PASCO, WASHINGTON | I spent a few of my early years as a photographer covering Pasco for the local newspaper. It was the mid 2000s and many of those days I would drive around looking for stand-alone feature photos to fill space in the paper. These were supposed to be slice of life images, showing off the beauty of the area and the people. A lot of that time I spent appreciating the vibrant color and life of the downtown in Pasco. The stores had window fronts full of quinceañera dresses and signs advertising phone card deals. The area looked like one south of the border, which wasn’t so strange since 56% of the population was Hispanic.
Antonio Zambrano-Montes moved to the area around the same time I had, and for a similar reason – he was looking for work. Pasco was nestled against the Columbia River in the middle of Washington State and offered that for fruit pickers and day laborers. Many of these men and women had followed the harvest through California to this vast farming landscape of apple and cherry orchards. Some were chasing the American dream, all were looking for a paycheck.
Many days while driving through town I would park across the street from a bakery near downtown – it was often the last place I’d stop on the way back to the office. On the building was an island mural that would have made a perfect feature photo. I’d wait across the street for someone stand or walk underneath one of the painted palm trees while I’d eat a bollos de queso (bread roll with cream cheese inside) and a churro for lunch. I was hoping to capture a little piece of paradise along the otherwise unremarkable street. In three years, I never saw anyone walk by and I never made that picture.
Last Tuesday Antonio was shot and killed by three Pasco police officers outside that bakery. He was throwing rocks at passing cars and officers before he was chased across the busy intersection and gunned down at arms-distance. The video can be found on the internet without too much effort. He had recently run into a slew of unfortunate events including breaking both of his wrists on the job and losing his home to a fire. He was 35 years old.
I was also 35 when I returned to Pasco a few days after the shooting to photograph a rally and protest in his name that marched through downtown and ended in front of the bakery where Antonio was shot. The palm trees were gone, painted over since I had lived there. They were replaced by a memorial of dozens of candles and hundreds of people who had come from just down the street to as far as the rural farm in Mexico where Antonio grew up. They huddled close in the afternoon sun and lit candles as they waited into the night, and they asked one another what happened to that dream.