By: Lindsay Turpin
The LA Times recently published an article with the headline, “Happy Hispanic Heritage Month. The world is on fire.”
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated each year from September 15th - October 15th. It began as a week-long observance in 1968, starting on September 15th, the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. During a period of time that is supposed to be a celebration of diverse Latinx cultures and histories, it’s ironic that the month started off by seeing these communities bearing the brunt of an extreme heat wave in California.
September’s heat waves provided some level of discomfort for many, but many Latinx communities suffered more intensely from the extremely hot weather.
One article highlighted the lack of shade available at bus stops in Los Angeles, where it’s been found that the majority of riders are often Latino.With asphalt next to some bus stops rising in temperature to as much as 130 degrees, it puts some riders, especially the elderly, at risk of heat strokes.
Latinx families tend to also live in “urban heat island” neighborhoods with heat absorbing roads and rooftops and few green spaces and cooling mechanisms, according to ABC7 News. It’s also common for low-income Latino immigrants who deal with pre-existing medical conditions to reside in these heat islands, and extreme heat waves will send many to the hospital and even cause premature deaths.
The Climate Emergency Mobilization Office is working to develop infrastructure that could cool down these neighborhoods (ABC7), and the city of Los Angeles is in the process of approving a contract for the addition of shade structures at thousands of bus stops (LA Times). Though these hints of progress can give hope, the broader climate crisis also has disparate impacts on these communities that have yet to be addressed.
Unequal suffering during this month’s heat wave reaches far beyond a single case, or even this category of climate disaster. According to Dr. Michael Mendez, Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy & Planning at UC Irvine, heat waves, bad air quality, and wildfires disproportionately impact the Latino community, as he told ABC7 News.
In fact, a Pew Research Survey found that broader climate change issues held more importance to U.S. Hispanic respondents than non-Hispanic respondents - 81% of U.S. Hispanics said climate change was a top concern or one of several important concerns to them personally, while only 67% of non-Hispanics said it is one of several important concerns. Hispanic respondents said climate change already impacts their local communities in several ways including more waste and landfills, more water and air pollution, less safety of drinking water, and few parks and green spaces.
Increased climate issues in majority Latinx neighborhoods could be tied to redlining, said Sonrisa Lucero, Special Advisor for Stakeholder Engagement at the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity in the US Department of Energy, in a Ted Talk. She said her family was forced to live in a particular area of Denver that suffered from air pollution, lead pipes, food deserts, heat islands, and higher flood risks. It’s not a coincidence that Latinx families tend to live in hotter neighborhoods with greater health risks, so it should be a high priority for the government to build infrastructure that makes these places safer to live in as retribution for unjust redlining tactics.
Lucero argued that the Latinx community addresses climate issues in an entirely different way than white communities–who look to electric vehicles, veganism, and recycling as solutions. She said there are eco-friendly solutions that involve the heart rather than the head, with an emphasis on connecting to the land and taking better care of the environment to produce higher quality food and preserve the quality of air and water. Lucero added that the Latinx community is more likely to help the environment through actions such as carpooling and using public transport, growing food in backyards, reusing items around the house, and hydroponic farming/eco districts. These tactics to combat climate change and improve quality of life are also more affordable than buying electric cars and organic foods, she added.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and in order to celebrate Latinx communities, it is imperative that we seek out long term solutions to climate change, considering that the crisis feels much more urgent to those who suffer the most from its consequences.