After Tragedy, Cudahy Finds Its Voice in a New 26-Year-Old Mayor

Elizabeth Alcantar had only been mayor of Cudahy for a week when an aircraft dropped jet fuel on her city, soiling nearly two dozen students at Park Avenue Elementary School. It would be a harrowing moment for any newly sworn-in elected official, let alone the 26-year-old Alcantar.

Since the incident, Alcantar has been a resonant voice for an exasperated community. This isn’t the first time they’ve been injured by environmental mishap. It’s not even the first time for Park Avenue Elementary, a school that was built on toxic waste.

There’s a sense that these things just keep happening to places like Cudahy. And Alcantar has been excellent at transmitting that message. Calling it “environmental racism,” Alcantar clearly has no interest in mincing words when it comes to the harms her town has suffered.

“This is a community that’s used to environmental injustices, and I think [Alcantar] did a good job of mirroring the outrage of residents,” California political consultant Derek Humphrey told the Los Angeles Times.

But Alcantar has done more than just talk. She's secured health care services for those affected and ensured two more days of care than what Delta Airlines had initially offered. She’s pushing for soiling sampling. She’s demanding reimbursements. And she won’t stop until the residents of Cudahy finally feel safe and heard.

“When I became mayor, I definitely did not expect that, seven days later, I would have to fully jump into action,” Alcantar told the Times. “You don’t expect it. But I’m grateful I’m in a position to help my community in a time of dire need.”


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