Hispanic Heritage Month: What All Latinos Want

BY ON September 21, 2011

 Elisa BatistaSeptember 15 to October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month, and I’ve been bombarded with the familiar: Gloria Estefan wishing me un feliz mes de la hispanidad from my favorite radio station, Caliente. All the Hispanic media outlets I turn to from Univision to the National Council De La Raza newsletter are telling me what it is that I am supposed to care about: the economy, healthcare, immigration and President Obama’s approval ratings.

They are right: I am a proud Gloria-Estefan-listening Latina who follows the news and cares about all of these issues. But where they leave me cold is their lack of mention of clean air and water – a universal attainable goal for all Americans and one that we cannot achieve on our own.

If you have not done so already, sign this petition to oppose the TRAIN Act which would weaken the Clean Air Act. This important regulation has spared many children from asthma, cancer and other illnesses due to air pollution. We can’t reverse the tide on this one!

If you think that your representative will vote against the bill, please call anyway. Polluters are certainly going to get out their letter writers, callers and people on the ground to push for the bill, which leads me to the crux of this post…

To think that Latinos do not care about the environment is simply false. Like other demographic groups across our nation, we may not know that we’re supposed to get involved beyond voting, but let me assure you, we do care. Of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, Latinos have the most to gain from strong clean air and water standards and the most to lose in weakening these rules and the enforcement power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to a Lake Research Partners poll of voters, 86% of Latinos support stronger regulation of toxic chemicals as opposed to 72% of African Americans and 69% of Caucasians.

Let’s examine the effect dirty air and water is having on the health and well-being of Latino communities across the United States. Here is a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (please note that all the authors are Latinos!) of all the ways, in which Latinos are dying from toxic exposure, whether it is mercury in drinking water or lead paint in old houses. Statistics speak for themselves so I just copied them word-for-word here:

• Some 91 percent of Hispanics in the United States live in metropolitan areas, where polluted air may increase the risk of illnesses including asthma and cancer.

• One and a half million U.S. Latinos live in colonias (unincorporated communities with substandard housing) along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a lack of potable water and sewage treatment contributes to waterborne diseases such as giardiasis, hepatitis, and cholera.

• More than one-third of U.S. Latinos live in Western states, where arsenic, industrial chemicals, and fertilizer residues often contaminate local drinking water supplies.

• The great majority—88 percent—of farmworkers are Latinos. They and their families face regular pesticide exposure, which can lead to increased risks of lymphoma, prostate cancer, and childhood cancers.

• Twice as many Hispanic children as non-Hispanic white children are likely to have lead in their blood at levels higher than the action level established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for risk of lead poisoning.

I know I am not the only Latina who has stopped fishing and feeding my family fish, implemented a water filter in my kitchen, and advocated for clean air on behalf of the Moms Clean Air Force. I come from a family of millworkers – in fact, my first job was at a Massachusetts plant making fleece jackets! I was exposed to all kinds of contaminants on a daily basis. My mom, too, buys bottled water. I know my family no longer eats what they catch, if they go fishing at all. They are painfully aware of how deteriorated our water and air have become.

Like many families across the country during the recession, the No. 1 issue for us in the economy. With the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and lack of opportunities for men with only a high school diploma, my family has been hammered in this economy. But in no way do we feel that environmental regulations are responsible for this.

If anything, the men in my family would love to jump to better-paying and cleaner “green” jobs, something I mentioned to them when Van Jones’s book, The Green Collar Economy came out. (Disclaimer: I helped promote the book, which is why I told them about it.) The problem? I had nowhere to send them. The ideas in the book were great, but I knew of no training institutes or actual green collar workplaces in their home state, New Hampshire, to send them.

If this is one campaign promise members of Congress and President Obama can fulfill, they’d accomplish two things: an improvement to our economy and cleaner air and water, not to mention less health bills for the taxpayer. Now, that is a great gift all Latinos — all Americans! – can get behind en el mes de la herencia hispana. ¿Cómo no?


TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Economics, Environment, Latino Community, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution