A Conversation on Health & the Environment – Seminar Debrief

Latinx & Environment & Health Seminar Debrief and Action Mindset

By Álex Quintero

As undergraduate students fill in the Ethnics Studies library, panelist begin to explain their work. Yolanda Park began by defining equality and equity but emphasized the need for justice over both. Working in the communities greatly impacted by environmental injustices, Yolanda sees the stress and damages it brings to the Latinx community in Stockton. Similarly, within an interest in serving, Dr. Marc Schenker speaks on his  research regarding heat impact on California farm laborers, hoping that the research produced has a more profound effect on health and wellness of laborers across the country rather than a single patient in an exam room. Through his work in conjunction with Latinx students, they exposed the disproportional disparities between documented and undocumented workers in the same industry and the need for authentic engagement in community organizing. While research helps families and communities bring their issues forward, Xavier Morales asserted the need to acknowledge the diversity of knowledge and understand that not all ‘knowledge’ has been created through the formalities of institutions but within communities as well, down to the household and family, even existing in the individual lived experience. To move forward and upward, Xavier believes there is a need for healing centered discussions and spaces that listen to community stories.


With a panel filled with social justice work, attendants of the Latinx and the Environment and Health seminar quickly engaged in discussion regarding actions steps to reach justice within our communities and the barriers that need to be torn down for change. Knowing the colonial and capitalist history that created the functioning systems of oppression in food systems, the school to prison pipeline, the transportation system, land use and distribution, and eurocentric and heteronormativity; we understood there is a great need for communication. We must communicate between policy, research, and community organizing to develop research needed for communities to combat issues of injustices. Panelist agreed that there must be more culturally appropriate presentations of data, so that communities can learn and become empowered through education, while driving policy makers to listen to the communities and their needs.


Although data and evidence can expose extreme truths of historical injustice, incredible greed and negligence, it may not move policy makers to lend their voice to communities when they have sold it to corporations. To drive people we must change their heart, reaching to them through lived experience and personal combats for justice. Communities need to be empowered to tell their stories and learn about the issues they face through people that experience it alongside them. Through the further dissemination of knowledge into our respective communities of color, immigrant communities, working families, and queer youth of color, we share the power needed for successful organizing. Communities must engage at the center of planning and decision making.


Finally, on behalf of everyone at the initiative, we would like to thank our three panelists for sharing their knowledge and all of our attendees for sharing in the discussion. If you were unable to make it to this seminar, we will have our second seminar of the fall on November 8th. We are excited to see you all there!!

Interview with Oscar Dubon

Interview with Oscar Dubon–Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion at UC Berkeley

This inverview was conducted by Valentina Cabrera, one of our fellows.

Oscar Dubon has been part of the UC Berkeley faculty for the last 20 years as a Cal alum. When he first entered the engineering department, he was one of the only Latinx students, and now he is the Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion at UC Berkeley

Latinxs & Environment (L&E): Good morning! So let’s get right to it. How did you hear about the Latinos and the Environment at UC Berkeley?


Oscar: I have been involved with the Latinx community, at the faculty level, and I have known Lupe Gallegos Diaz for a while. She told me about the Latinos and the Environment Initiative that she was working on with Federico, and it really resonated with me because we had done some work to cultivate a really diverse and inclusive college of engineering and integrate social justice into engineering. We developed new courses for the curriculum, and one of the courses that was developed is a lecture called Engineering, the Environment and Society, which is basically and environmental and social justice course from standpoint of engineering with the intention to engage historically underrepresented students in issues around power, privilege, race in environmental issues and engineering decision that have an impact on society. When Federico and Lupe mentioned it, I just thought it was a very natural fit. It is also an important way to bring spaces together across campus–community engagement,  engineering, public policy, government, community organizations… bringing all these courses together to really create an interdisciplinary approach to these issues. I thought it was a real natural connection. And as a Latinx, I thought this was a really important cause.


L&E: This really resonates with me too! As a Latina, I don’t really see a lot of other latinos in my environmental studies classes, despite the fact that this is impacting a lot of our families both in California and also in our Latin-american home countries so much.


