Historia

Our historia in the West is deeply tied to the special places around us. Often overlooked and often erroneously branded as a nascent phenomenon, Latino Environmental leadership instead goes back decades. Starting with the lawsuit on behalf of farmworkers that ultimately resulted in the banning of DDT, our role in the conservation movement is one that we seek to highlight and honor. This timeline, while done to the best of our abilities with the help of collaborators and colleagues, is but a starting point to this historia. With your help, we look forward to make this as inclusive as possible.

If you have any information, facts, historias or pictures you’d like to include, please contact us at: marce@resource-media.org

1969 - 1979

1969- Ralph Abascal of the California Rural Legal Assistance files suit on behalf of six migrant farm workers that ultimately resulted in ban of the pesticide DDT.

The 1970’s- Local residents formed Concerned Citizens of Questa, New Mexico, to tackle Molycorp issues, ranging from unfair hiring practices to tailings spills, contaminated groundwater and toxic dust. In a story familiar to activists all over the West, the Questa group in the largely low-income Hispanic community lacked the money and technical and legal resources to take on a multibillion-dollar corporation.

1980 - 1989

1980- Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) is founded in San Diego, CA.

1981- The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) is founded by community activists in New Mexico to build a strong grassroots organization in the Southwest to fight for environmental and social justice. Eventually these parties will sign the first ever agreement by grassroots organizations and the military on environmental oversight. SWOP organizes with community residents to develop its Community Environmental Bill of Rights, which lays out basic principles for environmental justice. The Bill of Rights was endorsed by Congressman Steve Schiff, present NM Attorney General Tom Udall and the Bernalillo County Commission. SWOP organizes with community residents to develop its Community Environmental Bill of Rights, which lays out basic principles for environmental justice. The Bill of Rights was endorsed by Congressman Steve Schiff, present NM Attorney General Tom Udall and the Bernalillo County Commission.

1982- The Tonantzin Land Institute is founded in New Mexico to “serve as an advocacy organization defending the land, water, and human rights of traditional communities in the Southwest.”

1984- Mothers of East LA (MELA) is founded—The Santa Isabel chapter is founded in 1985.

1985- William C. Velasquez Institute is chartered.

1985- Concerned Citizens for South Central Los Angeles is founded.

1985- Citizens Against Contamination is founded in Commerce City, CO, “to ensure a safe, complete cleanup of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

1986- Mothers of East LA (MELA) is founded.

1987- The 55 Community Acequias in the Taos Valley organized the Taos Valley Acequia Association in New Mexico. The Primary objective of the association is to protect the water rights of the Taos Valley irrigators with water rights off the Rio Grande del Rancho, Rio Chiquito, Rio Fernando, Rio Pueblo, Rio Lucero, Arroyo Seco and Rio Hondo stream systems.

1987- “Toxic Wastes and Race in the U.S.” The Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ published a report “Toxic Wastes and Race in the U.S.,” showing that race, even more than income level, is the crucial factor shared by communities exposed to toxic waste.

1987- El Pueblo para El Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water) is founded in Kettleman City, CA.

1987- Latino Issues Forum is founded, providing initial policy work on Latinos and the environment in California.

1988- Costilla County Committee for Environmental Soundness is founded in Colorado.

1988- Mothers of East L.A. (MELA) and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles (CCSCLA) defeat the construction of a huge toxic waste incinerator in their community. South Central and East L.A., devastated by plant closures, were now sites for “economic development” projects like the Los Angeles City Energy Recovery (LANCER) plant, prisons, and toxic incinerators. MELA successfully combatted construction of a $29 million incinerator designed to burn 125,000 pounds of toxic wastes per day. South Central fought the LANCER project and won even after land had been taken by eminent domain and bonds had been sold for the project. These community organizations became part of a national movement for Environmental Justice.

1988- Regeneracion Del Norte is founded in Questa, NM, “for development of rural north central New Mexico in a non-extractive non-exploitative manner in harmony with the environment.”

 

1989- Luke Cole and ally Ralph Abascal of California Rural Legal Assistance found the Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment (CRPE). Ralph was a noted legal advocate for farmworkers and class reform and had taken part in a legal battle that led to banning the pesticide DDT in the 1970’s. CRPE became a project of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in 1996 and an independent organization in 2004.

1990-1999

1990- The Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ) is established.

