As we are excited to begin working with our second cohort of Marina Pando-Social Justice Research Collaborative students this week, we are reminded of Marina Pando’s legacy. Marina was an outstanding leader dedicated to the environmental justice movement. To commemorate her passing last June, our students share how Marina Pando’s personality and legacy are reflected in a program that focuses on creating community-generated knowledge. “Marina Pando, is an inspiration to young women of color in a variety of ways and her story speaks to me. Her strong character and hunger for justice is a reflection of what EYECJ stands for in using your own experiences and being powerful enough to stimulate a reaction from others. She definitely influenced oppressed workers who were abused and afraid to stand up to these industries. Part of being a great person is building other people and sacrificing yourself to see others grow. Her countless hours and devotion to the community was a symbol of the strength that women have”. -Estefanie Garcia, Youth In Action!, Bell Gardens High School “A program dedicated to creating community knowledge reflects the personality of Marina Pando by showing a strong will to learn anything new and fight for what one believes in. In order for us to accomplish our goals we must stand up for what we believe in and never let others put us down. Marina Pando’s personality reflected one of being independent and never letting others tell her what to do, no matter who they were. She showed that we all have it in us to become leaders. A community led program always shows that leaders are all around us, they can be our neighbors, our siblings, our parents, our teachers, but more importantly ourselves. We all have it within ourselves to create an environment in which we can live life to the fullest. -Karla Perez, EYCEJ Long Beach Member For more information on Marina Pando visit: La Leona by Hugo Lujan. To read about research produced last year, please visit:Marina Pando Social Justice Research Collaborative Projects 2015. Help us reach this year’s fundraising goal of $3,000! Please visit our website to donate here. Your donation will go directly to funding student stipends.
Last month, over a meal of pupusas, Martha Dina Argüello and I had the opportunity to talk with the youth members of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) Youth in Action! (YA!) program, about movement histories and our roles in it. Martha and I shared our stories and then the young people in the room began to share their stories and ask questions. And this is where it got good. You can listen to an audio recording of the talk via StoryCorps here: https://storycorps.me/
They told us stories about their lives growing up in Southeast Los Angeles. They shared their concerns about growing class sizes at Bell Gardens High School. They talked about their hopes and plans for going to college. They told us about how the challenges they face balancing family, friends, school and their activist work in the community. The young women shared ways they raise their voices in the classrooms despite teachers and others ignoring them.
Their stories generated questions and stories from the EYCEJ organizers in the room as well. They asked Martha and I about how we navigate activism and movement building as women of color, especially in places and spaces dominated by white men and white institutions. What movement history could inform their work and their lives? How do we do this work in the long term?
I can’t remember how Martha and I responded to the questions but what I do remember is how the conversation knit together all of our stories past and present — as a third generation Japanese American woman who found her voice in the environmental justice movement, an immigrant Nicaraguan woman radicalized and experienced in her work with the Black Panthers, youth and organizers with family ties to Mexico, Guatemala, Long Beach, East LA, Boyle Heights, and Bell Gardens. Even though we were born in many different decades, have had many different experiences growing up, have been involved in many different campaigns, and have way different capacities with technology (e.g. using smartphones, powerpoint, live streaming from periscope, etc.), our stories reflected a shared commitment to growing our movements and also our commitment to each other as we do the work together.
We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.
There is no doubt that the young leaders from Bell Gardens High School (as well as college students and young organizers) are the next generation of movement builders in our work. But in a movement context, their presence and leadership are also central to the work here and now. In the EYCEJ meeting room that night it was only through the youth that the rest of our stories were able to come together in rich and intersectional ways. The high school students were deeply rooted in their lived experiences and they made sure that our discussions remained focused on the intersectionality of race, gender, age, and nationality. They were acutely aware of the injustices they faced but rather than dwell on their problems, they probed us for new perspectives, examples, and tools for becoming better movement leaders. Grace Lee Boggs also says that our human evolution is not a linear process; talking story with and through the students made that point in clear and brilliant ways.
