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Que Viva El Barrio: Residents of Barrio Logan talk about their community’s fight against pollution

This week, the San Diego Union-Tribune released a 22-minute short documentary titled “Que Viva El Barrio: One Neighborhood’s Decades-long Struggle for a Cleaner Future.” The film explores the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego and follows residents and activists as they work to adopt a community plan that could help reduce pollution in the community.

The filmmaker, UT photojournalist Ana Ramirez, spent months talking to activists, historians and locals about the community’s efforts. The following are excerpts from those interviews.

Julie Corrales

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Julie Corrales sits on her bed for a portrait after Barrio Logan’s community plan update was approved by the San Diego City Council in December. Corrales works for the Environmental Health Coalition as a policy advocate representing Barrio Logan. After the plan was approved, she cried out in delight. Corrales has spent the past few years trying to get the plan approved, one of the goals being to ensure that no new industrial facilities are allowed in the neighborhood.

“I remember the first time I came here… And I looked around and I was everywhere. I was on the walls, I was in the art, I was in the language. And I had never felt more at home.

Soni Lopez-Chavez

Soni Lopez-Chavez

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Soni López-Chávez, artist and Barrio Logan resident, on a balcony outside her home in October. López-Chávez has lived in the neighborhood for almost a decade. She said it had become harder to breathe, which she attributes to pollution. She and her partner live in an apartment that faces Interstate 5 and the San Diego Bay. López-Chávez notices the pollution as she cleans her house.

“I take the screens off my windows… I wash them and it’s completely black, like black water pouring through.”

Mary Corral

Mary Corral

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Maria Corral has lived in her apartment for six years. She loves living there, except for the stench coming from a nearby company, New Leaf Biofuel. The company has been in Barrio Logan for about 13 years and processes cooking oil into biodiesel. Corral and others in the apartment complex say the smell is so horrible they can’t open their windows. Corral said she noticed a worsening about three years ago. He stopped for a few months at the height of the pandemic, only to return. She feels trapped in her house, which makes her depressed. Corral and her husband cannot move for financial reasons. They hope that one day the industrial companies will leave Barrio Logan.

“During the summer – I’m not exaggerating – it’s like you put a dead dog or two or three inside plastic, and then the sun boils them, and that’s the kind of smell that we get. It’s unbearable.”

Augie Bareno

Augie Bareno

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Augie Bareño, historian and former San Diego County Executive, stands in what was once his grandmother’s home on Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan. The house was taken from the family by eminent domain in the 1950s. Bareño said that when Interstate 5 passed through what was then called Logan Heights, it “ripped the heart out” of the neighborhood.

“It pretty much killed everything. And then from there it just destroyed the community and what was left was basically an industrial center.

Sandy Naranjo

Sandy Naranjo

Sandy Naranjo

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Last year, Sandy Naranjo became Port Commissioner of San Diego, representing National City. Growing up in San Ysidro near the port of entry, Naranjo saw diesel trucks speeding through neighborhoods. Naranjo advocated for cleaner air in communities of color and pushed for the Maritime Clean Air Strategy, which, among other goals, aims to electrify heavy trucks at the port by 2030.

“When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with severe asthma. And I was diagnosed in the ER.

Maritza Garcia

Maritza Garcia

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Maritza Garcia grew up in Logan Heights and regularly works and hangs out just across the freeway in Barrio Logan. Garcia and her husband are about to have their first child and worry about her health due to pollution. Garcia noticed that it was easier to breathe when she visited other communities. She began volunteering with the Environmental Health Coalition by raising awareness and testifying publicly. She said the organization helped her share her concerns in the community.

“This is my first child and I thought I was going to raise my kids here in Logan despite all the negativity… But I also think it motivates me to spread the word. To change all of this…Because I want this to change for my children, I don’t want them to be in so much pollution…they will have a better chance of living in a healthier neighborhood if we keep fighting now.

jennifer case

jennifer case

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jennifer Case is the president of New Leaf Biofuel, a company that recycles used cooking oil and turns it into biofuel. New Leaf moved to Barrio Logan nearly 13 years ago after working with the city to find the best location for an industrial business close to downtown. Neighbors complained to the air pollution control district about the smell coming from the facility. Case said that when New Leaf moved to Barrio Logan, “we certainly didn’t know there was a problem here in the neighborhood with environmental injustice and pollution, those kinds of things that we learned more late after building the factory.”

“Certainly now with what is happening here in Barrio Logan we are devastated to be caught in the middle when our sole purpose of existing is to eradicate pollution and remove diesel from the air and replace it with something environmentally friendly.”

Sally Colmenero Gonzales

Soledad Colmenero Gonzales

Soledad Colmenero Gonzales

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Soledad Colmenero Gonzales stands outside the house where she grew up in Barrio Logan. Gonzales’ family had a store in the area, Colmenero’s Market. She said when the freeway came, some businesses in the neighborhood closed and many of her friends and neighbors moved out.

“It was heartbreaking to see all my neighbors go (and) a lot of my friends go. And kind of saddened the area… and it was never the same again.

Henry Gonzales

Henry Gonzales

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Henry Gonzales stands outside his childhood home in Barrio Logan. He met his wife in the neighborhood. They moved years ago but still attend Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “It will always be our home, even though it has changed, you know, and Logan Heights is no longer there, but we will always be from Logan Heights. It’s who we are,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said growing up in what was then called Logan Heights in the 1950s, everyone knew each other and it was a thriving community. He did not participate in the Chicano Park protests of the 1970s, when residents objected to the construction of a California Highway Patrol station under the freeway instead of the park much desired by the community reclaiming the city .

Today, he has doubts about it. “We weren’t protesting. It was the next generation after me,” he said. “…And looking back, I could say we should have been there, we should have protested.”

“People there haven’t traveled out of the area to buy things like that. Everything was done there. The churches, these theaters, the grocery stores, everything was there and Logan Heights… And once the freeway went through, it seemed like it split in two.

Lee is content in Spanish