As concerns regarding the viability and health of our planet grow ever more urgent, we must pay attention to a wide range of voices about environmental degradation and its impacts. Latinx voices remain largely unheard when examining our changing planet. This collection of essays successfully addresses the crucial topic of environmental deterioration while including Latinidad as a focal point of consideration. This specificity is important to illustrate how historically vulnerable Latinx communities have been, and currently are, to environmental degradation, and to amplify the general understanding of how environmental change affects diverse populations, and how those diverse populations might be thinking about environmental change in ways that benefit all. Considering environmental changes and acknowledging how humans both impact and are impacted by these processes is vital. The articles included in this Mini-Reader provide a variety of cultural perspectives, writing styles, and new ideas, all on current and historical environmental issues that intersect with Latinx people. These writers have undertaken the task of conceptualizing what it means to be Latinx and battling environmental injustices.
For decades, many Latinx scholars have been researching how environmental issues specifically impact Latinx peoples and the natural world around them. This research has included analysis of how Latinx communities bear the burden of environmental hazards, how Latinx struggles for resources to maintain ways of life and avoid economic marginalization reveal grassroots environmentalisms, and how industries have degraded environments and Latinx lives. For example, Devon G. Peña’s The Terror of the Machine (1997) examines the intersections of gender, work, technology, and ecology in the maquiladora industries at the U.S.-Mexico border. Along with low wages, these maquiladoras inflict terrible conditions on workers, toxins and waste on the environment, and inhibit wildlife in the area. Peña’s scrutinization of this built environment which exploits both women and nature has become fundamental research for those examining Latinx environmentalisms. Laura Pulido’s Environmentalism and Economic Justice (1996) explores the ways that Latinx communities seeking to preserve their livelihoods through grassroots struggle engage questions of resource management, racism, and quality of life. Mary S. Pardo’s work, Mexican American Women Activists (1998), explores the vital roles that Mexican-American women have played in developing grassroots organizations, such as the “Mothers of East Los Angeles” to combat numerous types of environmental violence facing their communities, including city plans to build a prison and to set up a toxic waste incinerator in their neighborhood. More current research on environmentalisms in Latinx Studies includes the new volume Latinx Environmentalisms (2019), edited by Sarah D. Wald, David J. Vázquez, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Sarah Jaquette Ray. This interdisciplinary volume seeks to decolonize mainstream environmentalism by considering interdisciplinary approaches to environmental health in Latinx Studies, including those that consider the significance of sexuality, capitalism, and eco-feminist approaches.
The nine essays included in this Mini-Reader participate in this ongoing research and discussion on environmentalisms in Latinx Studies by illustrating individual and collective approaches to environmental activism, conceptualizing new approaches to environmentalism, engaging with varied worldviews about the environment, and analyzing representations and discourses about environmentalism. These are organized into three sections. The first section, Changing the Way You Live, features three essays on making lifestyle changes to enhance environmental sustainability. In this section, Theresa Delgadillo shows what it might mean to use a car less or not at all in 2012 essay “Living Without a Car.” Readers will also consider how to participate in the green practice of composting in the 2014 essay “In Honor of Earth Day: Composting at Work” by Erika Gisela Abad. This section concludes with an excellent discussion of food justice work by cultivating sustainable and healthy approaches to cooking and eating in the 2012 essay by Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel, “Decolonize Your Diet!” The second section, Changing the Way We Live, features three essays on collective action to protect the earth from further degradation and improve earth’s sustainability. Another crucial component of activism is allyship. Marisa Elena Duarte explains why Chicanx and Latinx peoples should support Native American struggles to protect water and Native American sovereignty in the 2016 essay “Water Is Life: Why Chicana/o/xs Should Support NoDAPL.” Ruby Chacón, in “Of Heart and Logistics,” also published in 2016, describes her experience of allyship in the protests at Standing Rock and the violations of human rights she witnessed. Unity and knowledge are strengthened through partnerships such as these. Inés Hernández- Ávila’s “12/12/12: This Is Our Time,” powerfully considers the “we” formed by thinking about gender, religion, environment, Indigeneity, and decolonization together and asks readers to care more for the world we live in. The final section, Thinking About Who Is Impacted by Environmental Change, features three essays that consider the ways that environmentalism shows up in Latinx and Latin American literature and the importance of thinking about environmentalism across borders of all kinds to consider its impact on many groups. In “Considering Consumption in Teaching Latinx Migration,” from 2020, Michael Dowdy compares Helena María Viramontes books, Their Dogs Came with Them and Under the Feet of Jesus, which he teaches in his class, with two art pieces by Ester Hernandez, Sun Mad (1982) and Sun-Raid (2008), to analyze literary and visual media that comment on migrant exploitation and misrepresentation. In their 2020 essay, Diane Lindner and Teresa Luengo Cid discuss the environmental abuse that has displaced many Ecuadorians in their review of Rita Wirkala’s “El Encuentro/The Encounter, A Review.” Finally, María DeGuzmán’s essay from 2022, “Queer Trans Latinx Environmentalisms” offers a thought-provoking argument on why the learnt survival skills of queer and trans people are relevant when discussing environmentalism and offers a broadened definition of “trans” to ponder how the label might help us think about borders to cross in building healthy environments. We hope that by the end of the Mini-Reader, the readers gain knowledge on how they can participate in environmentally-friendly habits, work with others to protect earth and build healthier lives, find discussions of environmental issues in Latinx literatures, and see themselves alongside others around the world working to care for our earth.
Danitza Rodríguez Jiménez is currently an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in International Studies with certificates in Chican@ & Latin@ Studies and Art History.