’s way, and I believe these polluters should be the ones to pay.
I also think we should have access to more air monitors in the area. This is the only way we can know what is going into the air. Human lives are at stake.