Oscar: And you know, our college of engineering has among the most Latinx students.


L&E: Wow, I did not know that, that’s wonderful.


Oscar: That is another reason why this felt like a really natural fit, bringing professional development, community engagement, environmental education, etc. together.


L&E: You have been a part of UC Berkeley for a long time. What are some of the changes that you have seen with the Latino community on campus since you joined faculty in 2000?


Oscar: Well just in my own space I have seen a huge change. So I first came here in 1989 as a doctoral student in the College of Engineering for Material Sciences Engineering, and I was here over 6 years earlier as a graduate student, and over that time I may have met one or two African American or Latinx PhD students in engineering, so didn’t have that community. I met many graduates in the social sciences and humanities in latinx grad students but I didn’t have that much engagement with my latinx identity in my own field. Now it’s very different. Nows there’s a thriving graduate group of latinos graduate students in Science and Engineering and I go to banquets where there could be 40 students in STEM with latinx backgrounds. That is very inspirational and uplifting. That makes me feel that there is progress–it is always slow, but that is part of the nature of how a lot of people stick around at university. I have been a faculty member for 20 years and so when you look at the cycle of people coming in and leaving and creating opportunities for diversity to happen, sometimes you can’t be looking at things with a period of two years, you have to be looking at things that are in the 10 year range to make sure you are taking steps that bear fruit over the course of a decade because those are the types of cycles that the faculty level is dealing with. I also know in engineering, I have been very pleased that we have had progress around being more inclusive of increasing diversity in the college. I think that his is important for the initiative right now, because we will have engineers who are really interested in the environment who will want to engage in the types of questions  that this initiative is really seeking to address and create solutions for. So I see a lot of progress in that space, with Latinx students population increasing naturally over the course of the last few decades. Initiatives like this, Latinxs and the Environment, can catalyze even more progress.


L&E: What lead to the success?


Oscar: I think a number of reasons, one is there needs to be a concerted effort to effect change from the diversity standpoint, you can’t just let it happen because then all of the obstacles that exist for that to happen would just perpetuate a lack of diversity. So we have to look at what are the structures that are impeding that and what are the actions and practices that we can take to change that. These are difficult things, and we take action with that. It also takes support from the academic leadership, dean, chairs, faculty. And all of this came from a moment of crisis there that really lead us to be more proactive and not just wait for things to happen but take action. Unquestionably,  over 50% of California high school graduates are latinx, and this is only going to grow. There will be change. The question is how fast and how are we addressing what is impeding the natural evolution of how the demographics are going to change. And if we don’t do that then we will continue having challenges.


L&E: Latinos are increasingly taking the lead on environmental issues in California. What importance does this have for the future development of California and Central America?


Oscar: Well, that’s a very interesting question, its very broad I’ll say that internationally, I think there are challenges that might be too big for this Initiative to address because you are looking at a socio-political landscape that is fraught with many challenges. If you look at central america, each country has its own set of challenges. For example, Nicaragua right now, which is where my parents’ home country, is having a horrible situation where our students are voicing their concerns both the lack of opportunity and political situation and they are being shot to death. So when we think about not having fundamental societal structures that allow people to make decisions without consequences, and you have corrupt government structures that have been in play for decades since dictators were elected. So the you start to think, well what can I do around the environment? It’s hard to focus on the environment if you are having to focus on life or death issues. So that is a really hard piece. It’s important for us to not lose sight of the environmental impacts we are seeing because they will impact all of us over time, but i think that society needs to be ready to have long term goals and commitments and stability for those goals to be fulfilled. I think any latin american country very sadly and tragically is still working on that. Here in california it’s very different, if we are also looking at the south west, the latinx community needs to have not just a voice but a significant voice at every table including decisions around sustainable cities, labor, governance, environment, and all of these issues that impact our ability to make sound environmental decisions and implement sound environmental policies. And California is a leader in that, as one of the largest economies in the world not just in the US, as a state that is among the most progressive in all type of environmental policies that support an increasingly diverse society and eventually our society is moving in that direction. So we are really the test bed of all the changes that need to happen, not just in the environment but in all sorts of different areas. When we make a decisions, others listen and look to us, so this is an opportunity to understand that when we make decisions, we need to understand it in the context of scientifically, financially or fiscally, and also what makes sense in the very communities that we are engaging and trying to serve. And we are not doing that in California right now. We have a responsibility to become good stewards of the environment our economic infrastructure and all these other things.


