Latinos Unidos Siempre: The power to create change
To Sandra Hernández- Lomelí, the future of environmental protection lies in empowering people to advocate for themselves.
For too long, the Latinx community in Oregon has been disconnected from the environmental community, she explains. “I think there are a lot of people who would love to work on these issues. It’s about providing access.”
Sandra is program director at Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS), founded in 1996 by youth in Salem to defend immigrant rights. Even deeper
than any advocacy issue is the organization’s dedication to youth and their families.
“We believe in empowering people to advocate for change in their communities, rather than us telling them what to advocate for,” says Sandra. That work includes providing for the basic resources for families so that youth can focus on developing the leadership skills necessary to gain access to decision-makers.
When Oregon Environmental Council approached Sandra about a community-based diesel pollution sampling project, she identified students interested in both air pollution and community storytelling. The students interviewed community members, identified areas of concern, and conducted air sampling and observation. They also met with elected officials to advocate for solutions that would reduce exposure to diesel pollution.
From here, Sandra hopes to build greater opportunities for Latinx communities to engage in environmental justice issues. “I think that we need to start educating youth, especially low- income youth and youth of color, about environmental issues.” Sandra adds: “But we also need to keep corporations accountable for harming the environment!”
Oregon Environmental Council staff learned from the project how to be more effective community partners. For OEC, the future of environmental protection includes showing up for communities, listening to community needs, and supporting people in creating the change they want to see.