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Still dark, the bus pressed north past McAllen and Edinburg. Past flat citrus groves, produce rows, and sorghum fields that helped define the Rio Grande Valley. Garza’s wife closed her eyes, but her lips moved in prayer until she fell asleep in her window seat. Up a few rows, Eliza Bourbois, Ginger’s 74-year-old aunt, in a royal blue, satin blouse with her lips coated bright red, gulped down a fistful of pills, chasing it with a breakfast taco and bottled water. She has had a kidney and her spleen removed. One of her four children can neither hear nor speak. Though much of the farmland skewered by U.S. 83 in South Texas has vanished beneath asphalt, the area’s agricultural legacy is still celebrated every year with the 75-year old Texas Citrus Fiesta. Mission, once in the heart of the grapefruit groves, has doubled in population during the past 15 years, to 60,146 people. Long ruled by an Anglo royalty, the peasants of the kingdom were segregated in South Mission, a neighborhood divided from the rest of town by a strip of railroad tracks. South Mission is Mexico with a Texas license plate. The Rio Grande and Frontera Tamaulipas are 4 miles away. There are still plenty of grown-ups who remember swimming in irrigation canals as kids before the public pool was desegregated. Rows of tattered, wood-frame houses cram together, some with barren yards piled with old furniture, busied by children. Across the street from the first row of houses is a building with a large exhaust fan mounted at the top, anchored in rust “We didn’t know it was dangerous, but in time we knew because people started to get sick.” and decay. The aqua blue structure resembles an airplane hangar with broken windows and scrawled graffiti. Pigeons fly through large holes in the roof, which has sprouted weeds. In its heyday, the facility and its warehouse were one of the largest pesticide processors in the region. The plant exhaled pesticide dust like a vacuum cleaner with a full bag. The fan sucked poisonous dust and fumes from the factory, sending them into the neighborhood. Families left their windows open most of the year because they didn’t have air conditioners. Strong Gulf winds moved the dust around so much that residents said they could taste it. The poison blew off of trucks, open-top kettles, and piles of residue left outside, which neighborhood kids used like a community sandbox, according to former workers, locals and court records. Rainbow colored storm water frequently flooded unpaved streets, at times muddying dirt kitchen floors. Jose B. Rodriguez, 85 and a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, was a young man when he came to Texas in search of a new life. He settled in South Mission back before running water, back when it was “puro rancho, puro caballo, puro buro,” Rodriguez said from the front porch of the house he’s lived in for decades. In 1950, Hayes-Sammons expanded from a local hardware store, turning a juice plant near Rodriguez into the pesticide production facility. It was like a car factory moving into the small neighborhood. Happy to have a good-paying alternative to the fields, workers lined up to be hired during peak seasons. “We put our hands in the poison,” said Rodriguez, who welcomed the work so he could support his family. “The people were ignorant, only knew to workto work. It was the best. We all fought to work there. We didn’t know it was dangerous, but in time we knew because people started to get sick.” Inside the facility the fans and forklifts, which had mufflers that kicked up dust, created a constant din, former workers said. Material arrived by truck and rail, sometimes packaged in 50-pound bags, 55-gallon barrels, or 200to 300-pound cardboard drums. It came in powder, liquid, and wax, which 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 29, 2007