L&E: Being a role model for many of the Latinos in our community, what advice do you have for new Latino students starting at UC Berkeley or at other UC’s?


Oscar: Well, it’s hard for me to see myself as a role model because I just try to do the best I can in whatever position I am in. I love what i do, and I am very fortunate to be passionate about the work that I do. The more passionate you are, the more successful you will be in expressing it and finding ways to support and sustain that passion through your work or career. Here at UC Berkeley, different parts of the campus reflect aspects of the Latinx community, that is something that has important meaning for diversity and inclusion on campus. How do the people in leadership reflect who we are? This takes a lot of work, coming back to the way that structures and practices limit the diversity seen on campus. As a parent of a new Cal student, I think about the types of engagement my brown daughter will have on campus. It’s all about finding community, across different identities. For example, I find fulfillment in my latinx community across different departments, but i also connect with my engineering community and want to talk about all the research that I love what i do. Sometimes they are not all intersecting but i need to find a way to navigate those communities. So i think that the most important thing for latinx students when they come here is that they explore all different parts of themselves that make up who they are and see how different communities enable them to explore the multiple parts of who they are. Even where you don’t feel welcome, it’s important to reach out and find ways to be strong in those spaces to open the door for the next people to come. It takes work. Sometimes you may be the only person in your field, but you are the only person who can be responsible for your passion and dream. Perhaps, there is a need to discuss strategies and tools in situations where you may be the only person of your culture or background in a specific area of study.


L&E: I agree! We need to keep our strength and focus in those challenging moments.


Oscar: There are various alumni that I have heard speak, and they talk about what they did despite the odds, not what they didn’t do because of their situations. Sometimes it does take extraordinary effort. But we cannot shy away from the challenge. We can’t afford to! I hope that over time our work expands opportunities and makes it easier for other students down the line to feel fully welcome and supported.


Interview with Sarah Sieloff- Director of the Center for Creative Land Recycling

Sarah Sieloff- Director of the Center for Creative Land Recycling

Oakland’s Center for Creative Land Recycling

Sarah Sieloff directs the non-profit Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR or “see clear”), one of Oakland’s own, an organization committed to transforming communities through land recycling.  CCLR’s work facilitates the redevelopment of brownfields (vacant, abandoned or contaminated parcels) to support sustainability and environmental justice. Throughout the past 20 years, CCLR has provided technical assistance to hundreds of communities, and has helped these same communities win  millions of dollars in federal and state grants to support land transformation projects around the country. These projects have removed environmental and human health hazards, replaced wastelands with urban oases, and created community assets in the form of jobs, new tax revenues, and beautiful spaces. CCLR’s work brings together local non-profits, government entities, and communities “from the neighborhood up” to consistently achieve effective land reuse catalyzed by local imagination.  

What are the most successful projects that you have seen CCLR take on?


CCLR worked with the  community of San Pedro in Los Angeles to turn a vacant lot into a neighborhood park.  San Pedro is majority Latinx community. It’s located close to freeways and industry, which raises many environmental justice and health issues. Residents love their community and wanted to express that San Pedro is a great place to be. CCLR helped San Pedro fund the community outreach and design process that led to a conceptual design of the park.  Today, San Pedro welcome park. It’s a lovely little park, it’s right off the side of the main road that goes into San Pedro and it has some street furniture, some places to sit, a flagpole, some greenery. It looks a lot better than it used to. And most importantly it’s a great way for the community to express to the world that this is their little spot and they are very pleased and happy to be there and welcome to their neighborhood. I should say the community did a lot of beautification work on that parcel that was driven by them for them. So you can really see how without engaged neighbors, nothing would have really happened there, or less would have happened.


