I grew up in Commerce surrounded by family who moved here from rural Jalisco, Mexico in the 1970s. We’ve always been an active family in the community – we go to local events, see the Fourth of July fireworks, and take part in the city’s summer reading programs. And that’s how it is for many families here – we come to Commerce, and we stay here for generations. This is our home.
What often isn’t obvious, in our blue-collar community with many families, is the low air quality and exposure to toxins that affect residents every day. We’re exposed to these toxins at parks, in schools, and in our homes. The toxins come from sources like the 710 freeway and local industrial pollution.
I’m a local community organizer, and the longer I’ve worked in our community to encourage our elected officials to keep our environment clean – to plant more trees, and discourage industrial infrastructure in residential neighborhoods – the clearer it’s become: a clean environment is a public health issue.
Through the course of my work, I often visit schools in the area. We talk to the students about health and our environment, and we often ask the students to raise their hand if they have a family member with cancer or asthma. Many days we’ll see almost every hand in the classroom go up. That’s just not right to see so many kids affected by terrible diseases because of where they live. The World Health Organization is now linking air pollution to cancer – it’s time we do something about the problem in our community.
My own niece was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer when she was three years old. We watched her go through chemo treatments, surgeries, and countless hospital visits. Watching her struggle to be healthy solidified the reasons I do this work. Our community has air quality issues and environmental issues that we must address. Every family deserves to live in a clean environment and breathe air and drink water that won’t make them sick.
That’s why I’m looking to local legislators like Assemblymember Cristina Garcia to help lead us. We must work on quality of life issues like clean air for our residents. After all, the quality of your environment determines your health outcomes. Every resident in our community – children, parents, seniors – they all deserve to live healthy lives without the feat of cancer or the inability to take a deep breath.
I worked for East Yard Community for Environmental Justice for six years. In that time we prevented a local power plant from opening in a neighborhood close to schools and day care centers. We fought to reduce air pollution from industrial facilities like local rail yards. I’ve walked door-to-door, talking to families one at a time and urging them to take a stand for their neighborhood and their families. We know that we can get this work done. Now, I’m going back to graduate school at UCLA to learn more about how I can fight for environmental justice for our community.
Assemblymember Garcia grew up in Bell Gardens and taught in local schools. She knows the kinds of struggles we’re facing. She understands the challenges our students deal with and the worry that local parents have about their kids. That’s why I urge her to be a true leader on the issue of environmental justice and raise her voice for clean air, water and a healthy environment for our community. We will stand with her for a better future, and together our voices will be strong.
Isella Ramirez is a community organizer and community health advocate who lives in Commerce, CA.