Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Latino Environmental Champions
Photo: Kimberly Wasserman Nieto, courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize
As we close out Hispanic Heritage Month 2015, we want to recognize some of the Latino Environmental Champions who have dedicated their lives to creating a more just and sustainable world for all of us.
Bravo is an internationally recognized leader in the Environmental Justice movement. As the current Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance, he works with a coalition of environmental justice and labor organizations to bring about national chemicals policy reform and transition to clean production and sustainable communities. José’s work in social justice issues, including immigrant rights, is rooted in his upbringing in the Southern California farm fields working alongside both his parents.
Aurora Castillo (1914-1998)
At a time when many senior citizens would be enjoying retirement, Castillo and other women formed the Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA) in response to a proposal to locate an eighth prison in her predominantly Latino community. In addition to successfully fighting the prison, the members of MELA have defended their community against an oil pipeline, a toxic waste incinerator and a hazardous waste treatment plant. Castillo was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1995. MELA continues to serve as a watchdog for the community, while advising local businesses on sustainability. Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize
César Chávez (1927 – 1993)
While César Chavez’s social justice efforts are well-known, his commitment to environmental justice and conservation may not be. As a co-founder (with Dolores Huerta) of the United Farm Workers, Chavez directed its efforts to warn the public and elected officials about the harmful effects of chemicals on farmworkers’ health. In 1988 Chavez started a hunger strike to protest the pesticide and fertilizer industries. His commitment ultimately led to more scientific research and public information on the dangers of pesticides. Photo courtesy of Cesar E. Chavez Foundation
As a Legislative Representative at Earthjustice, Delgado focuses on protecting the public from toxic waste and health-threatening chemicals. She has served as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement where she led research and advocacy projects on labor, immigration, health, education and environmental issues affecting Latino and immigrant workers. Andrea was the first Fellow of the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change where she spearheaded efforts to engage Latinos on climate change and the nexus of environmental issues and public health.
Garcia is the Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities at Earthjustice and leads its high-impact cases to protect vulnerable communities from a wide range of pollution issues. Prior joining Earthjustice, Lisa was a Senior Advisor to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, where she elevated environmental justice issues to the highest levels of the agency. She helped draft and implement the EPA’s 2014 blueprint that weaves environmental justice concerns throughout its policies and programs. She also led the Environmental Justice Interagency Workgroup with other Federal agencies—including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce—to address some of the country’s most persistent environmental challenges.
Since 2003, Raúl Grijalva has represented Arizona as a member of the US House of Representatives, where he has taken the lead on numerous environmental issues. Grijalva has defended wilderness areas and endangered species from pollution and encroachment, advanced ecological restoration on federal lands, and protected the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. He is dedicated promoting climate solutions throughout the halls of congress and helping his fellow Representatives understand what is at stake if we do not address the issue.
Dolores Huerta worked with Cesar Chavez to found United Farm Workers, an organization that promotes workers’ rights such as living wages and healthy work environments. An ardent believer in the power of nonviolent protest, Huerta has been arrested more than twenty times in her human rights work. She is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation which focuses on organizing and promoting the health of workers and their families in California’s Central Valley.
Irma R. Muñoz is the founder of Mujeres de la Tierra, a Los Angeles-based organization that empowers women who have traditionally been left out of the “green” conversation, to take action on environmental challenges. Muñoz serves on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Board of Directors and is Vice-Chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. In 2013, she launched the Agua es Vida Campaign to address the lack of drought education and awareness in the Latino community. The Campaign includes performing mini- telenovelas in local neighborhoods to engage community members in water conservation.
After seeing how many of the children in her low-income, Chicago neighborhood suffered from asthma (including her own son), Wasserman Nieto suspected it was related to the two large coal-fired power plants less than a mile away. Through her work with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Wasserman Nieto began helping her neighbors make the connection between pollution from the power plants and their respiratory health. Ultimately, in 2012, the community was successful in getting the power plants shut down. Wasserman Nieto won the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work and is currently the Executive Director of LVEJO where she continues to organize her community for transformation. Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize
An activist and scholar, Dr Pinderhughes chairs the Urban Studies and Planning Department at San Francisco State University, where she focuses on urban environmental planning and economic empowerment. She is committed to improving the quality of life and increasing economic opportunities for low-income people. To that end, she created Roots of Success, an environmental literacy course being taught in green job training programs around the world. As a leader in the green jobs movement, she promotes green careers as a key to both environmental sustainability and social justice.
Quintero is a senior attorney and founding director of the Latino Outreach & Advocacy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She is also the founder and director of Voces Verdes, a national coalition connecting Latino business, community leaders and organizational partners with government decision-makers calling for action on climate change and clean energy.
Representing the State of California in Congress, Linda Sánchez has been a major influence on environmental issues in the House of Representatives. She is a member of the International Conservation Caucus, a congressional organization that advances resource conservation. Sánchez has addressed the importance of reducing air and water pollution, particularly in Latino communities and encourages Latinos to demand government action on environmental issues.
Elizabeth Yeampierre is the Executive Director of UPROSE, Brooklyn's oldest Latino community based organization. As a long-time advocate and trailblazer, her vision for an inter-generational, multi-cultural and community-led organization is the driving force behind UPROSE’s work to organize the community around sustainable development, environmental justice and climate adaptation. Prior to UPROSE, Ms. Yeampierre was the Director of Legal Education and Training at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, Director of Legal Services for the American Indian Law Alliance and Dean of Puerto Rican Student Affairs at Yale University. She is the first Latina Chair of the US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Latino Environmental Champions
San Francisco is habitat for 800,000 people – meeting needs for space to work, play, and learn; for food, water, and air; for community with local flora and fauna. SF Environment provides support for urban agriculture and forestry and green buildings, helping residents and businesses harness environmental opportunities.