Latino activism is at the forefront of grassroots efforts on climate change

PHOENIX – Students at a mostly Hispanic elementary school in Phoenix have long queued for morning classes on a dusty patch of earth under a scorching sun.

When Tony Mada learned of plans to plant 75 young trees at Borman Elementary School, the 30-year-old and his daughter Lilyth, 10, joined scores of volunteers to shade the campus.

Desert willows, oaks and mesquites, just a few feet tall, were among the trees planted at the event organized by the local non-profit organization Trees are important and the environmental organization The conservationexpanding its focus beyond the wilderness to urban areas affected by climate-induced heat.

“I will do whatever it takes to keep my kids cool in this hot area,” Mada said one Saturday this spring as he and Lilyth, a student at the school, freed an acacia tree from the wooden box holding its roots.


Having experienced the effects of global warming firsthand, US Latinos are at the forefront of climate change activism, often drawing on traditions from their ancestral homelands.

“In recent years there has been a real national uprising in Latino environmental activism,” said Juan Roberto Madrid, a Colorado-based environmental science and public health specialist for the national nonprofit Green Latinos. “Climate change may affect everyone, but it affects Latinos more.”

US Latinos often live in neglected, low-income neighborhoods that are degrees hotter than nearby areas because they have higher population densities and limited tree canopies. Hispanics are also disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions that are exacerbated by extreme heat, such as diabetes and heart and kidney disease.

Latino activists are now sounding the alarm about the risks of global warming to their neighborhoods and the world. They include a teenager who protested outside the UN headquarters in New York every Friday for weeks, a Southern California academic who wants to involve more grassroots efforts in the global climate organization, and a Mexican-born attorney in Phoenix who teaches young Hispanics the importance of it is to protect the earth for future generations.


“Many members of the Latinx community have Indigenous roots,” said Masavi Perea, organizing director of Chispa Arizona, a League of Conservation Voters program. “A lot of us grew up on ranches, so many of us already have a connection with nature.”

Walking through rows of kale, corn and squash at Chispa’s property in a south Phoenix garden, the 47-year-old said he’s working to grow the group’s base and educate young members about environmental issues like climate change.

Perea, a naturalized US citizen originally from Mexico, said Chispa members also include Central Americans, whom he calls “climate refugees,” who have fled countries hit by hurricanes and droughts.

Recent research shows that most Latinos in the US consider climate change to be a major concern.

A Pew Research Center study The study, released last fall, showed that about seven in 10 Latinos say climate change is at least partially affecting their communities, while only 54% of non-Latinos said it is affecting their neighborhoods. The self-conducted web survey with 13,749 respondents had an error rate of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.


Colorado colleges Conservation in the West Survey The study, released earlier this year, showed significantly higher percentages of Latino, Black and Indigenous voters in eight western states who are concerned about climate change, pollution and the impact of fossil fuels.

Latinos and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change, such as B. More frequent, more intense, and longer heatwaves in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, and other dry western communities.

A study by researchers from the University of California, Davis and the American University of Beirut concluded last year that poor and Latino neighborhoods in 20 metropolitan areas in the Southwest endure temperatures several degrees higher on the hottest days, putting them at greater risk of heat-related illnesses brings with it.


Phoenix, the hottest major city in the United States, has experienced some of its hottest summers in recent years, with a heatwave a year ago sending temperatures as high as 118 degrees (48 degrees Celsius).

The city partnered with conservation nonprofit American Forests earlier this year to create the first of 100 “cool corridors” by planting shade trees next to a park in South Phoenix named after the late Latino activist Cesar Chavez planted for pedestrians and cyclists.

“It’s a lot hotter here now than when I started my move,” said Democratic US Rep. Ruben Gallego, who lives nearby, as he viewed the 259 newly planted drought-resistant elm, ash, sissoo and Chinese pistachio trees.

Gallego, who was born in Chicago and was raised there by his Colombian mother, said racial segregation in Phoenix once forced blacks and Latinos to live south of the city, which meant fewer trees and other investments there.

He has partnered with Democratic US Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey to create $30 million annually in federal grants for several years to alleviate the effects of urban heat, particularly in low-income communities of color.


While many Latino activists focus their climate action on their own neighborhoods, teenage Alexandria Villaseñor is bringing activism to the world stage.

Inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, Villaseñor spent many Fridays in 2019 in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York to protest global inaction on climate change.

The 17-year-old is co-founder of uprising earth, an education group on climate change.

Climate politician Michael Méndez, author of the book Climate Change from the Streets, said organizing at grassroots level is just as important.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Méndez grew up in Los Angeles County’s Fernando Valley, where he saw Latino neighbors fight air pollution and toxic waste dumping.

“It’s not an abstract idea for us,” said Méndez, who teaches at the University of California at Irvine. “For Latinos, climate change is about how we protect our families and our children.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Latino activism is at the forefront of grassroots efforts on climate change

Sarah Y. Kim

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