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Earlimart Anti-Pesticide Advocate Teresa De Anda Remembered As Fearless Leader

Tracy Perkins

Environmental justice advocate, pesticide warrior and lifelong Earlimart resident Teresa De Anda is recalled as a “true inspiration” and “tireless leader”.

De Anda, 55, passed away last week after battling with liver cancer. The Central Valley advocate who shed a light on the health impacts of pesticide drift leaves behind seven children and eight grandchildren.

One of her daughters, Valerie Gorospe, says her mother’s passion will live on through others.

“She’s given us the best example of what it means to give of yourself in every way possible. She gave her whole heart into everything she did -- her family, her work, everything.”

De Anda had lived most of her life in her home in Earlimart, a small agricultural town north of Bakersfield. Living in a farming community, she was always concerned about the chemicals used nearby.

"Teresa was a heroine who spoke for all of the people here in the Valley who are regularly and involuntarily exposed to pesticides on a daily basis. She's the champion who stood out for those people." -Kevin Hamilton

But it wasn’t until 1999 when her leadership blossomed. In an interview with KVPR in 2013, De Anda described what she called “The Big Accident.”

“In November, that’s when a big cloud of pesticides came into town and got a lot of people sick,” she said to KVPR last year. “They were poisoned, and they were having to be decontaminated. It was ridiculous and inhumane.”

Prior to “The Big Accident”, the caretaker and high-school graduate had no previous knowledge of pesticides. But this incident inspired De Anda to raise awareness about pesticide drift and demand change.

The Central Valley native, along with various advocacy groups, played a key role in the passage of the California Pesticide Drift Exposure Act. Enacted in 2005, the act was intended to improve the state’s response to major pesticide drift incidents, by ensuring victims get appropriate medical care and attention.

Gorospe recalls her mother’s passion for justice.

“She saw a need for things to change and she couldn’t just sit there and not do anything,” Gorospe says.

But her advocacy didn’t stop there. She became the Central Valley coordinator for Californians for Pesticide Reform, where she fought for stricter pesticide buffer zones. And also joined as director of the Committee for the Well Being of Earlimart.

Credit Rebecca Plevin
Teresa De Anda stands in front of her Earlimart home, feeding her pets during a KVPR interview in 2013.

In March of 2012, De Anda learned she had liver cancer. After spending nearly a year in Florida, she received a liver transplant in April. But her health slowly started to deteriorate. Her family says they don’t know if the pesticides she was exposed to throughout her life contributed or caused her illness.

Kevin Hamilton, the chief program officer at Clinica Sierra Vista, says De Anda was a fearless leader.

“Teresa was a heroine who spoke for all of the people here in the Valley who are regularly and involuntarily exposed to pesticides on a daily basis,” he says. “She’s the champion who stood out for those people and her story will always continue to live on.”

Fresno Metro Ministry honored De Anda last year for her advocacy with the community group the Committee for the Well Being of Earlimart.

“Teresa was a perfect example of the grassroots person, a mom, an everyday person seeing an injustice and getting involved, making a difference. And that’s why we honored her,” says Sarah Sharpe, the director of programs for Fresno Metro Ministry.

Sharpe, who worked with her for many years, says De Anda’s passion for educating others has served as an inspiration to countless advocates in the Central Valley and beyond.

Diana Aguilera is a multimedia reporter native of Santiago, Chile. It was during her childhood in Santiago where her love for journalism sparked. Diana moved to Fresno while in her teens and is a proud graduate of California State University, Fresno. While earning her degree in journalism and minor in Latin American studies, Diana worked for the Fresno Bee. Her work as a general assignment reporter continued after college and was recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2014, she joined Valley Public Radio. Her hobbies include yoga, traveling and reading.