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Port Arthur

I had no idea what to expect in Port Arthur. I knew a little about the industries that were there from field trip readings but other than that, clueless. Just arriving to Port Arthur to meet Hilton Kelley at Kelley’s kitchen I almost felt like the van was lost, because there was no sign of any open businesses. All I saw was abandoned buildings and graffiti. I didn’t know that Port Arthur was so run down. I was so surprised by the abandoned buildings in Port Arthur.

Upon arriving, I was so impressed by Hilton Kelley. He told us his life story and the history of Port Arthur without a problem. He was very charismatic and good speaker.  I have heard of Hilton Kelley several times in Sacrifice Zones. He exceeded my expectations on the type of person he was. I didn’t expect him to be so well with people and also down to earth.

I found it interesting that he mentioned that Port Arthur used to be mainly a white neighborhood and that his restraunt actually used to be a whites only tavern. That in the 1950s Port Arthur was segregated across the railroad tracks. The buildings being abaonded made a lot more sense to me when he mentioned that Port Arthur went through a stage of white flight, which caused a lot of economic opportunities to leave. I expected to see gentrification in Port Arthur  like in Houston, but there was none.

Hilton Kelley’s view seemed a lot different than Juan Parras on the environmental justice.  Kelley kept mentioning that although he is fighting for Justice he knows that the truth will come through and things will get better. I was impressed by his hope for Port Arthur.  Juan Parras came across with distrust in the city government. I didn’t sense that from Hilton Kelley, he mentioned several times talking to council man about Port Arthur’s pollution problems. I found working with city council to be a very effective mean for change. I didn’t remember reading anything about Hilton Kelley working with city governments in class. That was news to me.

Kelley’s tour around Port Arthur was very eye opening.  I’ve never expected to see a refinery that close to a children’s playground and apartments. The smell was overwhelming; I didn’t know how people could possibly live in that area with the constant smell.  Upon talking to citizens I expected them to be angrier about the issue. I could tell they were upset, but none of them really told me anything about wanting to talk to anyone about it, or even try to fix the pollution problem. They acknowledged that it wasn’t good and yes, they probably will get sick from it later on, they failed to realize that they can do something about it.

Standing and listening to Hilton Kelley at the apartments and walking through the apartments and seeing the people made me feel bad. I acknowledge that these people need help to conquer this pollution burden that they were stuck with, but I felt helpless at the same time knowing at that moment I couldn’t do anything directly to help them. It seemed to me, that they saw us with our notebooks taking observations and saw us as unapproachable. We were the scientists looking down at these scared lab rats who were unaware of the danger in their environment.

Hilton Kelley’s tour challenged me to really care for these people. Actually meeting the people in the town of Port Arthur and seeing what they actually lived in everyday, I felt really blessed for what I have. I really saw why people fight for environmental justice. At times to me in class in seemed like it was easy to blame companies for their pollution and point the finger at them for being in a low income neighborhood. I really saw why, it was a big deal for polluting industries to be low income neighborhoods. They really had no means to fight it. If it wasn’t for Hilton Kelley moving back to Port Arthur from California, who knows if anyone would have really stood up for these people.

– Katie Hargrove

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