Monterrey is the financial capital of northern Mexico — and it currently finds itself in a historic drought. Sound familiar?
A drought has drained the reservoirs that provide most of the water for 5 million residents who live around Monterrey, the financial capital of northern Mexico. The crisis has sparked widespread upheaval. Anger is mounting at government officials who allow the region’s factories to continue pulling water from the strained aquifer via private wells while some residents are left without water for days.
Today, we take a look at the city and an unfolding crisis that experts say is a stark warning for the rest of Mexico and the American West. Read the full transcript.
Host: Gustavo Arellano
Guests: L.A. Times foreign correspondent Kate Linthicum
Taps have run dry in Monterrey, Mexico, where there is water for factories but not for residents
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Gustavo: On the outskirts of Monterrey Mexico, every drop of water counts. A drought has drained the reservoirs that provide most of the water for the 5 million residents who live around the financial capital of Northern Mexico.
The crisis has sparked widespread upheaval.
Anger is mounting at government officials who allow the region’s thousands of factories to pull water from the strained aquifer via private wells.
Experts say the crisis unfolding here is a stark warning for the rest of Mexico… as well as the American West.
I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to The Times, daily news from the LA times. It's Thursday, July 28th, 2022.
Today, a dispatch from a parched present and an even thirstier future.
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Gustavo: Joining us to talk about this as LA Times, foreign correspondent Kate Linthicum/ Kate. Welcome to times.
Kate: It's great to be here.
Gustavo: What are Monterrey's residents experiencing right now?
Kate: So the majority of people in Monte day only have water for a few hours a day in the morning. The rest of the time, their taps are running dry. But then there are really big sections of the city, particularly the areas kind of on the periphery, kind of farther out, where there's no water at all.
TAPE: Clip in Spanish from Monterrey.
Kate: Some of these neighborhoods have not had water for a few weeks. Others have gone a few days to bathe, to cook, to clean. They are relying either on, like bottled water // that they buy from stores, or water that's being trucked in by the government. Or occasionally there are these wells in parks that they can access. So it’s people basically carrying water to their houses in buckets, kind of like the olden days.
Kate: The people I talked to are really desperate. They're really exhausted. They have jobs, have families. And then on top of all of that, have to spend hours a day figuring out how they're gonna procure water to cook dinner or to flush their toilets. So it's really a point of just total despair.
Tape: horita no, no, no es nada para lo que siempre es. O sea, siempre está lleno hasta arriba hasta el monte. (Well right now, no. It’s not what it usually is. Usually it's full of water, up to where it reaches that hill.)
Kate: I spoke to one man, from the town of Garcia, who had been without water for days.
Tape: Y tienen agua en su casa? No, no van a llenar los botes, sacamos nosotros los baldes y los llenan. (And do you have water in your house? No, just the buckets- we bring out buckets and they fill them with water.)
Kate: He had come to this local dam to try to escape just the exhaustion of dealing with the water. He goes there with friends to fish // but once he got to the dam he realized it was empty, cuz it's one of the dams that feeds Monterrey. So he and his friend kind of stood there at the bottom of this…
Kate:…mostly empty reservoir, you know, trying to find fish.
Tape: We’re here just trying to catch a snack/appetizer. Only that kid over there caught one fish.
Kate: He was quite frustrated // and honestly filled with despair.
Tape: Ahorita la prioridad es el agua. Ajá. Sí, nomás ahorita lo más crítico es el agua ahorita. Mm. (Right now the priority is water. AHA. Yes, just right now the most critical thing is water right now. mm.)
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Gustavo: Has there been any protests yet or anything like that?
Kate: There have been a ton of protests. It's ranged from people basically blocking highways, blocking access to factories. Up river, where Monterrey is trying to basically pipe water from, to get to the city. We're seeing like farmers and others who are protesting that because they don't want to share their water with this city that has run out. And then in Monterrey itself, we're seeing daily protests of people // storming highways, blocking access to roads. And what they're demanding is that the city provide them, the residents, with water. And they are angry, particularly at industry, which has largely continued to function as normal because they have access to these private wells. And they want that water to be shared with the people of Monterrey.
