By Lisa Garcia
When I was six, my father announced that my family would be moving from the Bronx to Caracas, Venezuela. I was nervous and it didn’t help that my 2nd grade classmates told me our family would be living in grass huts. I thought that maybe Venezuela would be like Puerto Rico, where my father’s family was from. What I quickly learned was that, while Venezuela was not Puerto Rico, my classmates were definitely wrong.
Caracas was a vibrant, modern city; more high rises than huts. During the seven years we spent there I became immersed in, and embraced, Venezuelan and Latin American culture and history. It was there too that my parents, who were both civil rights advocates, read to me about the lives and struggles of leaders like Ghandi, Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When we returned to the US, I was confronted with classmates who wondered “what I was” or “what my background was” and what that said about me. An interesting question, because I thought I was like everyone else…American.
This made me want to share my background, what I learned in Venezuela and how being a Latina, speaking Spanish and living in a foreign country, has enhanced my life. I also wanted to show how, while people may have different languages, traditions, and cultures, we are all so similar in so many ways. We see the similarities in our family life, in our desires, in our day-to- day lives, and we see how everyone deserves the same opportunities.
Which is why, between having parents who were active in politics and having the drive to ensure that everyone has the same access to opportunities, it isn’t hard to see how my experiences developed into a career of promoting and ensuring a clean and safe environment for all, regardless of where you grew up, what language you speak or where you live.
As an environmental justice advocate, I can combine my cultural pride, understanding of our similarities, and my law degree to promote healthy and sustainable communities, for Latino communities, for communities of color, and for all low income communities struggling with the realities of environmental pollution. Without realizing exactly how my upbringing shaped me, I grew up to be a proud Latina who in my own way tries to embrace and continue the legacy of our civil and equal rights leaders to improve the quality of life for all Americans. No matter what your background is, you too can make a difference.
About the author: Lisa Garcia, Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Lisa P. Jackson
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.