1990- The “Big 10” Letter. Nine activists of color wrote a letter to the “Group of 10” national environmental organizations calling on them dialogue with activists of color on the environmental crisis impacting communities of color and to hire people of color on their staffs and boards of directors. A
second letter was sent to the Big 10, this timed signed by 103 activists of color representing grassroots, labor, youth, church, civil rights advocates, social justice and coalitions in the Southwest. The letter challenged and reinforced the first letter challenging mainstream environmentalists on issues of environmental racism and lack of accountability towards Third World Communities in the Southwest.

1990- Southwest Regional Activist People of Color Dialogue on Environmental and Economic Justice Issues. The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) convened over 80 representatives from 32 organizations working on environmental and economic justice issues in the southwest. From these efforts, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) was established.

1990- Gente Y Ambiente is founded in New Mexico “to advocate and organize on behalf of ‘people’ – To remind the world that the poor, disenfranchised Native Americans and Chicanos are part of the environment.”

1991- People Organizing To Demand Environmental Rights (PODER) is founded in San Francisco, CA

1991- The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit meets in Washington, D.C., and creates the Principles of Environmental Justice.

1991- Lawsuit filed by California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and CRPE on behalf of the community coalition El Pueblo Para el Aire y Agua Limpio (Kettleman City, CA) formally stated that the permit process for the Kettleman waste disposal facility violated the civil rights of residents, as meetings,
hearings, and technical information were given only in English. In El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio v. County of Kings, judge rules that permit process for toxic waste incinerator was flawed because failure to translate documents into Spanish meant affected public was not “meaningfully involved” in the environmental review, in case brought by Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

1992- Two babies were born with neural tube birth defects to mothers from Buttonwillow, CA. The occurrence of two cases in one year created a rate twenty-five times higher than expected for Kern County, according to the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program (CBDMP). Area residents suspected that the Laidlaw facility (the operator at the time) was responsible for the defects, and attempted to force the dump’s closure through community participation in the permitting and permit appeals processes. The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) represented the Padres Hacia una Vida Mejor (a Buttonwillow community activist group) in a series of civil litigations that eventually forced Safety-Kleen to stop accepting radioactive waste that it had been illegally accepting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, from remediation of a former Manhattan Project production facility in upstate New York, but were unable to close the dump, which has since expanded.

1993 – Predominantly Latino residents of Kettleman City, California, succeed in preventing siting of a toxic waste facility in their community.

1993– The Farmworker Network for Economic and Environmental Justice (FNEEJ) was formed to support the struggle of more than 50,000 workers in nine independent farmworker organizations.

1994- The Playas de Tijuana community after a great deal of organizing was able to defeat the Waste Management Incinerator, with help from the organization El Pueblo y Agua Limpia from Kettleman City, California, Environmental Health Coalition and SNEEJ.

1995– The Environmental Justice Fund was founded by six networks to promote the creation of alternative funding strategies to support the grassroots EJ organizing. The six networks include: Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Indigenous Environmental Network, Farmworker Network for Economic and Environmental Justice, Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, and the Northeast Environmental Justice Network.

1996- Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LEJO) is founded in Chicago.

1997– The Rio Grande Institute is founded in Texas to focus on projects on the Rio Grande border.

1997- The National Hispanic Environmental Council is founded. “NHEC is a policy, programmatic, and advocacy organization working to ensure that Latinos have a voice, and a seat, at the national environmental decision-making table, whether before federal agencies, the White House, Congress, major green groups, or others.”

1999 – U.S. Representative Hilda Solis, then a senator in the California legislature, introduces landmark environmental justice legislation in California establishing a working definition and requiring the California EPA to develop a mission, policy and guidance on environmental justice.

1999- The Wilbur-Ellis Company fumigated a seventy-five-acre potato field near Earlimart, CA, with metam sodium, which drifted as a toxic cloud into nearby homes, forcing 180 residents to evacuate. Exposed Earlimart residents experienced nausea, vomiting, headaches, burning eyes, and shortness of breath. In a sequence of local emergency response failures, residents’ distressed phone calls were initially dismissed, and then poisoned residents were subject to a humiliating and ineffectual decontamination attempt at a local football field An investigation by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office concluded that Wilbur-Ellis failed to take appropriate safeguards to prevent the fumes from drifting. In direct response to the incident, Earlimart resident Teresa de Anda formed El Comite Para el Bienestar de Earlimart to help educate and advocate for Earlimart about pesticide drift. She was instrumental in the passage in 2004 of SB 391, the Pesticide Drift Exposure Response Act, which set out improved procedures for pesticide drift response, and financial responsibility for the medical bills of victims of pesticide exposure.