Another example, if you drive or travel through the East Bay, you may have seen Union Park. the park is right outside of Alameda on the other side of the estuary. It’s at the park street bridge practically, it’s on the embarcadero in Oakland. That parcel, well water fronts have been working areas for a long time, and in the Bay Area we are no exception so this particular parcel of land was an all purpose industrial site. Contaminated with oil solvents and other chemicals that come with years and years of storing vehicles and producing chemicals who knows what else. The Unity Council, which is an organization based in Oakland, worked with the city of oakland to turn that parcel into a park and that required assessing the parcel to  better understand how it was contaminated and with what it was contaminated and with what and also cleaning it up and remediating it. And again, this happened before my time but I love this story because it think it really shows how an engaged community with a local champion in this case a local non-profit really made the difference. Because when the clean up started it was shown that there was more pollution than had originally been expected, so we realized that the clean up was going to be much more expensive that what originally was expected and anticipated. The Unity Council is a massive non-profit but no non-profit can absorb massive increases in cost/budget unexpectedly and be okay. There was a breaking point where there was a choice. In order to scoop out and remove all the contaminants and say, send out on a train either to Utah or somewhere else in California that was going to cost way more money than anybody had on hand.  The alternative was working with regulators and a landscape architect who was actually brought in from Mexico to find a way to contain the contaminated soil on site and that really reduced the cost of remediation while still protecting human health and the environment. And today when you drive past Union Park, you may notice a large mound, and its really Nicely landscaped, there’s a path you can walk up, beautiful native plants… At the core of that mound, deep underneath impenetrable barriers and several feet of clean soil, in addition to the landscaping, is the contaminated soil. Long story short, it’s a pretty great story because the understanding of the clean up practice. Union city made that all possible. If you look at the waterfront on embarcadero, Union Point Park is a important node of green space because lots one of the few green spaces on that water front for a significant length of the area so it makes a positive contribution to the city to the surrounding neighborhood and this is all . Thanks to the Unity Council. And I should say, I was really fortunate to meet Arabella Martinez who was one of the directors of the Unity Council at the time and is a community activist, I think she still may be involved with the Latino Community Foundation, she was their interim executive for a while. But she is just phenomenal and  One of our interns a couple of years ago did an interview about a separate project that they did in Fruitvale. And it’s an amazing story and Arabella pulls no punches and it just a formidable and phenomenal community activist.


Third one that is more recent: A good example would be Puerto Rico. In PR, there are a lot of challenges we don’t necessarily see on the mainland. The island is continuing to recover from the hurricanes. Sometimes when new mayors are elected at the municipal level, and those mayors come from a different party, the transitions between administrations is not always smooth and that can create challenges to continuity for things like Federal Grants. So we have seen situations where the change in administration can kind of lead to grant funded projects being stranded. That is an issue on which we are consistently working on and that we are building staff capacity for in Puerto Rico, so that does not have to happen. One projects that has been super successful I think on the Island is an assessment and planning project on the southern part of the island, its close to Ponce and Guayama and it deals with redevelopment of a substantial tract of land that is a former oil refining facility. This is the World’s Second largest petrochemical area on the planet, so there have been EJ concerns in this area for a very long time.The local council of governance for Southern Puerto Rico, which the full name of the organization is Desarrollo Integral del Sur, and they go by DISUR. They have spearheaded the application and management for multiple EPA grants which has given them the funding to be able to  plan for an EcoFriendly business park, so there is a planning element that is very community based and very inclusive, and they also have some money to to assess different properties. So for example they have made it a point of working with mayors of nearby small towns to do help things like assess old gas stations, vacant sites, industrial sites that have been vacant and no one knows what used to be on them and one knows whether or not they are contaminated and whether or not they can be redeveloped. That has been a great success story in Puerto Rico where you’ve got a local council of government. With ties to mayor and community, but is taking the lead of not only bringing federal resources to these communities and helping to manage them and putting them to good use. As I’m sure you know, finding a grant is one thing but having the skills for management and putting together a program of management of those grantsv is another thing. So those skills don’t necessarily always come together. But we have really seen that work really well with DiSur in SPR. Another story, another angle, kinda shows how it’s great to cut a ribbon, but most of the time it’s a long hard slog to the finish line and that is why every step along the way is very meaningful and really important, and we try to make sure we are helping to tell these stories of interim steps of that equal success.