Gustavo: Hearing you say all of this about Monterrey is surprising because when I think of the city, you know, I always remember how, even in Mexico, people think of it as more like of a suburb of the United States, cuz it's such a rich city. It's so modern compared to the other big cities in Mexico. And even the people there kind of view themselves as different, you know, “better” than the rest of Mexico.
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. Monterrey is one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico. It's the second largest, it's two hours from the Texas border. It's filled with these like really high-quality factories that produce Mercedes buses and caterpillar tractors and steel, and beer and soda, and all of these things for American consumers. It's been a draw for people for years because of that, because they're really well paying jobs compared to other parts of the country. So it's been just this like motor of industry in the country. And yet for years, it seems like //officials have been ignoring this obvious fact that if you have a population that's growing three times in just 40 years, that you really need to make sure you have kind of the right supply of water for them and the right system to distribute it. There's also this history there of these really wealthy kind of industrialists /// who've long controlled the city, sitting on the planning commission, sitting on the water and drain boards, and basically making sure that wealthier neighborhoods and factories were receiving // more investments in water infrastructure while the poorer neighborhoods really weren't benefiting from that same investment. So you have this huge boom of people and you have this system of water distribution that is just totally not up to speed. //
Gustavo: Yeah. How did Monterrey get into this bad water situation?
Kate: // So Monterrey lies kind of at the tail end of the Rio Grande river basin, // which starts up in the Rockies in Colorado and flows through several U.S. states and several Mexican states. It's this area that's semi-arid // it's kind of desert. Monterrey itself is a bit of an oasis, but it's a very dry, hot place. Over the last few years, as Monterrey has been hit with this drought that has really pummeled much of Northern Mexico and also the Southwestern United States. So the same drought that's hitting California and Arizona and New Mexico, is also affecting the amount of water that's available in Monterrey.
Kate: There are three dams that have been constructed over the years, basically around, and in that basin that provide the water for Monterrey proper. And those dams have basically nearly completely drained.
Kate: So they're right now scrambling, really to find new sources of water, which as we know is never an easy thing. So there's conflict with other states, there's conflict with industry. There's a lot of conflict right now over water.
Gustavo: We'll be right back.
Gustavo: So, Kate, if Monterrey officials had long ignored how the city was getting its water and how precarious the whole situation was, especially being at a // naturally dry area. How are they dealing with the crisis now?
Kate: So they are obviously reducing the water that they actually distribute to houses in the hopes that they can save what little water remains in the reservoirs // to wait out these really hot summer months. So that in September, when say a hurricane // blows through the Gulf coast and Monterrey gets a lot of rain. Those reservoirs can fill up hopefully, and replenish the system. They're also exploring /// new options. Some of the things they're considering are the building of a new dam. One is already under construction. They're are planning probably a second one. They're looking at water recycling techniques. They're drilling new wells, which is kind of a short-sighted solution a lot of water experts say because the aquifer beneath the city is already very over exploited. So there's not a ton of water there. Right now, they're kind of just desperately trying to think of more water resources. But the fact is it takes like five years to build a dam. So there's no real immediate solution // from Monterrey, and it's very possible that in the coming years, // every summer when it gets really hot, when water starts draining from these dams, we're gonna be in the same situation.
Gustavo: Are these businesses that are getting all of this water, like… what's their response to the crisis?
Kate: So businesses have been under a lot of pressure, from the government, particularly the federal government to do more. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the president Amlo, he’s really going after them. He's someone who's been very critical of kind of corporations, which he's described as greedy in the past. So for him, this is almost becoming like a political issue and he's basically threatened to shut down these factories, if they don't start giving more water immediately. // And already, some of these plants are helping. You know, there's a major steel plant here that's giving like 40 gallons a second from its well to the city's water system. // The Heineken plant is drilling a new well. Pepsi’s donated tons and tons of bottled water.
Kate: An interesting kind of scene we came upon is the Topo Chico factory, um, which is where all of the Topo Chico water comes from. It's at the foot of this craggy mountain here in the middle of Monterrey city. And it's long had these kind of public, basically water taps, where residents can fill up jugs with drinkable water outside of the plant. But now people are coming from all over the city,, waiting in line for hours, to fill up jugs of water, to use for really basic necessities like bathing, So people in Monterrey are now like bathing and cleaning their laundry. With Topo Chico water.
