Over the past several years, the impact of pollution on our environment has become increasingly evident. Of course, we’ve all been told since we were kids that we need to take care of our planet, that we should be careful not to litter and remember to recycle, but back then, it felt so far removed from our lives. Now that we’re adults and it feels like the effects of climate change are at our heels, many of us are making a more concerted effort to figure out how we can help. What can we do to reverse years of damage and hope to leave a safer, healthier world behind for our children and future generations of our families? Well, there may not be one single thing, but if all of us commit to a few small things, we have the power to protect our planet. Especially if one of those things is holding businesses, industries, and the government accountable for their actions and choices, when they have a negative impact on the Earth. The environmental activism group, Moms Clean Air Force, is empowering parents to do just that. It’s the largest and oldest group in America — with chapters in more than two dozens states — fighting against air pollution and pushing for environmental justice.
The organization has now organized more than one million parents who are passionate about protecting our planet — and our kids — including many Latinx parents, many of who are personally impacted by this issue. In a 2022 report, the American Lung Association found that that over 14 million people of color live in counties that received failing grades on all ozone and particle pollution, including nearly 10 million individuals that identify as Hispanic. Not only that, but 68 percent of Latinxs in the U.S. live in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards, according to the environmental group EcoMadres.
Many Latinx families live in urban areas where marginalized communities are hugely affected by air pollution from cars, factories and power plants. “Communities of color are often hit first and worst by air pollution,” Yaritza Perez, EcoMadres representative and Florida State Coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force, tells HipLatina. “People of color are nearly four times more likely to live in a county with poor air quality compared to white people.”
Why is that important? Because poor air quality can directly affect the health of people living in those communities. Perez tells us that air pollution can worsen asthma and respiratory diseases and can even interfere with brain development and learning, all of which can lead to increased doctors visits, missed days of school and work and the ongoing burden of healthcare costs, that many people in Latinx communities already face.
“For many, the situation is further exacerbated by lack of health insurance and language barriers,” Perez says. “Often, many members of the Latino community do not make the connection between air pollution and health effects because of the lack of access to easy-to-understand, reliable, science-based information in our language.”
Even more startling is the fact that Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children, and nearly 10 percent of Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from chronic respiratory illness. Those statistics feel all too real, especially as we continue to navigate a pandemic during which communities of color and individuals with chronic respiratory illnesses have fared far worse than white communities and individuals who don’t suffer from respiratory illnesses.
“These injustices motivate me to help lift our voices because no parent should accept this reality as inevitable for their child. We all deserve to live in an environment with clean air,” Perez says. “That’s why it’s so important to me to educate our members, the public and our lawmakers about the health harms of air pollution and the polluting sources in our communities. As Latinos, there is a real and urgent need for us to speak up about the disproportionate burden we face.”
By tapping into organizations like Moms Clean Air Force and EcoMadres, Latinx parents can work together to incite change on a wider scale and tap into a invaluable resources offered through the organization in order to leverage the power of numbers to call for environmental justice.
“We need protections from air pollution at all levels of government,” Perez says. “We need robust investments in clean, renewable energy and modern infrastructure to support this. For this all to happen, we need to build the political will for clean air and a safe climate.”
While our Latinx kids may be disproportionately affected by the negative effects of air pollution and climate change, these issues are pertinent for all Americans, and really, the world as a whole. As global industries continue to grow and evolve, they can change the norm by choosing healthier, more sustainable business practices across the board, or they can continue to utilize dangerous practices that put our children, our country, and our planet at risk of self-destructing.
“As a veteran, I always say the work that I do is nation-building at its core,” says Perez. “It’s also patriotic. It’s patriotic to prioritize clean air and environmental justice so that no community can be left behind.”
We can’t be ignored en masse though, so when we as parents — as members of the Latinx community —band together and demand change, we will be heard. Our legacies, the health of our children, and the future of our planet are too important to sacrifice and leave in the hands of others, who may prioritize money and power over the good of all people. We can’t all be doctors and lawyers, but we can all be activist who fight for environment justice.
“I believe that by coming together as Latino parents we can have a voice at the table,” says Perez. “We are stronger together — so let’s lift up our stories and band together to protect our children’s health and future.”