Latinx in the Environmental Movement
by Denisse Girón
We all know the scene: you wake up and walk downstairs to see what’s for breakfast, but it turns out your mom is out doing early-morning errands. So you’re left to fend for yourself, opting for classic eggs and toast. Just as you open the butter container, you sigh as you realize that it’s only filled with last night’s sopa de res that your mom made.
Growing up, my family always had three drawers designated for those reusable containers. And then there was the one giant plastic bag filled with dozens of other plastic bags that we used for the garbage. Add in our wet laundry hanging to dry on the line, our family’s vegetable garden in our backyard, and you have an environmentalist’s dream home.
I know this is true for a lot of Latinx families. We may laugh at the thought of our families being so eco-conservative, but for me, it was my first introduction into environmentalism.
When I think of the mainstream Environmental Movement though, I don’t see Latinxs being a part of the larger conversation. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities have been sustaining our communities since the beginning, which leads me to ask why are we not taken more into consideration for leadership roles or policies?
Even when they do work in ourbarrioswe are not included in the work, despite our strong history vested in our community and the environment. There is a difference between working for general environmental issues and those that benefit every community. Major funding and acknowledgement goes to organizations that are not including people of color in their work, or promote education on issues that affect us most.
In 1987 the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice , that the Movement was introduced to the importance of environmental justice. Since then, many activists have dedicated their lives to working with Black and Latinx neighborhoods and addressing issues concerning the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, such as racial segregation, affordable housing, toxic waste dumps, health issues such as asthma and heart disease, and workers’ safety conditions, in addition to including more folks of color in mainstream issues.report published their famous
As Brentin Mock writes, “It appears that too many would rather accommodate their prejudices than test their understanding of how non-white, non-hetero, non-male, non-college-educated, non-wealthy human beings relate to the environment.”
We have much work left to do, but there has been some advance of our work in this area. To this we pay homage and with that, here are some badass Latina women changing the Environmentalism Movement.
Laura Pulido is known for addressing environmental justice and white privilege. She is currently a professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California who teaches the intersection between critical human geography and race/ethnicity. She has written pieces such asRethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California(2000) andDevelopment of the People of Color’ Identity in the Environmental Justice Movement of the Southwestern U.S(1998). She is particularly known for answering the question, “Which came first – toxic waste facilities or communities of color?” by saying that it doesn’t matter since economic and social factors force marginalized groups to live in neighborhoods that expose them to harm anyway.
Adrianna Quintero is a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and, founder of Voces Verdes, a national coalition that connects the Latino community with policy makers for action on climate change. They “recognize the importance of balancing economic growth, environmental protection, and prosperity.”She has continuously written pieces calling for more environmental advocacy in black communities and for women, but she is also known for her report,Hidden Danger: Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community, which highlights the danger of exposure to air pollution, unsafe drinking water, pesticides, and lead and mercury contamination.
A lot of environmental justice courses will only focus on farm organizer Cesar Chavez, but Dolores Huerta was a vital part of the movement calling for better working conditions and an end to pesticides that endangered the health of farmworkers and their families.
As an early activist, she created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA), but later co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Chavez. In fact,shewas the one who suggested the union’s first national food boycott against grapes for higher wages.
Huerta has also been open about the sexism she experienced as one of the few Latina women in a leadership position from men within the union. Inthis clip from MAKERS, she explains that she would count the number of sexist comments during meetings and then called the men out.
Today, Huerta is still very much active in advocating for these same rights, especially for the labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs.
Cecilia Martinez is finishing her first year as the director of the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy (CEED) at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis. Martinez is all about access and bridging the gap, both between local residents and politicians, as well as privileged groups to those with less feasible access. In this new role, she promotes sustainable energy efficiency to marginalized groups, such as communities of color, the poor, and women.
According to anarticle earlierthis month, she is currently working “to develop a Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) on the West Side of St. Paul, which would house onsite renewable energy and be a place where local residents could go to get affordable energy services.”
If you love true and effective grassroots work, then you will fall in love with Harlem’s The Brotherhood Sister Sol, its Gaia Renaissance program, and Lorisse Bentine. As the Environmental Facilitator, Bentine teaches local youth of color the organization’s unique “Environmental Education Complex” that combines modern technology and holistic, traditional growing methods to create community gardens in the middle of New York City. The curriculum includes Food Empowerment; Leadership Development; Waste Management; Sustainable Design; Community Organizing & Horticulture Science.to provide fresh foods Hamilton Heights Summer Youth Market. This local artist, environmentalist, and SUNY Purchase alum is known for encouraging major youth participation by asking each new group to build a new bench by hand for the garden, continuously taking the youth members to environmental events outside of Harlem, and allowing the young people to run the