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Gustavo: We had you on the times last year to talk about the bad drought in Sonora, which is also in Northern Mexico, but in the Western part. And you mentioned that Monterrey’s situation is connected to the drought in California, the drought in Arizona, basically the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. So what's the current climate situation then?
Kate: Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of the La Nina weather pattern and what that does basically, it results in like more intense droughts, precisely in Northern Mexico and the Southwest of the U.S. // So we're expecting to see more of this, you know, to see more intense, longer hotter droughts in these regions. And as you know, like a lot of cities in the Southwest of the US, and a lot of cities in Mexico, like Monterrey, they rely on imported water. // Southern California gets most of its water from Northern California. And the Colorado river, it's in a similar situation really with Monterrey. So these cities that have grown so much are really having to figure out how to learn to live with less water, because that's gonna be the future. Like they will simply be receiving less water. //
Gustavo: It's interesting that you mention Kate that like the city of Monterrey, the people you talk to, they're like not ready for this future with less water, because if you talk to the people in the rural areas, that's just a part of life. Like where my parents are from in Zacatecas, from these two little villages. // You didn't get water all the time, even though there's a dam there, a presa that holds a reservoir, like the poor people, they know like water, you have to ration it all the time, but it seems like these richer cities are like, oh no, there's gonna be water all the time for all of us.
Kate: Yeah, you're totally right. Water has never been a given, particularly in poor parts of Mexico. According to like census data around half of Mexican households who have access to piped water, get water on an intermittent basis already. And even in Mexico city where I live, which is this rainy lush city, we have occasionally cuts in service because there aren't proper water catchment systems. And we're draining the aquifer. So, this is a nationwide problem in a way getting these water distribution systems really up to speed. And also // balancing that with the needs of // manufacturing and industry, which // in Monterrey and so many other places is rather unregulated because they drill these private wells and there isn't a ton of oversight about how much water they're taking, // how much water they're actually using. So that's this other // big issue here is there's a lot of unregulated water use. There's also a lot of like water theft, that we see in Monte day, for example. And that's one thing that authorities are trying to do now is, is find // these places where people are stealing water from pipes or have illegal Wells, because that's also a very prevalent problem here.
Kate: This is not a new problem for this city. In the seventies and eighties, they had another water crisis. And people revolted, just like they are now. // Um It was particularly led by women who // as I saw in the last few days // are really the ones who // are really burying the burden here because they're often the ones // in charge of the house. And without water, they really can't do anything.
Kate: So you had this protest movement forming, like in the late seventies and eighties. And they actually were able to get some changes, made in Monterrey. They literally // helped spur the government to build // another dam. // They helped spur the government to pipe in water to more houses on the periphery. But the problem is. , the effects of that protest movement, I think were short lived. The officials in //Monterrey//put their heads in the sand for a couple of decades and // hoped this problem would go away until this summer when it reared its head again. And they're really confronted with this crisis.
Gustavo: After the break, how the crisis in Monterrey is a stark warning for the rest of Mexico and the American West.
Gustavo: Kate, it's easy to hear all of this that's happening in Mexico and think, oh, well, that's their problem. It's not gonna affect us. But as you've been mentioning earlier, mother nature doesn't care about borders.
Kate: Right. You know, there are a lot of people who see the crisis in Monterrey as this very clear warning // for the United States and, particularly Southern California, Southern California cities import about 55% of their water from the Colorado river. And from Northern California. They've already been forced to reduce water usage // and now face the prospect of further cuts because drought, is really draining the Colorado river. And there's this federal pressure. So California, particularly Southern California is having to figure out how can we live with less water? And that's the exact same thing that's happening in Monterrey.what we're seeing in Monterrey is really a kind of a surreal scene, right? This, like, incredibly modern city,, with gleaming off office towers and like literally a Maserati dealership. his is // wealthy LA-like city. Where literally the traps have just run dry and people are hauling water from wells.
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Kate: So it's kind of the worst-case scenario for a place like LA. But if Southern California can't figure out like how to make do with less water, // it could be the future.
