For all of the polluting industries that have thrived here since the Manhattan Project, New Mexico is also teeming with citizen environmental activists. These are people who in their free time—after work, after the kids are asleep—pore over reams of documents, learn about bureaucratic processes and permits, and put up a fight on behalf of their neighbors. They study, they attend meetings, they write letters, they become experts on industry and its effects. Here are a few of their stories.
There are two Superfund sites and a high concentration of heavy industry in the area where Esther Abeyta’s family has lived for three generations. Her home is on land her grandmother bought for $90 and two chickens. And as the San Jose Neighborhood Association president, she’s determined to stay ahead of health and environmental issues.
A longtime resident of the South Valley who helped start the Mountain View Neighborhood Association 30 years ago, President Angela West is well-versed in the ups and downs of the community she calls home. She says she’s also proud that her association protects the future while staying rooted in the past.
Barbara Rockwell and her husband David fulfilled a dream when they moved to the southern end of the Village of Corrales and started building their home. “Corrales in 1977 was a rural village farming alfalfa, apples, corn and chile,” she says. But it was slowly becoming a bedroom suburb of Albuquerque, she adds. “There was no Intel on the western horizon, just the flowing line of the mesa and open fields of grass,” Rockwell says in an email interview. “Above all, there was the fresh, sweet air.”
Before germ theory and the sanitary practices that resulted, doctors were mystified about the role of microorganisms in infection and death. The idea of hand-washing was controversial. Surgical procedures were performed in unseen filth.