What an old smelter meant to me growing up

Abraham Villarreal
3 min readJan 23, 2022
The place where our fathers and grandfathers made a living.

When I was growing up in Douglas, Arizona there was a smelter that was the center of the community. It employed our fathers and grandfathers. Its company had a mercantile at the busiest intersection of downtown. Everywhere you went, there were signs of why it was part of all of our lives. Each day you could see the smoke laying low over the tallest buildings. Each night, the shadow of the stacks were symbols that represented why our community existed.

And then, the smelter closed. I was a kid when that happened so I didn’t immediately feel the impact or foresee what would happen to the place I call home. I’m sure the adults were nervous. People lost jobs and as the years passed on, businesses closed. The historic downtown district became quieter.

This story could be told of many Mainstreet communities in our country. Businesses come and go, seemingly overnight. Communities are a little sturdier. They tend to hang on even if they are wounded. A smelter closing could feel like a punch in the gut, but you manage to keep on keeping on.

This all comes to mind as I think of how resilient we are as people. When a big company closes its doors, we manage to open our own little doors. Little doors may produce smaller paychecks. They may lead to longer workdays and less benefits. They are little doors but they are doors.

My tata Abram retired from the smelter before its demise. He told stories from time to time and he worked there just like everyone else his age did. A Latino man from a border community without a college education was lucky to have a job with the biggest company in town.

That’s what it was to him, a job. Back then, people only had jobs, they didn’t have careers. When they had to find a way to make a living, they looked for a job. Anyone that would hire them for a good day’s pay and preferably something close to home.

I wish tata Abram could have told us more stories about life in the smelter. I’m sure it was hard work with little recognition. Forget employee of the month, as long as you didn’t get fired you knew they wanted you. His…

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Abraham Villarreal

People are interesting. I write about them and what makes them interesting.