The playground in Manchester, a neighborhood on Houston's east side, is empty much of the time. Children who play for too long here often start to cough. They go back inside, leaving an empty swing set in the shadow of a nearby oil refinery.
Yudith Nieto, 24, has lived in Manchester since her family came from Mexico when she was a small child. While it's OK to visit the playground, she says, it's not OK to bring her camera. On several occasions, security guards from the Valero refinery next door have appeared and ask her to leave, claiming that taking pictures in the park was "illegal." They've even brought in Houston police as reinforcements. Valero, one of the major oil companies operating in this industrial part of Houston, keeps its security busy: Nieto says that they have harassed documentary filmmakers and journalists. And when college students participating in an "alternative spring break" program came to the park to talk to her about the neighborhood’s problems, a guard drove up in an unmarked vehicle and took video of the meeting on his cellphone. "I'm not afraid of the attention I'm getting from these people," Nieto says, "because we want people to know that we're aware."