“Viva la causa!”
This was the cry heard in the scorching California heat as hundreds of Latinx farmers were led by Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. They chanted as they fought for basic human rights, like protection from polluted air—something this community is still fighting for today.
Latinx communities have played a vital role in the environmental justice movement, yet this is a group whose narrative has been consistently left out of climate change conversations. Furthermore, a recent study by the NRDC found that our nation’s 56 million Latinxs are especially vulnerable to health threats posed by climate change because of where they live, work and lack access to health care.
The heartbreaking combination of lack of inclusion and increased vulnerability was a core topic at a panel discussion at the 2nd Annual Environmental Forum last month: “The State of the Environment: Latinx Communities Fighting Climate Change.” It was inspiring to hear four courageous Latinx voices emerge discussing environmental issues in a traditionally white-dominated conversation about climate change.
This event is further proof of the increasingly important role that the Latinx community plays in tackling climate change. Their leadership in climate justice is worth celebrating and emulating—and not just during National Hispanic Heritage Month.
In fact, on a national scale, there are many self-identified Latinx leaders active in climate justice. In Florida, Nicole Hernandez is leading the fight in educating the Latinx community that catastrophes such as flooding are due to climate change. She organizes her community to be more involved in climate conversations by holding their government officials accountable and by exercising the power of their vote.
In California, where Los Angeles and Long Beach are ranked among the highest for ozone pollution, Latinx communities are partnering with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) to raise awareness of the impacts of industrial pollution on West Long Beach residents.
Even with all of this progress, inequality still exists. People of color are still disproportionately impacted, and bitter disputes continue to erupt over conservation proposals. Climate scientist, Astrid Caldas acknowledges that there is more work to be done. The panel discussion continued with the following question:
“If we believe that climate change does not discriminate, how can we create policies that serve climate justice?”
Niria Alicia Garcia, a Xicana community organizer, shared a powerful message from her experience in “ … committing to bringing spirit and culture into her work for migrant justice, climate justice and indigenous rights.”
“If it is not free or accessible, then it is not radical and it is not real. If we can ground ourselves in that understanding and really work to find the biggest challenge that we are facing, I realize that it all comes down to greed and self-centeredness. We live in a society where we are rewarded for being greedy and not sharing and a ‘Me! Me! Me!’ mindset and ‘I have rights.’ Well, what about our responsibility? We shouldn’t be talking about rights if we do not have responsibilities to our waters, to our lands, or to our future generation. And it is important to always ask yourself, ‘Are my solutions inclusive of our most oppressed relatives, migrant relatives or indigenous relatives?’ If we can root ourselves in that understanding then we’ll be able to create true solutions.”
I was inspired to hear many Latinx leaders speak at the 2nd Annual Environmental Forum.
I recognize that whether the policies are constructive or destructive depends largely on whether humans are guided by a genuine concern for other living things and all communities. If these policies discriminate and burden certain communities more than others, then those are not real solutions. Therefore, as humans, we must aim to adopt solutions through policies that are focused on every form of life. We also need to embrace an alternate perspective that requires a redirection of human actions from unfair exploitation to equitable stewardship.
It shouldn’t be controversial that climate justice is an issue that affects us all. And including the 56 million-strong Latinx community in important climate decisions is critical to finding climate solutions that support us all and our beautiful world.