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
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
"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
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
"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 --
Send ideas to:
Sierra Club Press Assistant Holly Minch
Sierra Club, 85 Second Street, Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 95105