Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A Latina Perspective on Environmental Issues

The southwestern district of Los Angeles known as Baldwin Hills is surrounded by more than 400 oil wells. It is a sector of Los Angeles that has been ranked the most-polluted region in the nation. After environmental activist Irma Muñoz saw two of her closest friends die of cancer in their late 50’s, she realized that something had to be done about the toxic environment.

Although, it has not been proved that the chemicals they inhaled over a lifetime in Baldwin Hills had anything to do with their deaths-Muñoz felt compelled to do something. According to a 2007 report from a division of the L.A. County Department of Regional Planning, prolonged exposure to the oilfield expansion was an increased risk for cancer, indicating that proximity to the wells was a serious health risk.

“A lot of people in my neighborhood have died of cancer, and I decided that women needed to start speaking up,” said Muñoz. In 2004, she founded Mujeres de la Tierra, an organization that is dedicated to empowering women who have been traditionally excluded from the environmental conversation.

Mujeres de la Tierra helps put environmental issues facing women and the Latino community to the top of the agenda.  Muñoz says that the lack of access to passive and active recreational opportunities, to green space to play, to parks is among the biggest environmental issues. Muñoz also says that a lot of power plants and factories have traditionally put in minority neighborhoods, thus not making the green movement as easy in mainstream areas.

The fact that the organization has a focus on Latinas is a personal issue for Muñoz, who noticed that five years ago a report by the National Resources Defense Council showed that Latino children suffer disproportionately as a result of environmental woes in their neighborhoods. Although the report was published din Spanish and English, when picked up by a local paper, not one Latino was interviewed for the story.

Muñoz’s group wants to be part of the conversation because the environment is a historical part of the Latino experience, nothing that “if you look at the history of Mexican-Americans, our whole lives are related to Mother Earth and the natural elements”. She also mentions that many Latinos come from sustainable backgrounds where they have grown their own corn and vegetables and fruit.

Ironically, environment is what many Latinos in California are lacking these days. “Many of the women I work with live in apartments without access to yards or land, and when I ask them what would make their lives better, they say, “A place where we can grow our own vegetables.”

Meanwhile, Muñoz is leading the environmental push by urging all to look how they use little things at home, “I think people can also organize themselves and work toward a common goal: get involved in cleanup days, take ownership and pride in your neighborhood. If you want a community garden, look for empty land. Get to know your neighbors. I think all of these things are good for strengthening neighborhoods, and for raising the next generation of activists.”

Mujeres de la Tierra



  1. Wow – great, great, great post. I would love to see this movement spread across the United States.

    We really do need to educate, change and respect nuestro Planeta Tierra.