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Latinos Protecting La Tierra: Reporting on the people behind environmental struggles

Latinos Protecting La Tierra: Reporting on the people behind environmental struggles

Picture of Rebecca Plevin

During the month of April, Vida en el Valle ran a four-part series - called Latinos Protecting La Tierra – about environmental advocates from across the state.

Why did we focus on the people fighting the environmental battles, rather than the issue itself?

Because people of color are strong environmentalists

An annual survey from the Public Policy Institute of California found that Latinos and other communities of color in the state have high levels of concern about air quality and the environment.

For example, the 2011 report found that Latinos and African Americans are more likely than whites or Asian Americans to consider air pollution a big problem in their region. Latinos are most likely to say that air pollution is a more serious threat in lower-income regions, while a majority of whites do not believe that air quality is worse in low-income areas, according to the survey.

Because people of color view the environment personally

Traditionally, environmentalists were pegged as people who drove hybrid cars, saved forests, and protected polar bears. But this new generation views the environment very personally – it includes the environmental conditions in their communities, and how these conditions are impacting the health of their family and friends.

Take it from Lupe Martínez, a longtime community organizer for the United Farm Workers, who now organizes around environmental justice issues for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in Delano. When he began organizing farmworker communities around environmental justice issues in the early 1990s, Latinos – himself included – did not identify with the environmental movement. 

"To me, it was either hugging the owls, or hugging the trees," he said. But today, he said, "It's about our children. Who doesn't want to have clean air for their kids, especially if you have two or three kids who have asthma?"

Because across the state, ordinary people are accomplishing extraordinary things for the environment.

The series featured Martínez, as well as:

Celia García, a special education teacher from Mecca, in the Eastern Coachella Valley. She became a community leader after a horrible smell from a nearby facility sickened students and her school and residents.

Verónica Mendoza, a resident of Culter, in the San Joaquín Valley, who has become a leader in the community's fight for clean drinking water.

Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, who fights for environmental justice communities from Sacramento.

Annie Loya, who at age 13 joined a youth effort to shut down a facility in East Palo Alto. Now 28, Loya is the executive director of Youth United for Community Action, and is working to build a healthier city for the longterm.

Read more about the people featured in the series in 'Latinos Protecting la Tierra: One Last Look,' on Harvesting Health.

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