The youth of EYCEJ weave their stories with many others –youth, organizers, and allies from many neighborhoods and movements – and their rising collective power is making change in the East and Southeast LA, and Long Beach. Whether it is fighting for smaller class sizes, demanding cleanup at the Exide plant, making sure the I-710 Freeway expansion brings community benefits instead of more polluted air, fighting back against Walmart, or growing their own food, EYCEJ continues to build leadership – new and old- and models the way for other communities across the country.
Join us on June 23rd to meet these young movement leaders and be inspired. #FightingForLife #WeAreJustTryingToBreathe
Written by Martha Matsuoka
Martha Matsuoka is Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Executive Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College. Her teaching focuses on environmental justice, community organizing, urban policy, environmental movement history, and community-based research. Her research focuses how community-based organizations organize to influence policy and planning and currently focuses on ports and freight transportation. Martha is one of two honorees at this years Fighting For Life 2016 Celebration.
In fighting environmental racism, we know far too well what targeted violence feels like.
We are too familiar with the feeling of gasping for air.
We are too familiar with the suffocating smell from trucks, ships, trains.
We are too familiar with the similarity of gun smoke and exhaust.
We are too familiar in knowing that both are signifiers of death.
That both are followed by hospitals.
That both are followed by distress, sleepless nights, and pain.
We must remember that much like any other violence, it isn’t simply an accident but an extension of decades of policies and laws targeting communities of color.
That it is an extension of rhetoric that normalize violence against queer, trans, people of color.
We must remember violence many times isn’t the product of bullet but also comes in paper, ink, and signatures.
We must remember the creation of this is the constant identification of people of color, queer, trans, all those marginalized as expendable and unnecessary for what is defined by this machine as ‘progress’.
We must remember that what continues to fuel this is homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, white supremacy, and racism.
We must remember that its engine is colonization, dehumanization, and massacre.
We must remember
It was a queer trans club
It was a latin night
It was a trans night
the 50 brothers and sisters dead
The 53 injured
The 103 hit by bullets in a room with a capacity of 300.
We must remember those who do not have the privilege of having the possibility of death be a distant idea, but a constant companion.
For the families and individuals
We stand with you.
We see you.
We hold your pain with you.
We fight with you.
If one attack can be felt across the world, then one victory can also be held by all of us.
This is why we must and will continue organizing.
Through organizing we affirm that we exist.
Through organizing we affirm that we are resilient.
Through organizing we affirm that we are powerful.
Through organizing we affirm that we are and will always be powrful enough to continue
Fighting For Life.
“Brilliant, creative STRATEGIST. Local, regional, international NETWORKER. Critically loyal COMRADE, COLLEAGUE, MENTOR, FRIEND. Unassuming, formidable LEADER/ORGANIZER. These are all the many sides of Martha Matsuoka that I have observed, heard about, and experienced.
On any given day, you can see Martha going from situation to situation that demonstrates her many talents and commitments. You may encounter her where she is urging us to think strategically, not just emotionally and reactively, about an organizing goal. Or advising her undergraduate students at Oxy about a future in the EJ/SJ movement. Or crossing borders to build bridges between groups and individuals who may not be able to see and understand their shared interests and destiny, mired as they are in the scarcity model of the foundation world. Or simply gripping the reins saying, “Let’s get on with it,” through taking the earliest action steps including scribing meeting notes to calling potential contributors and supporters to taking to the streets and people’s front doors to washing dishes and tidying up a room after the meeting. We know from working with Martha that leading by humbly and diligently performing every job needed, as well as contributing critical theoretical perspectives to shed light on complex situations, builds trust and confidence.
For the past twenty years, Martha has been a North Star in the Bay Area feminist movement against militarism and for genuine security for people and the physical environment. In 1996, Martha and another comrade Rev. Debbie Lee organized the Bay Area speaking engagement of Okinawan feminist activists—Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence—who came after the infamous rape of the 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three US Marines to narrate their stories of the devastating impacts of the heavy US military presence on their tiny islands. The quality of the event and the learning that took place that February was extraordinary. Everyone there was shocked, horrified, as well as deeply moved by the courage of the group members led by Ms. Suzuyo Takazato, then a local elected official as well as activist, who dared challenge the Japanese and US governments to take responsibility for crimes committed again Okinawan people, especially women and girls. They, and fellow Okinawan citizens, went so far as to demand the removal of US bases from their land!
