Former ASARCO employees share memories of job but differ on whether stacks should come down

ASARCO worker grew up on the job

EL PASO, Texas - For many former ASARCO workers the April 13 demolition date marks a personal but bittersweet milestone.

"It was kinda like a war zone when you went to work," said Angel Arellano.

For Arellano, ASARCO represents not only where he worked for 30 years but also where he grew up.

He started working at the copper smelter when he was just 18 years old and still remembers his first day.

"When they opened up those doors to those ore bins I said ‘oh my lord, what is this?' It was kinda scary to see.....and I said ‘man ,what am I gonna do here?'" he said.

The smokestacks also represent part of his family history.

His father worked there for 43 years and his two older brothers worked there for decades, too.

" You just follow in the footsteps," Arellano said.

His family also used to live in Smeltertown, inside the ASARCO site.

"It was hard work, it was very hard work but you know, I made a living off of it," he said. "We had good benefits... ASARCO was good to me and my family.

But for all it represents, Arellano is ready to see the smokestacks come down.

"They're not pretty," Arellano said. "Why would you wanna save the stacks? Maybe we shoulda saved the jobs instead

A job that defined his life for so long. But he's ready to turn the page.

Like Arellano, 89-year-old Paulino Hernandez worked at ASARCO for 30 years.

He said in the 1950s, when he started working at the plant, it was a difficult job because the smelter did not have a lot of the equipment they did in the later years. Hernandez saw the two major smokestacks being built in the 1960s.

In fact, he worked in the cadmium department and the boiler shop, which was only about 75 feet from the base of the 826-foot stack.

When ABC-7 asked Hernandez how he feels about the stacks being brought down, he got a little emotional. He said he doesn't think the stacks bother anyone and he would rather they remain up because he considers them historic.

Hernandez started crying when he recalled all of his fellow coworkers, most who are now dead.

"And sometimes when I meet one of my coworkers, I pray for them  … (a) lot of good memories," Hernandez said. "

Hernandez, who worked at ASARCO from 1953 to 1983, isn't sure how he'll feel when he finally sees the stacks fall on Saturday morning.

"I don't know but I don't think it's right," he said. "They should leave the big smokestack up. They shouldn't tear it down."

ABC-7 reporters Darren Hunt and Maria Garcia contributed to this report.

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