El Paso comes together for one last viewing of smokestacks

By Lorain Watters

April 12, 5:30 p.m. and cars slowly gather around the perimeter parking lots around campus and the axis roads along Paisano Dr. With only hours left before night falls over the city, El Pasoans gather their cameras and families for one last shot with the smokestacks.

Angelica Silva and her mother, Elena Silva, joined the rest of their family at Paisano Dr. to say goodbye to a monument that was more than just a smokestack. The ASARCO towers were not just a part of El Paso’s history but also a part of the Silva family ties as Angelica’s father, Elena’s husband, Jose Silva Jr. was an ASARCO employee for 32 years.

“He was a smelterman, he worked with smelting the copper but he also had different jobs,” Angelica Silva said.

Jose Silva Jr. was a proud ASARCO employee, working a late shift, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily, which resulted in the beginning of mesothelioma, which was brought on from the asbestos in the smokestacks.

“He was the sole provider for our family, so we basically grew up on his income. It was one of the good paying jobs here in El Paso at the time,”

The Silva family remembers Jose Silva Jr. while looking up at the smokestacks. (Aaron Montes/ The Prospector)

Angelica Silva said. “It hurts seeing them come down. I know to many people it may not mean much since they have no relation to it, but we do.”

Angelica Silva recalls a time when she was younger with her siblings and mother, attending a “family day” at the smoke stacks where the families of the employees were able to tour the towers. They did not take any pictures and were only able to remember few details from that day.

“We have a picture of my dad where he is standing between the smokestacks with his arms outstretched. We tried doing the same thing today but it is not the same,” Angelica Silva said.

Fonzie Johnson, a resident of El Paso his entire life, believes the demolition to be a historic event.

“These ASARCO towers have been here for over 100 years and to see them go is kind of sad. It is a landmark that has been around El Paso for a long time that makes El Paso stand out. It’s a little bit of a farewell.”

Johnson lives near Hague and Stanton St. and will be setting a wake-up call for 6 a.m. to watch the demolition of the smokestacks.

“We had the world record at one point for having the world’s tallest smokestack and to throw that away is just a shame but I am still going to love my city.”

Like Johnson, Francisco J. Barroteran and his wife Matilde Barroteran are sad to see the smokestacks go. Bringing along their son, Johan, and daughter, Alma, Francisco Barroteran gave his children a history lesson on their way over to P-6 to take photos of the smokestacks.

“It’s a historical day, the smokestacks have been here for a long time and we wanted to take pictures with the kids so they can remember how El Paso was when they were young.”

With their children unknowing of the situation, Barroteran and his wife took the opportunity to educate their children and inform them that the towers will no longer be there.

“It’s going to be different but I won’t be directly affected by it.”

Barroteran believes that after the demolition, the land should be donated to the university so that it can grow.

“That would be the best way for El Paso. I studied here and I know they need more land and unfortunately, there is no other land,” Barroteran said.

Letty Gutierrez, along with her husband and son, traveled from Ysleta to view the smokestacks from a hill near Paisano Dr., overlooking the homes near Buena Vista, one more time before tomorrow morning’s demolition.

“I’m sad that it’s coming down, just being here I am emotional. I remember as a kid, my mom lived in Smeltertown when she was a little girl, around 3 or 4 years old back in the 40s. She remembers bringing water down to the shacks where they lived,” Gutierrez said.

As Gutierrez grew up in Ysleta, she attended UTEP and grew fond of the scene with the river and smoke stacks.

“I was isolated in the lower valley and the coming to the west side of town, it just seemed like ‘wow’. It marks an important place of El Paso, it is historic and you don’t see this in any city,” Gutierrez said. “It’s beautiful but I do have mixed emotions, I know it did do harm to some people, but it is what it is.”

Roberto Salas, raised in El Paso but current resident in San Diego, Calif., traveled back home to witness the demolition. (Aaron Montes/ The Prospector)

Roberto Salas, 56, of San Diego, Calif., grew up in the old Smeltertown neighborhood, Buena Vista, a little community hidden in a canyon by the smokestacks.

“It’s a lot of sentiment and it’s nice to see the people congregate here because it belongs to everybody in one form or fashion,” Salas said.

“Everybody has had some relative work there and it was a lucrative way to make a living in the early days too. It was a high paying position, even for labor at that time.”

As a child growing up in the old Smeltertown, Salas saw the smokestacks being built first hand. He went to E.B. Jones Elementary School.

“I’m a descendent actually of families that moved from Mexico to here because of the industry,” Salas said. “I think there should be some kind of community or social retribution in the fact that this land should be something that suits the whole city of El Paso and the surrounding communities in some form or fashion.”

ASARCO was a career opportunity for residents in El Paso, Salas said. People would either work at ASARCO, go to school or did other things in the city to get by.

At around the age of 20, Salas left El Paso to go study in San Francisco. Now, he’s inherited his parent’s house in Buena Vista, where he has his art studio.

Salas, now a visual artist, said he has done a series of artwork that relates to the building of the smokestacks.

“It was an incredible icon to see,” Salas said. “Kudos should be given to the people who tried to save it but things change.”

Ruben Deluna, 61, wakes up to the sight of the smokestacks every morning from his home in Anthony, N.M., which is about 20 miles from the site of the towering pipes. He calls it the “peace pipe” and says they are memories.

“Mi compadre, he died when he was 40 years old,” Deluna said. “All these guys that used to work here, they died young, but they liked the job.”

His friend was Rosalio Gomez who had worked at ASARCO as a young boy, Deluna said.

“He was my concuño, and his wife was Luisa Gomez and she’s still alive. She’s a very nice person…in his forties he started getting sick. I think because of this he passed away,” Deluna said. “He got cancer in his stomach. Not only him, there were a lot of people that died, but it’s like I said, they weren’t using masks. They were smelling all that smoke and everything.”

Deluna said there may be spirits that still lurk in the site.

“I heard that there are ghosts in there. I believe it, “ Deluna said.

Whether victims of the explosion or from exposure to harmful chemicals, many of the men who died during that time at ASARCO are buried a stone throw away from the smokestacks.

“The men that died, they just buried them over there (Smeltertown Cemetery),” Deluna said. “They didn’t have to go far away. This is like the cross to them. A big cross to them so they can reach up to the sky.”

Lorain Watters and Kristopher Rivera may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

Residents of El Paso traveled to Paisano Dr. to capture the smokestacks before demolition. (Aaron Montes/ The Prospector)

Source: http://www.utepprospector.com/news/el-paso-comes-together-for-one-last-viewing-of-smokestacks-1.3027114#.UW7v3qK-1Bl