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Gustavo: Kate, as you left Monterrey, what struck you about what they're facing like right now? Not like years down the line or whatever, but literally the right now of It? //
Kate: Yeah. I mean, I just really remember the people that I spoke to, who are suffering. I think about one woman, Nora Diaz…
TAPE: Estamos aquí ascendiendo como el impacto de la falta de agua.
Kate: .. who lived in this very humble community on the periphery of the city. It had been like three days since they had had running water. And they were waiting for this giant tanker truck to pull up. It finally did. And just the whole community came out with buckets and water bottles // just // filling up water and then hauling it back home. And she just talked about kind of how this has affected her life and it's affected everything. You know, she wakes up early in the morning at like 3:00 AM to see if the taps will turn on. // Usually they don't.
TAPE: Sí, estoy yo aquí ahora la mañana anduve a la verdad. Tres, nueve, me paré la llave, no había agua. (4:54) I Woke up at 3 am to check but there was no water)
Kate: She goes off to work at like 6:00 AM to work in a factory. And she's dirty, you know, her hair is greasy. // She hasn't been able to bathe.
TAPE: O todavía no, todavía no me sacando cubetas. Prepara. Que llenar. )I haven't been able to shower yet getting everything ready first)
Kate: She works all day in the factory, of course there is water, because of these private wells. And then she comes home, back to her house where the taps are dry and has to think about cooking food for her children. And to do that, the only way they can really do that is by going to the store // and buying really expensive bottled water, which when you're someone making $10 a day in a factory, bottled water // is a total luxury.
TAPE: Todo requiere el agua. Sí, ajá. Frijoles requieren agua, pollo requiere agua. Ajá. Todo requiere agua. (I was going to make chicken and beans which require water, everything requires water)
Kate: And I just remember something she said, which is there have been times when she's so thirsty, and there's no water to drink.
Tape: Qué dices tú? Ajá. Lo tomo en la calle. Tengo ser sí. Cuando traes dinero y cuando no tomas traga salir. Ah (3:09 What do you say? if i have money I buy water and if not, swallow you drink saliva.)
Kate: So she relies on drinking her own saliva.
Tape: Tengo ser sí. Cuando traes dinero y cuando no tomas traga salir. Ah .Wow. Mmhmm.
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Kate: And I think that's an example of how just incredibly difficult and really inhumane this kind of crisis has been.
Gustavo: Kate. Thank you so much for this conversation.
Kate: Thank you so much.
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Gustavo: And that's it for this episode at the times, daily news from the LA times. Shannon Lynn was a hefa on this episode and Mario Diaz's mixed and mastered it.
Our show produced by Shannon Lynn, Denise Guerra, Kaha, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistant are Matt and AMA and Carlos Del LoRa. Our intern is Suria.
Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsey Morelin.
Our executive producers are Jazmin Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapon, but we didn’t play it this time, so….
I'm Gustovo Arellano. We'll be back tomorrow with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.
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On the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, every drop of water counts.
A drought has drained the reservoirs that provide most of the water for the five million residents who live around the financial capital of northern Mexico.
The crisis has sparked widespread upheaval. Anger is mounting at government officials, who allow the region’s thousands of factories to pull water from the strained aquifer via private wells.
Experts say the crisis unfolding here is a stark warning for the rest of Mexico— as well as the American West.
I’m Gustavo Arellano. You’re listening to The Times: Daily news from the LA Times.
It’s Thursday, July 28, 2022.
Today, a dispatch from a parched present — and an even thirstier future.
Gustavo: Joining us to talk about this is L.A. Times foreign correspondent Kate Linthicum. Kate, welcome to The Times.
Kate: Thank you.
Gustavo: Kate, what are Monterrey’s residents experiencing right now?
-Drought has drained the three reservoirs that provide about 60% of the water for the region’s five million residents. Most homes now receive water for a few hours each morning. And on the city’s periphery, many taps have run completely dry.
-DESCRIBE THE FRUSTRATIONS OF PEOPLE, WHAT ARE THEY SAYING/DOING
-Some people I talked to like TKTK who is fisherman have to travel to get water
Gustavo: Hmm..yeah hearing you say this about Monterrey is surprising because when I think of Monterrey, I always remember how many, even in Mexico, say it’s more oriented to the United States in terms of its modernization and all the money in the city.
