Para El Pueblo: Environmental Racism in Oxnard, CA

(oprima aquí para leer en español )

oxnardoil

Fighting for environmental justice means acknowledging that marginalized peoples, including Latino communities, are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and that we too deserve clean water and breathable air. As a young person coming of age in Oxnard, one of the most polluted cities in California and a supplier of dirty fossil fuel based energy to people in three counties, I know we are a proud people and much more than just a “sacrifice zone,” our existence is sacred.

When my mother dropped me off at University last year and said she was sorry she couldn’t do more for me – finish her education and make more money – I would have cried like a baby if I wasn’t so angry with the knowledge that it wasn’t just us experiencing these disadvantages. Millions of Latino families have had their land, wealth, and livelihoods stolen from them over many generations, and behind all the sweet smelling stories this country had instilled in us about equality and the American Dream lay cold harsh truths of extreme exploitation and an unmatched greed that would consume the very Earth it stood on if given the chance.

Although American schools do not teach us, the history of our people is older than maíz and our spirit is stronger than an aguacate tree, but this society has taken nearly everything from us and made people like my mother believe our family’s poverty is her fault rather than the deliberate design of a ruthless system where the super rich own everything from medicine to the media.

The longer I’m away from Oxnard the more clearly I can see the many ways our community is on the frontlines of the climate justice movement, as well as the global struggle between the rich and the poor – a fatal battle for human rights and liberation.

Latino people are on a treadmill in this country. No matter how fast we run, how hard we work, we will never achieve the dignity we deserve under this repressive system that was built on the stolen labor and slaughter, not only of Indigenous and Black people, but on non-white people and poor people all around the world.

Sometimes the violence our community suffers at the hands of the authoritarian system is slow, as in the case of toxic chemicals in our fields (and near our schools) causing birth defects, cancer, and some of the highest asthma rates in the state. Other times the violence is swift as evidenced by the millions of our city dollars paid to the families of victims unjustly slain in the streets by the Oxnard Police Department, a microcosm of the state terror that has taken the lives of so many of our brother and sisters on all sides of these man-made borders.

It was a mistake to register my grandfather to vote last summer. I understand now that when it comes to voting, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. If ever democracy has existed in this country, the ability for working-class people to influence politics, it has now been washed away and replaced by the corporate state and military industrial complex that becomes more powerful by the day.

This is why Oxnard has been plagued by multi-billion dollar fossil fuel corporations that operate multiple oil refineries, drill sites, and three gas-fired power plants on our beaches – more than any coastal city in California. The environmental health hazards experienced by Communities of Color and presented by the extractive economy represent the failure of state agencies and elected officials to protect the people against an industry that values profits far higher than even air and water.

Hundreds of citizens have testified in opposition to a new proposed natural gas power plant over the past three years, yet state agencies including the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) insist on holding yet ever more public hearings, the next of which is scheduled for July 26th – 28th at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. If this power plant is approved it will no doubt operate for at least 50 years – in this way, the future of Oxnard’s energy production will inform whether the state will continue to rely on fossils, or if we are bold enough to blaze a new path powered by renewable energy like wind and solar.

Our current president is not the first racist, misogynist, business man to be president of the United States nor should his election come as a shock to us who have been targeted as criminals and “bad hombres.”  Instead Trump is but a familiar symptom of capitalism, and his hostile policies towards undocumented migrants, Muslims, People of Color, and the environment represent a descent into fascism – the true face of what America is becoming

No one is safe in Trump’s America; neither citizenship nor social status will shield even the most law-abiding among us from persecution by the State. The crises facing our climate and communities have become so great that even waiting until tomorrow to act will be too late; either we stop going along with the system or let it destroy us.

Our people’s spirit of resistance, as well as this historic moment, demands that we take our destiny into our own hands to reach across identities and build a massive social movement  that will take power and ensure a collective liberation for all families! We are more powerful than we are forced to believe.

 

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