“We advocate for environmental justice,” said Cristina Carvajal about the disproportionate impact poor air quality has on the Latino community. Carvajal, the founder and executive director of Wisconsin EcoLatinos said, “Latinos are connected to nature and we want to advocate for the inclusion of our community in all spaces.”
Founded in 2021, EcoLatinos is a nonprofit that works to mobilize Latinos in south central Wisconsin to protect the environment and advocate for environmental justice.
“We work on four main areas,” she told The Cap Times. “First, environmental literacy and sustainability, because for many people, it’s just not their focus to follow all these issues. Many people just don’t really understand what climate change is, for example. Our other main focus is pollution and health, because we need to bring awareness of the effects of contamination. There are communities that are disadvantaged, and they’re more exposed to pollution than others, so their vulnerability is compounded. That brings environmental justice into the equation.”
Wisconsin EcoLatinos partnered with the Latino Academy for Workforce Development on a program focused on air quality. As part of Breathing Justice, a project by the Environmental Protection Agency, students were taught how to install and read air quality monitors in their neighborhoods. Carvajal taught the participants for two months.
“So we have Latinos living in areas like Fitchburg or the north side, and closer to highways. It’s going to increase the chances of having bad quality,” Carvajal said about air quality monitors placed in neighborhoods with environmental justice concerns. “It’s important for people to understand this situation.”
SUGGESTION: Unhealthy Air Conditions Sweep Across Midwest
A Colombian native, Carvajal moved to the U.S. more than 20 years ago — first to east coast, then to Janesville and Madison. Volunteering with environmental advocacy organizations while raising her children reignited a passion for Carvajal who has always considered herself an environmental activist.
“We need to take action, [and] everyone can take action to improve our environment and also mitigate climate change,” Carvajal said. “So for us, it’s fulfilling our mission as an organization to be able to engage people and see their positive reaction towards taking action and preparing for climate adaptation.”