Several years ago, community members in the neighborhood of Little Village, a largely Latino community in southwest Chicago, were suffering from major health problems because two coal-fired power plants were polluting their air. Residents suffered from high rates of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses and they were fed up with these coal plants making them sick. So they started taking action, creating the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and working together with a coalition of various other Chicago community organizations to leverage their collective power to close the power plants. Recognized for this incredible success, the director of LVEJO, Kimberly Wasserman Nieto, received the Goldman Environmental Prize for the North America region in 2013.
This is just one example of the many Latino communities around the United States that are standing up for the health of their communities and the environment. And this isn’t anything new. Our community has been organizing for years: from Cesar Chavez’ historic organizing of farm workers’ rights starting in the 1960s to voter registration drives of the past several decades and the comprehensive immigration reform organizing of recent years.
Latinos are the largest minority group in the country. Now, politicians and the American public are starting to realize the collective power of our voices. Many may not know that conservation, climate change, and environmental and public health issues are all great concerns for our community. We value outdoor activities, with more than 9 in 10 Latino voters saying fishing, picnics, camping or visiting national parks are important to them and their families. A vast majority also agree we have a moral obligation to protect our environment for future generations.
Here at League of Conservation Voters and LCV Education Fund, we’ve been inspired by the great environmental organizing that Latinos are doing around the country and have been collaborating with Latino communities to amplify their voices and leadership in the environmental movement. With campaigns starting soon that will support clean energy and environmental protections and will engage the Latino communities in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona – with plans to expand to other states – we will help create space for Latino communities’ diversity and creativity to become a defining force in the environmental movement.
As a Cuban-American, I couldn’t be more excited to be leading our online efforts to rally fellow Latinos to use our collective power to make change on important environmental issues. Right now, we’re starting an exciting new chapter using online tools to expand our reach and create even more opportunities for Latino activists to get involved in la lucha to combat climate change and protect our air and water.
A large majority of Latinos support action on climate change. We understand that this is as much a human rights, health, and economic issue as this is an environmental issue. Climate change, and the dirty energy production that is causing it, affects the Latino community acutely, from polluted air in many of our neighborhoods to more severe droughts, wildfires, and storms. We also have a lot to gain in the fight for a more just and sustainable future. Latinos will benefit from better jobs in the clean energy sector, healthier communities with clean air and clean water, and beautiful parks and open spaces to enjoy.
We are a community that wants to make a difference. We want to leave this Earth cleaner and healthier than how we found it. There are a lot of powerful interests that we’re going up against, including the fossil fuel industry. But we have the heart, the power, and the determination to fight for our families’ health and our environment. We saw this passion in LVEJO’s fight to close those dirty power plants in Chicago. Let’s come together like our friends did in Little Village and work for a healthy climate for future generations. ¡Luchamos juntos por la protección de Nuestro Planeta, Nuestra Herencia!
To get involved, or to learn more, check us out here.