By Stephanie Padilla
When you think of “clean” and “healthy” communities, your first thoughts might not be resources and programs such as mental health, teen violence workshops, plans for affordable housing, etc. You might think of plastic-free or trash-free utopias with crisp and refreshing air, not polluted by freeway smog. We all have different perspectives on what communities should look like. What the beach communities in Santa Monica envision for themselves is likely a little different than those of us who live near the LA River.
Cypress Park, where the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco meet, is a mostly Latinx community nestled in North East L.A. This past Dia De los Muertos, our very own, Mujeres De la Tierra, hosted a Community Procession for clean and healthy communities. Mujeres De la Tierra, is an environmental non-profit organization that focuses on healing Madre Tierra and promotes clean communities using Telenovela street theatre.
Their theme for the Community Altar (learn more about the history, here) was dedicated to the men and women who died defending Madre Tierra. Their names/legacies were memorialized in blue paper, symbolic of the river, with the mouth of the river dedicated to Goldman Environmental Award Recipient, Berta Caceres, who died defending her land and Lenca people against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam.
The event also included a Procession where a Demonio de La Basura (trash demon made of recycled water bottles) marched alongside students from the Sotomayor Learning Academy, Greater Cypress Park Neighborhood Council, Pacoima Beautiful, Hathaway-Sycamores, LA Sanitation Department, Friends of the LA River, and Peace Over Violence. It was beautiful to see the community participate, lead, and be active in issues that are specific to us brown folk in Cypress Park.
Too often, environmental justice is framed as a “one size fits all model”, where NPOs, city planners, council members, etc. miss the mark in addressing the needs of the community. We are talked to/down about environmental justice opposed to having a dialogue about what our concerns are and how we have the agency to determine what we envision for “clean” and “healthy” communities. For us, in Cypress Park, it is an intersection of mental health awareness, promoting youth activism, encouraging garbage pick ups, attending neighborhood council meetings, and connecting people to the river.
I encourage us all to find our own, rivers, streams, lakes, parks, etc. in our own communities and learn how to make a difference for the sake of madre tierra and the legacy of the people who have died defending her.
Stephanie Padilla is PPC staff and a local food justice activist. She enjoys listening to classic disco and hip hop on her office playlist and organizing vegan dinners in her community. Learn more about organizing with a local chapter of Food Not Bombs.