You attended our inaugural Latinos and the Environment Summit on April 5-6. What attracts you to the Latinos and the Environment Initiative?

From our perspective, thinking about environmental justice and land reuse, it’s no accident that so many brownfields and dilapidated property concentrate in communities of color. These are patterns of a lot of times racist federal housing policies, discrimination, and there are issues in political power that are literally inscribed in the landscape. So the Communities that are the most impacted are the ones who have the fewest resources to take on these problems head on. This means a lot of times Latino, African American, and other communities of color. We work in Puerto Rico and also target our work in the mainland to communities dealing with brownfields and contaminated or vacant lands where the market alone is not going to drive redevelopment, so in other words we really try to push uphill against the economy and use our resources to go into those communities and help grow the capacity of the local actors to take these on.  I think Latinos and the Environment is a phenomenal idea because it creates a conversation that I haven’t heard a lot about. There are some groups out there, Green Latinos comes to mind, that are trying to really galvanize environmental opportunity and opportunity for action in the Latino community, but frankly I see that there is a larger discussion to be had and i frankly see the Environmental community as a whole becoming more diverse and needs to become more diverse. The people who are most impacted need to be at the forefront of these discussions. So I think Latinos and the Environment seems like a really great idea because it brought together such an amazing diversity of activists and professionals and it’s important to celebrate that and recognize that, but also when you put a bunch of smart people in a room, good stuff happens. Again the power of the network. I personally walked away from Latinos and the Environment having had so many inspiring conversations with just amazing people. I collected a number of business cards of people for folks who I hope to have an opportunity to work with over the next fews months and I gave me access to people who are out there. Many of us are working on the same issues but no one had brought us together before. Latinos and the Environment, to me is demonstrative of a whole bunch of potential. Your group is doing a great job of really harnessing that energy.


Thank you, we are mutually as excited. You are a role model for women leading the environmental movement. What advice do you have for young women working towards doing the same?

That’s such a great question. I work with a lot of women, and what advice do i have networking. I think that’s the third or fifth time that I have used that word but it’s really critical. I think there are a lot of women who want to help other women and networking is the way you find those women. Again, through Latinos and the Environment, I got to meet you! We probably won’t have time to discuss all the amazing things that you are doing throughout your undergraduate career, but I connected  with you because of networking. I connected with Lupe because of networking, and Lupe in turn has brought more career opportunities for professional growth with the students with whom she works. It’s all about networking and going out of your way and putting yourself in situations where you will end up connecting with people who are doing things that of are interesting to you. Women are often told not to be aggressive. We live in a culture that tells us not to pursue what we want–that’s an incredibly destructive and unhelpful cultural feedback out there in the ether if you will. For woman of any age, whether I’m taking to a college student ory m colleagues, and I give this advice to my friends and try to follow it, if you want to talk to somebody ask for an informational interview! If it’s in a job hunting context. See if that person will have a cup of coffee with you. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. You know, women I meet who are college students who are thinking about their career, I’m happy to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you. Even if that person walks away from the conversation saying, oh my gosh I do not want to work for a non-profit, or if you walk saying I am totally jazzed. That’s great too. Those are especially critical messages for women.


What do you see are the future step for CCLR? New areas you would like to work in? What are the future long term role that the non profit has?

Yeah that’s a great question, because I think especially in the environmental world the role of the non-profit has really grown and expanded in the past couple of decades. In the case of my organization, we work in a very market driven corner of the economy. Fundamentally, we are talking about real estate. Real estate is all about the market. Like I mentioned earlier, even our programs are shaped by markets where we can direct our resources to places where the market is not going to go and often where the local government doesn’t have the capacity to go. So these are things that we are always thinking about, and so I think for that reason, having the third sector, the nonprofit sector present is critically important. The forces of market and government alone cannot meet all of our needs and don’t, so I think nonprofits are going to continue to fill in really important ways. And we happen to be a really unique organization in that sense and perhaps illustrative of that trend, which I am really excited about, puts it puts us in a really unique position and I think we get to accomplish really interesting things together with local communities because of it.


