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By Denise Garcia
I come from a community — Pacoima, California — and a family where love, humor, and culture ensure my people’s survival. Mine is a family of home-cooked enchiladas, loud and long-lasting dance fiestas, and unconditional love. We turn to our values to sustain our lives, even as low-income migrants and first-generation folks. Though all odds are against low-income people of color, we resist and survive in the face of environmental racism and other obstacles. Surviving is the only way we know how to live since the power of place has shaped our lived outcomes, for good and for worse.
My beautiful Pacoima roots my passion and diligence in the work I do as an advocate fighting environmental racism. Growing up, Pacoima had long hot summers filled with water balloon fights and Sunday mornings con mi familia en la casa de mi abuelito, Rosalio, comiendo menudo y pan dulce. My brothers, friends, and I played ball in the park religiously and ate elotes, raspados, y paletas from local vendors. Pacoima, covered with vibrant murals under the many highways, intrigued my imagination and sparked my creativity. Pacoima holds a collection of my earliest and most enjoyable memories of my childhood, family, and culture.
Although most of my memories of my hometown are positive, Pacoima was not as beautiful as my mind painted it to be. While in college, I learned about environmental racism & injustice and realized the abundance of pollutants concentrated in my hometown. The traffic pollution, industrial sites, and landfillserode my community with harmful and dangerous toxins, which negatively impact all forms of life. While in college, I learned Pacoima was redlined because there were too many black and brown folks and was identified as undesirable, resulting in a segregated ghetto. Similarly to other low-income, redlined, and marginalized communities of color, Pacoima lacks investment in public schools, public parks, and job opportunities. Climate change will exacerbate these inequities, leaving the rich richer and the poor poorer in all capacities.
Rather than just surviving, communities like Pacoima, need to thrive. To overcome systematic hardships like the environmental racism I grew up with, community members must use their voices to amplify the change we need in order to flourish. And I cannot expect a positive change for my community unless I am also willing to change, grow, and transform. White supremacy and capitalism systematically impact people of color, and yet, we are still here! This type of resiliency and strength gives me the courage to embark on new journeys, which led me to pursue this year-long Fellowship with The Greenlining Institute.
During my Fellowship, I hope to gain the confidence and strength to use my voice in a way that creates positive change that my community and so many other similar communities need. I recognize I have missed many opportunities because I chose to stay silent. Now I want to courageously articulate my thoughts and represent communities like mine to ensure they are prioritized and considered in political decisions.
Communities like Pacoima and hundreds of others impacted by environmental racism need more activators who speak out against injustice, advocate for change and empower the community through education. My voice holds an infinite amount of power, but I often put myself on mute when I get afraid or feel intimidated. This fear of speaking out derives from the guilt and pressure of being a 1st-generation college graduate. I feel immense pressure to be successful and perceived as intelligent to prove to my family that their sacrifices and hard work were worth it. This exacerbates my silence because I’m afraid of making mistakes or saying the wrong things. This year, I will embrace my mistakes, learn from them and continue to grow. I hope to see myself transform into a confident and outspoken womxn and bring this power of voice back to my community.
“You are seen, heard, and valued here” are the words imprinted into my memory from the first day of orientation at The Greenlining Institute. I can trust this organization when staff say they value my personal narrative, experience, and potential. With this growing trust, I am ready to see my #ChangeFromWithin and to see how my #PacoimaBeautiful can also transform.
Denise Garcia is Greenlining’s Environmental Equity Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.
Over the next year we’re continuing our #ChangeFromWithin blog series with posts from our newest cohort of Fellows. They will explore their own personal transformation, #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read Patrick Brown’s introduction to the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.