Kate: explain what Monterrey looks, feels, sounds like….maybe it’s economic background, etc?
Two hours south of the U.S. border, it is one of the most prosperous cities in Mexico, home to gleaming office towers, luxury car dealerships and modern factories that supply Americans with appliances, vehicles, soft drinks and steel.
High salaries relative to other parts of the country have drawn millions of workers, with the city’s population tripling since 1980.
Gustavo: So how did Monterrey get into this bad water situation?
Monterrey built three dams and they sit at the semi-arid tail of the Rio Grande basin, which begins 800 miles north in the snowcapped Colorado Rockies.
To supplement the dams, officials planned to build a massive aqueduct that would ferry water from the Rio Pánuco, 300 miles south, but the project was cancelled in 2016 after the main contractor was implicated in a corruption scandal. And its water management plan has not kept pace with growing population
Water experts have been warning for years that city was on an unsustainable path, that it was, as Sandoval-Solis put it, “a ticking time bomb.”
Then drought hit, and their worst fears came true. This second response is really good! YAH
Gustavo: We’ll be right back.
Gustavo: So Kate, you mentioned what Monterrey tried to do to conserve water in a naturally dry area. Yet, their system was not prepared for a disaster like a major drought. How are officials dealing with the crisis now?
Kate: -the director of Monterrey’s water agency, says there is no end in sight for the current crisis but theyre scrambling to close illegal wells and pipeline diversions, which he said proliferate because there are only a handful of federal inspectors monitoring water usage in the state.
-it’s also drilling wells, planning construction of a wastewater recycling plant and has another large dam project underway. The aim is to have enough water for 10 million inhabitants by 2050.
ASK ABOUT BUSINESSES PLS: what are those businesses doing to help? -In the meantime, he is asking the region’s businesses to help. Maybe a follow up after this too about how workers are responding? So we get the Nora story.
Ternium, a major steel plant here, has directed 40 gallons a second from its well to the city’s water system. Heineken is drilling a well for public use. Pepsi-Cola has donated thousands of gallons of bottled water.
The Topo Chico plant, which is located at the foot of a craggy mountain here with the same name, has long allowed local residents to fill up jugs with drinkable water outside the factory. Now people are coming from all over the city, waiting for hours to procure water for bathing and other necessities.
But the fact that factories have seen no cuts to their water supplies, people including mexico’s president is very upset. This week the president threatened to shut down beverage factories unless they do more to help.
Gustavo: Last year, we had you on the Times to talk about the bad drought in Sonora, which is also in northern Mexico but in the western part. What’s the current climate situation throughout all of northern Mexico?
Drought is pummeling Northern Mexico. In Tijuana and Rosarito, scheduled water shut-offs were a big deal a few years
Since 2019, the region has seen up to 50% less rainfall than average, part of a wider drought afflicting more than half of Mexico and the southwestern U.S. Climatologists say it is linked to the weather event known as La Niña, whose effects are intensifying with climate change,
“We’re in an extreme climate crisis,” Nuevo León Governor Samuel Garcia said recently. “Today we’re all living it and suffering.”
Along with the southwestern United States, nearly 60% of Mexico is in drought.
Gustavo: So… have Mexican officials been planning for a future with less water? ?
One difference, though, is that Mexico has been slower than California to plan for a future with less water.
Water has never been a given in poor parts of Mexico. Around half of Mexican households with access to piped water receive services on an intermittent basis, according to census data. Even rainy Mexico City faces occasional cuts in service because it lacks sufficient water catchment systems.
-different relationship to water..
how people in Mexico in general have a bit of a different relationship to water than most Americans. In many parts of Mexico, people don't drink tap water and have always bought purified water in garrafones for drinking and cooking. Maybe better at conserving water because of this experience? And on the other end, sewage systems/pipes often break, leaving huge swaths of residents without running water for days, sometimes weeks at a time (happened to me several times when I lived in Mexico). Feels like in many ways, people in Mexico or more/better prepared for surviving droughts, definitely more-so than a lot of people in the U.S
Gustavo: Sadly, Mexico always seems to have a problem with its water supplies. Where my mom grew up in the central Mexico state of Zacatecas, there’s a presa there, a dam, that holds a reservoir. And this has happened before, I remember when I was small, there was a slogan I’d see on the TV: “Agua para Todos”? "Water for Everyone"?
