Connecting Sustainability with Hispanic and Latino communities - Children's Environmental Literacy Foundation

Connecting Sustainability with Hispanic and Latino communities

Adriana Castro, Educator and PD Facilitator

Version en español

The CELF Texas team recently took a field trip to visit Moonflower Farms in Houston. The purpose of this visit was to reconnect with Federico Marques, the CEO and founder, but it was also an introductory meeting for me, the new Texas Educator. Before this visit, I had no idea about hydroponics, but once Federico explained, it was a very easy concept to grasp. Hydroponics is essentially growing plants using water, without soil. After having learned what it was, I had the immediate realization that I’ve heard of this method of farming being used before, in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The Aztecs in Tenochtitlan, their capital city now present-day Mexico City, created “floating gardens” or artificial islands known as chinampas to grow and harvest crops on Lake Texcoco, which surrounded their capital. This was not quite the same version of hydroponics being used today by Moonflower Farms, however the similarities were hard to ignore.

It would not surprise me that most people reading this post will probably not have heard of the chinampas or hydroponics being used in ancient Mesoamerica. As someone of Hispanic descent, I am very much used to having our community’s history, contributions and voices overlooked. It’s really only around Hispanic Heritage Month that we are called upon to celebrate our history and heritage. Historically, the environmental movement has also been guilty of overlooking Hispanic and Latino communities. 

When I first heard the word “sustainability”, I thought it sounded like a lifestyle that only very well-to-do environmentalists practiced. However, upon unpacking the word, I realized that I was in fact taught how to be sustainable from my very Mexican-American upbringing. For example, recycling clothes was very common. A new dress first went to my older sister, then to me, then to my younger sister, then to my youngest sister. Then all of the clothes we grew out of would be packed away and sent to younger cousins and the cycle would start again. Looking back, this memory, as well as the chinampas history, it demonstrates how Latinos have been practicing sustainability for longer than you might think.

Many of the schools and organizations that CELF works with are located in predominantly Hispanic and Latino neighborhoods. Additionally, many environmental justice issues are disproportionately affecting these communities. In order to make our services more accessible, we, as an organization, are actively reaching out and connecting to these communities.  We have recently begun to translate more of our resources into Spanish. Removing the language barrier that often stifles cross-cultural communication is an essential first step to take.

The CELF Team is open to learning from different perspectives and applying this knowledge to the work we do. This way, we can better serve the communities and schools we offer our services to. This month, we would like to highlight some environmental organizations that actively aid Hispanic and Latino communities across the United States.

  • T.E.J.A.S. works to promote environmental protection through education, policy development, community awareness, and legal action. They focus on environmental justice issues in Houston, Texas.
  • Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment: rooted in California’s San Joaquin Valley, CRPE provides legal, organizing, and technical assistance to grassroots groups in low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project: works in New Mexico and with communities around the U.S.-Mexico border to provide deliberately excluded communities access to the outdoors and opportunities to meaningfully influence public land and water decision making processes. 
  • Team Naturaleza: located in the Wenatchee area in the Pacific Northwest, Team Naturaleza engages Latinx/Hispanic bilingual communities in informal natural science education and works to achieve a healthier community by getting people safely outdoors.
  • Green Latinos: backed by an active community of Latino/a/x leaders, Green Latinos unite to win environmental, conservation, and climate justice battles and are driven to secure political, economic, cultural, and environmental liberation.
  • EcoMadres: also known as the Moms Clean Air Force, EcoMadres is a national community of parents and caregivers acting together to protect the health of Latino families from air pollution and climate change.

Here are some resources for educators. Remember, students can learn about Hispanic/Latino culture all year round!

  • Facing History: This website has thousands of research-based resources, especially focusing on historically marginalized groups.
  • Zinn Education Project: based on Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States, the teaching materials emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history.
  • Stanford History Education Group: teaching materials are created and developed by Stanford faculty, graduate students, post-docs, and visiting scholars. Best of all, they offer resources in English and Spanish!
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