by Liz Campos

On Oct. 3, the Museum of Ventura County on Main Street just west of Ventura Avenue will celebrate the Heritage of Latin Americans in the United States with a combination of the recent exhibits on Cesar Chavez, Frida Kahlo, and local artists of said heritage.

Unfortunately the celebratory day of exhibits is sponsored by SoCalGas.

There are several reasons some members of the Latinx population of Ventura’s Westside, “the Avenue,” find this sponsorship troubling, not the least of which is the SoCalGas threat to the health and safety of the children attending E.P. Foster Elementary School and De Anza Academy of Technology and the Arts.

The population of the Avenue neighborhood is 78% Latinx. A neighborhood where SoCalGas plans to double the power and size of their toxic gas compressor station. They do this at a time when the state has begun shutting down fossil fuels, a time when the signs of dangerous changes to our climate are increasingly obvious.

What we know about the more recent compressor technology is that accidents are four times more likely than the old school compressors. In the years from 1960 to 1998, there were few compressor explosions, but after 1998 there have been 11 that took human lives. Toxic gas (called natural by SGC) caused the massive explosion in San Bruno, Calif., in 2004 and the Aliso Canyon blow out, which is the largest in US history. It does not belong in our neighborhoods, spewing toxic chemicals into the school yard. Both E.P. Foster and De Anza, as well as the Westview Village housing project, sit within the incineration zone of toxic explosions.

SoCalGas’ donation for an exhibit on “Hispanic Heritage,” then, reeks of PR gamesmanship. After all, the Latinx community in the United States has for years asked that we stop using the racist moniker “Hispanic” and call them by the name they, not the government, choose.

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson established a week to honor Latin Americans in the United States and called it Hispanic Heritage Week. While Johnson took great leaps forward in the name of racial equality in communities, he never addressed the systemic racism that has permeated this government since before it broke from England. This is apparent in the language of the ruling government.

The name “Hispanic” was put on the peoples of the Americas because they are perceived as descended from Spain. The word Negro was applied as a descriptor of skin color. Both are racist terms coined by the oppressor government. 

It should be noted that Latin Americans, whether born in the U.S. or south of the border, do not identify as Hispanic, but refer to what the current president calls “Hispanic Heritage Month” as Latin Heritage Month. I would ask that the Museum of Ventura County recognize this in future events, and know that we love the museum. It is the failure of SoCalGas to respect the Latinx community, and the scourge of environmental racism they so freely participate in, that we disdain.

SoCalGas, if they truly cared about the community of West Ventura (where the Museum of Ventura County is located), would stop fighting its residents’ demand for an Environmental Impact Study and then remove their unneeded compressor station away from the schoolyard and off somewhere in the hills, far from where our children play and breathe. If this were done, then their sponsorship of Latin Heritage Month would look less like a PR stunt and more sincere.

Liz Campos is the chair of the Westside Community Council and a member of the Westside Clean Air Coalition and Manos Unidos.