As a former staff writer for the Daily Breeze and the San Diego Union-Tribune newspapers -- and a contributor to the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Diana Chapman has covered the issues peoplefind important. In this blog, she focuses on the community programs and resources that benefit children and teens. Also visit her blog: http://www.secretlifeinmybackyard.blogspot.com. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org @
Mary Lou Martinez, holding a photo of her granddaughter, Devin, wants to create a memorial for Harbor Area children who have died from cancer while living in the industrial Port of Los Angeles.
San Pedro Grandma Decides Kids Who Have Died
Here of Cancer Related Illnesses Deserve A Shot At Being Remembered Through A
Memorial or Festival; She Just Needs Your Help
By Diana L. Chapman
Devin Hamilton died at the age of 9.
After three years of visiting her 9-year-old
granddaughter at her grave, Mary Lou Martinez thoughtboth of them deserved a better deal. They
should be celebrating Devin Hamilton's life with the punctuations of joy she
left in people's hearts.
Not in silence. Or in somberness.
That's when it hit. It seemed to Martinez that
so many children -- who live in San Pedro tucked along the highly
industrialized port of Los Angeles -- had their lives cut short by varying
kinds of cancer and that people were forgetting them much too soon. And when
they did remember them it was sadness. Not with joy.
She wants to build a way for the community to
celebrate those children, she said, and, with the backing of Los Angeles
Councilman Joe Buscaino's office, she needs other community members to help her
design the "how."
"I just didn't want to visit Devin in the
cemetery for the rest of my life," said Martinez, who decorates the grave
each holiday. "I just have this vision of some place near the ocean, a
great place with a plaque, a place to meet. The sad part is that they died. But
the beautiful part is that they lived. And that they were great kids who were
loved and are missed."
Diagnosed with leukemia in Aug. 2009, Devin
lived less than a year, dying Jan. 26 2010. One of her classmates at Crestwood Street
Elementary School, Leo Russo, died in September the same year from Hodgkin's
mature b cell lymphoma.
While manyother children have succumbed to cancer related illnesses here, Martinez
believes practically everybody in the tight-knit community of San Pedro-- many
coming from generations of immigrant families-- knows a family who has lost a
child to cancer.That has brought her on
her mission today; she is asking for about six San Pedro residents to step
forward and help her create her vision.
"I don't have anything set in stone,"
admits the grandmother, who babysat Devin daily until she enrolled in preschool
age 2. "I want to get input from other people. I have to do it. It's been
gnawing at me.
"I feel in my heart, it's going to happen
andit will be great."
It was, in fact, the council office that
suggested forming the group when she walked in to tell the staff what she
wanted to create. The suggestion: form a six member committee to shape a
memorial/festival to honor those children. While the idea is still unclear, the
grandmother wants the committee to help her moldwhat the memorial -- if in fact it should be a memorial at all -- should
that have been tossed around so far includes a tree of life that could
represent the children, a symbolic statue possibly an angel, a yearly festival,
a run, or a combination of all the things above -- or something else entirely
The only issue set in stone is that it should
be for children, Martinez said.
Jacob Haik, district director for Buscaino's
region which covers the entire harbor area and portions of South Los Angeles,
said he will support Martinez in any way possible and that a representative
from the council office will sit on the committee. Haik said he will attend the
subject, he said, is close to his heart as his 12-year-old daughter, Crystal is
close friends with Blake Marquez. Blake lost her little sister, Paige, 4, to a
brain tumor and her parents, Cheryl and Tim Marquez, built a foundation in
Paige's memory to help other children afflicted with cancer -- and in
particular with brain tumors. Haik also has four of his own children.
"I have talked to her (Martinez) two or
three times," Haik said. "We will meet with her and support her
absolutely. If I can be so bold, I suggested the committee because we are not
event planners. But we can give support with events, tables, chairs. I do see
the good it will bring."
Devin's mother, Lori Hamiliton, believes her
mom is on the right track with her vision, and hopes the community will help
"I do of course think this is a great
idea," said Devin's mother. "All the families who have children die
are still going through their mourning and to feel we have a community that
backs us and cares by supporting this idea is wonderful."
Over the years, studies have been done that
children do suffer higher asthma rates and that cancer rates overall are higher
living near the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach complex. A University of
Southern California study reflects that ship emissions "contributed to the
exacerbation of asthma," USC News reported in 2009.
In 2001, the National Resources Defense
Council sued the city and the Port of Los Angeles using environmental laws
claiming port emissions from diesel trains, ships and trucks caused premature
deaths, cancer, asthma and upper respiratory illnesses via smog and particulate
matters. The result was a $50 million mitigation fund to improve air quality at
the world's largest port.
"Despite this victory, however, more work
needs to be done," the NRDC reported on its website. "The cancer risk
from diesel pollution is 60 percent higher from communities close to the Port
of Los Angeles and Long Beach than elsewhere in the region, and has steadily
increased over the years, while pollution in other areas has dropped."
Since then, the Los Angeles port has
undergonemany mitigation measures,
including its Clean Trucks Programswhich works progressively to ban polluting trucks from entering the
While that battle goes on, Martinez believes
San Pedro resident should embrace the lives that have been lost.
"San Pedro is a unique town, a lot like
Catalina Island in the way it has familiarized its residents with one another,
however, larger than the island," she said. "But as a small
community, we know each other and we know the pain of loss, especially the loss
of a child.
" How can we not come together as a
community and remember and honor our sweet, sweet angels who left us all too
Anyone interested in serving on the committee
can contact Martinez via email: email@example.com