1999- Justicia Ambiental Latina is founded in New York City to “secure and defend all fundamental rights of Latinos living and working in New York City—live in a clean, healthy, and safe environment.”

2000 - 2009

2000– Westside Stanislaus residents, Grayson Neighborhood Council (GNC) and Greenaction successfully defeated plans to ship in and burn toxic medical waste at the Covanta incinerator. The Grayson Neighborhood Council (GNC) is a community and environmental justice group working to assist the Westside residents of Stanislaus County to defend themselves from disproportionate and discriminatory pollution threats, including attempts to operate and site noxious facilities in their midst. GNC is working toward the closure and remediation of existing toxic facilities and sites that currently threaten Westside residents’ health.

2000- Robert García starts The City Project in Los Angeles, CA, and moved it to the Center for Law in the Public Interest. The City Project later spun off in 2006 when the Center closed.

2001- The Central California Environmental Justice Network holds its first environmental justice conference in Fresno in California’s Central Valley.

2001- League of Conservation Voters Educational Fund conducts poll on California Latino voter attitudes on the environment. It updates the poll in 2012.

2002- Latinos and the Environment Conference organized by the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment’s Environmental Justice Initiative.

2004– The William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI) begins focus and development of case studies for successful urban greening and parks, climate change adaptation water infrastructure, and green energy development in Los Angeles and San Antonio.

2004– Mujeres De La Tierra is founded, organizing women in Southern California to fight for cleaner, healthier neighborhoods for their families.

2004- The Los Angeles, CA, Harbor Hispanic Environmental Justice organization, the Coalition for a Safe Environment, and San Pedro residents win a victory when the California South Coast Air Quality Management District Arbitration Board finds San Pedro Kinder Morgan Fuel Storage Tank PCB Landfill Facility guilty of not negotiating in good faith and cancels their permit to conduct future business permanently.

2004- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) created its program on Latino outreach and advocacy and published the report “Hidden Dangers: Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community”.

2005- Citizens for Environmental Justice in Corpus Christi, Texas receives the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Award for Outstanding Achievements in Environmental Justice.

2006- The 32­acre Los Angeles State Historic Park at the Cornfield opened in September 2006 after the community stopped a proposal to build warehouses there by the City of Los Angeles and wealthy developers in the last vast open space in downtown Los Angeles. This was a flagship project of The City Project.

2007- The two­square­mile Baldwin Hills Park, in the historic African American heart of Los Angeles is the largest urban park designed in the U.S. in over a century. Community efforts defeated efforts to site a power plant and garbage dump there. It is now predominately visited by Latino community members. Mujeres de la Tierra was a key community partner.

2008- Sierra Club Poll release first of several polls “showing Hispanic Voters Concerned about Global Warming and Energy. It updates the poll in 2012 with support of the The National Council of La Raza. This would be later followed up by other polls from League of Conservation Voters, Latino Decisions, and other conservation organizations.

2010 and beyond

2011- First Earth Day Latino in Los Angeles, California is held.

2011- Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, establishes the mission of the American Latino Heritage Fund (ALHF) to assist the National Park Service and communities across the country to ensure that our national parks and historic sites preserve, reflect and engage the diverse stories and communities of American Latinos throughout American History and for future generations.

2011- Azul is founded in California.

2011- The City Project published the environmental justice and public health report, Healthy Parks, Schools, and Communities, documenting disparities in green access, physical activity, and health in nine counties of Southern California and presenting recommendations for change.

2012- President Barack Obama dedicated the César Chávez National Monument. “Our world is a better place because César Chávez decided to change it,” according to the President. This is the first national monument dedicated to a Latino born after the 1700s, according to the National Park Service.

2013- Kimberly Wasserman Nieto of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) won the Goldman Prize for her collaborative work with her allies for shutting down the Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago.

2013- Latino Outdoors is founded in California.

2013- Green Latinos is founded in Washington DC.

2013- The first Americas Latino Eco Festival (ALEF) is founded and hosted in Colorado.

2014- Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) is founded in New Mexico.

2014- California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network (CLEAN) is founded in Southern California.

Sources: NRDC, SAJE, EJ Summit 2, Invisible5.org, The Struggle for Ecological Democracy, and various respective organizational histories.