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The Planet

March 1998, Volume 5, Number 2

Radio Sends Club Message -- En Espanol

by Jenny Coyle

    Spanish-speaking activists, reporters and government officials  --  drawn
    together in a unique partnership to educate the Latino community about
    environmental issues  --  exchanged ideas around a crowded table at the Sierra
    Club's San Francisco office in January.

    The Club is sponsoring 40 environmental segments on the Hispanic Radio
    Network. The group gathered to share experiences, discuss critical
    environmental issues affecting the Latino community and brainstorm ideas for
    radio shows.

    Policies governing the handling of pesticides are set by lawmakers who work in
    state and federal capitals. "But the daily application of these chemicals is done
    by farmworkers, many of whom are Spanish-speaking," said California Rural
    Legal Assistance State Director Jose Padilla. "Because of the obvious threat, it's
    no surprise that the Latino community shares a profound concern for the
    environment and how the treatment of it impacts the health and livelihood of
    their families."

    "Polls have shown that Latinos are very receptive to an environmental message,
    have a heritage that is based on respect for the earth and are more willing than
    their Anglo counterparts to make sacrifices to protect environmental quality,"
    said Sierra Club Conservation Director Bruce Hamilton.

    Their concern is reflected in League of Conservation Voters ratings for the 15
    members of the Hispanic Caucus in the 105th Congress: an average of 68.2
    compared to 47 percent for Congress as a whole.

    Still, the Latino community is often forgotten by conservation organizations.
    Diana Collins Puente, who works in the Sierra Club's San Francisco office,
    recalls reading an e-mail alert about water contamination and the death of
    migratory birds due to runoff from cotton and rice fields sprayed with a certain
    pesticide. "I kept wondering when the alert would address the impacts on
    farmworkers in those fields. But it never did," said Puente, a native of

    To help address those concerns, Club leaders recently forged the new
    partnership with the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Hispanic Radio Network. The
    broadcasts  --  aired in February and March  --  will be heard on 80 stations in
    the United States, and in 14 Spanish-speaking countries.

    At the meeting in January, Jose Bravo of the Southwest Network for
    Environmental and Economic Justice told radio reporters about the grossly
    polluted New River that runs through poor farming neighborhoods along the
    California-Mexico border. Santos Gomez of the Pacific Institute for Studies in
    Development, Environment, and Security suggested an alert about subsistence
    fishing in contaminated waters. Enrique Manzanilla of the U.S. Environmental
    Protection Agency suggested a piece on worker health and safety issues in
    maquiladoras. Dan Seligman of the Sierra Club thought a story should be done
    on the health and economic impacts of the North American Free Trade

    The following day radio network reporters traveled to Watsonville, Calif., which is 70
    percent Latino, where they spoke with farmworkers who described the health effects of
    working in the strawberry fields  --  the most heavily sprayed crop in the nation. They also
    stopped at an elementary school where levels of the pesticide methyl bromide blown in
    from nearby fields are 10 times higher than deemed safe by the EPA.

    "It is not uncommon to see farm workers in the middle of the fields while crops
    are being sprayed with toxic chemicals and pesticides," said Gomez. "Workers
    frequently apply pesticides and chemicals without protective clothing; many
    are not properly trained, and most are not able to read and understand the
    warning labels."

    "Our goal is to raise environmental consciousness in our listeners," many of
    whom are listening to radios as they work in fields or factories, said the
    network's executive director, Jeff Kline. He also wants stories about Latino
    leaders working for the environment, and environmental occupations such as
    stream restoration or recycling center management.

    At the end of each segment, the network gives a toll-free number for listeners
    to get more information on local issues. Readers of The Planet are welcome to
    submit their owns ideas; it's helpful if they know Spanish-speaking sources for
    the story, and can refer listeners to a place they can get more information  --
    in Spanish.

    Send ideas to:
    Sierra Club Press Assistant Holly Minch
    Sierra Club, 85 Second Street, Second Floor
    San Francisco, CA 95105
    fax (415)977-5799

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