Where CCLR is going? So we have an initiative called Land Recycling 2.0. and we started this initiative when right after we turned 20 years old as an organization, so in 2016, in the last year and a half we have been very focused on 3 things under Land Recycling 2.0. For one, we want to build more networks, there it is again (Sarah smiles) and stronger relationships among practitioners, so to do this we are starting a national mentoring network that is bringing together land reuse professionals from cities around the country big and small to provide a place and a platform where people who are in the public sector and dealing with these issues at the local level have a place to interact with one another and exchange ideas outside of a conference, outside of a special weekend where everyone is getting together for that specific purpose. We are trying to light the fire and keep it burning. So nationally mentoring is really exciting.


Where are we going? So we have an initiative called Land Recycling 2.0. and we started this initiative when right after we turned 20 years old as an organization so in 2016, in the last year and a half we have been very focused on 3 things under Land Recycling 2.0. For one, we want to build more networks, there it is again (Sarah smiles) and stronger relationships among practitioners, so to do this we are starting a national mentoring network that is bringing together land reuse professions from cities around the country big and small to provide a place and a platform where people who are in the public sector and dealing with these issues at the local level have a place to interact with one another and exchange ideas outside of a conference, outside of a special weekend where everyone is getting together for that specific purpose. We are trying to light the fire and keep it burning. So nationally mentoring is really exciting.


The second thing we are trying to do is diversify the field of land use, re-use and by extension urban planning. How we are doing this is by expanding job and career opportunities especially for students of color and first generation college students. I have heard, this came to mind, a couple of years ago I heard someone say, and this person was talking about the process of trying to redevelop blighted* sites in upstate New York, and they said that they went in search of an environmental engineer of color because the area they were working was predominantly Latino and African American, and they said they couldn’t find anyone. And i thought this was a really interesting point because in the field in which I work there are a lot of skilled professionals who are mainly older and going to retire in 5-10 years and have been working in the field for decades which is precisely why they are so good at what they do, but who’s going to fill in behind them? And furthermore, many communities of color are disproportionately impacted by these issues, like pollution, so where are those communities in this discussion? And our goal at CCLR is build on our existing internship program and really open up more opportunities for students who might have an interest in this work to join us–join us for a summer, join us for a semester. At the moment we take a couple of interns a year, and over the summer we take an intern from a wonderful program in San Francisco called the achieve program. And that student is typically a student of color usually from a low income area of the east bay or San Francisco. We have had fabulous experiences with this program, so right now we are just trying to figure out the money side of the equation so that we can bring these students on, pay them something of a stipend because the Bay Area is expensive and I personally feel like if you are going to have an intern working with you need to by paying them some sort of stipend to underwrite their own expenses. Internships for a diverse range of students is the second thing under Land Recycling 2.0.


The third is we are trying to elevate climate change in the field of land recycling as an issue that gets considered when people are working on land reuse projects. We really don’t want people to think of this as a separate issue; the two are intimately connected. Sea level rise is a good example, there are a lot of old industrial sites, polluted sites along the water in the Bay Area for example, but we are by no means unique. What happens to those sites when sea levels start to rise and storms are more intense–these are questions that really need to be answered. These are questions that we have by no means the answers to but we are trying to elevate the national dialogue on these issues. So these are the 3 things. Networking, increasing opportunities, and elevating climate change as an issue of concern.


Student Seminar February 2018

Student Seminar: A Conversation with James Sarria

Our first student seminar sought to engage students in broadening our view of the environment. Through a Q & A students shared their experience, goals, and knowledge of being involved in the environmental field. We look forward to organizing more student panels and creating conversations about the environment. Thank you to James Sarria for joining us, as well as our student fellows and sponsors for making this event possible.