February 7th, 2014
What are the issues that link the Latino community to the environmental movement? For many, it comes down to la familia. Latinos, who make up nearly 40 percent of California’s population, still tend to live in the state’s most polluted areas, in close proximity to freeways and ports. That translates to increased rates of asthma among Latino children. Other community issues include lack of green space, reduced access to bus service and the internet, and economic barriers to things like electric cars and home ownership.
According to Adrianna Quintero of the Natural Resources Defense Council, for Latinos, climate change is less a political issue than personal: it’s “about protecting family members…about thinking about the ties that bind us to people in other parts of the world, whether we arrived two years ago, 10 years ago, or were here before the borders were drawn.”
As the three panelists note, Latinos have long embraced the culture of conservation. They point to examples from their own experience – reusing foil, taking grocery bags to the store, sharing resources with extended family members. “I think most Latinos are conservationists,” says Orson Aguilar, Executive Director of The Greenlining Institute, “and I think the question is, is it something cultural, is it something in our DNA, or have we been forced to conserve given our economic circumstances?”
Whatever their reasons, Quintero points out that 9 out of 10 Latinos surveyed support action to fight climate change. “Those are enormous numbers,” she says. “It shows that we've underestimated this community for years. We've underestimated the power, we've underestimated the commitment to protecting the environment and we're doing that to our own disservice truly. We need to recognize that there's a tremendous amount of awareness and power in this community.” In this election year, how can the environmental movement engage the diverse community of Latinos to demand change in their own communities, and beyond?
Photos by Rikki Ward