PROMPT HER ABOUT THE POLITICAL MOVEMENTS IF SHE DOESNT GET TO IT PLS
-Vivienne Bennett, a professor emerita at California State University San Marcos who wrote a book about a similar water crisis in Monterrey that lasted from 1978 to 1986 and the protest movements it inspired, said the industrialists who helped establish Monterrey as a manufacturing powerhouse ensured that factories and wealthy neighborhoods had the best water infrastructure.
-Also happened in 2020,
Under a 1944 treaty, Mexico is required to give the U.S. a set amount of water from the Rio Grande and its tributaries every five years. In 2020, the water was supposed to come from Chihuahua state, but after farmers there mounted violent protests, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador decided to give the Americans water from El Cuchillo dam, which feeds Monterrey.
Gustavo: Do you see regios, people from Monterrey, creating a similar movement?
*already mentioned above the frustrated residents blocking highways in protest and people in other parts of the state setting fire to pipes that were supposed to divert emergency flows to the city…but maybe worth bringing up again that people are organizing and pushing for change…but…the crisis isn’t hitting everyone equally:
There’s no question that the crisis is hitting poor people hardest.
Middle class and wealthy residents typically have catchment systems that allow them to store the limited water coming from their taps in rooftop tanks.
In San Pedro Garza García, a Monterrey suburb that is the wealthiest zip code in Mexico, some houses have green lawns out front and swimming pools brimming with water in the back.
Barragán, the head of the water agency, said San Pedro has had cuts to its water supply, but less than in other places because it is nearer to a major aqueduct. Neighborhoods located farther away suffer more, because the water pressure is so low that it doesn’t always reach them.
Gustavo: After this break, how the crisis unfolding in Monterrey… is a stark warning for the rest of Mexico…and the American west.
Gustavo: Kate, it’s easy to look at all that’s happening in Mexico and think, “Oh well that’s their problem.” But, well, Mother Nature doesn’t recognize borders.
Experts says this should be a wake up call for Southern California. “Both places rely heavily on far-away water sources. Monterrey’s three dams — two of which are practically empty — sit at the semi-arid tail of the Rio Grande basin, which begins 800 miles north in the snowcapped Colorado Rockies.
one expert called the situation a “crystal ball” for Southern California.
Gustavo (prompt, unless we get there): In what other ways is Southern California similar to Northern Mexico when it comes to its water supplies?
Southern California cities, which import about 55% of their water from the Colorado River and Northern California, have already been forced to reduce water usage and face the prospect of further cuts as drought persists and federal pressure mounts on the region to take less from the Colorado.
“Monterrey has the perfect storm of over-drafted aquifers, low reservoirs and water imports that are low,” Sandoval-Solis said. “You see the exact same thing in Los Angeles.”
Gustavo: What’s next for Monterrey?
Kate: oh nice we got Nora! Oh my god that’s incredible
- include story of Nora Diaz who had risen at 3:30 a.m. to see if there would be water when she turned on the faucet. For the third day in a row, there wasn’t. ...on the factory floor, she and her friends talked about how it was possible that the plant had water to flush toilets and cool down machines when its workers didn’t have enough water at home to prepare beans.
Gustavo: Kate, thanks for this conversation.
Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of THE TIMES, daily news from the LA Times.
Shannon Lin was the jefa on this episode and Mario Diaz mixed and mastered it.
Our show is produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Kasia Brousalian, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistants are Madalyn Amato and Carlos De Loera. Our intern is Surya Hendry. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmin Aguilera and Shani Hilton. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen.
And hey…Got monkeypox questions and concerns?…we want ‘em. Call us and leave a voicemail. Call 619-800-0717 and tell us who you are, where you live and what you want to know and maybe your voice and question will end up on the show. Gracias.
I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back tomorrow with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.