Latinos Remaking Place and Creating Hope amidst Environmental Injustice in Los Angeles

Authors: Horacio Gomez*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Environmental Justice, Latino, Los Angeles, Immigrants, Social Justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The California EPA has identified the cities in Southeast Los Angeles County among the most pollution burdened and sensitive/vulnerable in the state. These communities are greater than 90% Latino with a significant immigrant population. The United Residents of Southeast Los Angeles (URSELA) is a long standing community organization dedicated to addressing local environmental injustices. While the preponderance of geographic literature investigating environmental injustice in Los Angles typically emphasize themes such as proximity, exposure, and causal mechanism, this paper employs a more qualitative approach by utilizing ethnographic interviews and participant observation to reveal the struggles, experiences, and actions of URSELA members. Members’ broader understanding of what constitutes their environment means that related intersectional social inequities are naturally folded into their cause. Indeed, advocating for immigrant rights have become critical for their communities considering the recent populist tone of dehumanizing Latino immigrants which has influenced national executive policies. In addition, URSELA’s efforts parallel the academic evolution of environmental justice research to include topics such as access to green spaces, healthy foods, and safe neighborhoods. Investigative emphasis is placed on URSELA members shifting perspectives and relationships to each other and place through their struggle. This paper draws on environmental/restoration philosophies to contextualize their efforts as a process of Community Based Urban Restoration. By breaking down the Urban/Nature binary, URSELA’s actions can be viewed as a process of social, emotional, and bodily engagement with place which restores ecological health and resilience to the community.

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