Okinawa Women Act members reported to us long after the 1996 meeting that they were emboldened by the Bay Area gathering–so well organized and orchestrated by Martha and Debbie Lee. Equally impressive were the ways that Martha played a central role in organizing what was to become the Bay Area Okinawa Peace Network and a year later the East Asia-US Women’s Network against Militarism, birthed in Naha, Okinawa in 1997.
Our Martha manifests much through all her work on the ground, on boards of EJ organizations and foundations, and in her classrooms. She also shows up as wonderful friend, someone to count on when we hit the bumps AND when we want to play. She’s always up for a delicious meal—high standards since she is the well-socialized, eldest daughter of Mrs. Eiko Matsuoka, the inimitable octogenarian leader of the El Cerrito Japanese-American community who can identify precisely the missing, or not enough, ingredient in a baked dessert or inari sushi. Martha also is an unrelenting competitor of particular computer games, believe it or not. And she never gives up!
That’s Martha Matsuoka! One of “Las Marthas” being recognized at the Fighting For Life 2016 Celebration of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
Congratulations Martha from your Bay Area comrades and friends who admire, respect, and, most of all, love you for all you do for and with our movements and for the transformative light and energy you are in a world filled with cynics, haters, cheaters, and killers of all life forms!”
Margo Okazawa-Rey’s primary activism, research, and writing address issues related to militarism, armed conflicts, and violence against women. Her work continues to be informed by having been a member of theCombahee River Collective, which advanced the concept of intersectionality in “A Black Feminist Statement.” She is one of the cofounders of the internationalNetwork of Women against Militarism, a group of feminist activists who address impact of US military presence in East Asia, Guam Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. She has deep connections in South Korea and for the past ten years in Palestine with theWomen’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counsellingin Ramallah. She is currently Elihu Root Peace Fund Visiting Professor in Women’s Studies and on the faculty of the School of Human and Organizational Development at the Fielding Graduate Universityin Santa Barbara, California. She also is Professor Emerita at San Francisco State University. She earned her doctorate from the Harvard graduate School of Education.
“It was like I was driving home from Long Beach back to Carson. No matter where you go, the issues are the same. We were on a toxic tour with Gulf Port residents heading to Pascagoula, Mississippi and there was a huge flame. A refinery was flaring. A resident remarked that this happened everyday, that this was normal. That moment, it felt like home, it felt like we were all fighting the same battle, whether you were in Long Beach, South Bay, Houston, or Gulf Port. The community had similar challenges, an industry whether it is freight or oil & gas that devalued the lives of the residents living around them. They invest in profits, not people.
From March 15 to the 18th, I had the privilege of being able to represent East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice & our allies from environmental justice organizations in Southern California at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Convening at Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi. The Moving Forward Network (also known as MFN) brought coalition members from all over the nation to engage with the community in Gulfport and learn about the environmental challenges they face in the region. We came as a coalition to give NEJAC recommendations on pushing for zero emission technologies to the United State Environmental Protection Agency.
Going to the NEJAC at Gulfport, Mississippi was an eye opening experience. It further validated the importance of working in coalitions nationally. At times, the battles we face within our cities seem solitary for our communities here in California. We have to stand in solidarity with folks fighting corrupt politicians, weak policies and regulations, and government agencies that are incapable of doing their job without pressure from those impacted by various polluting facilities such as ports, rail yards, and refineries.
The working class, multi-racial community that is Gulf Port is like Long Beach. It’s like Houston. It’s just Newark. It’s a community under attack. It’s a community living in the auspices of a multi billion-dollar industry that prioritizes profit, not people. People are living next to refineries, to ports; they are exposed to large amounts of pollution. Their health is impacted; their health is at risk. This is the reality that communities from all over the United States face daily.
What I learned is, we are not alone. We are all fighting a battle in our cities for our home, our communities, and our health. We are asking for dignity, for clean air, to respect our livelihoods. We are facing difficult elected officials, difficult agencies. We are going through hurdles. We have lost family, to cancer, to sickness. We are strong. We are resilient. We must continue to fight, wherever we are. We are not alone. We are all fighting a similar battle. That is why it is important for us to have a conversation locally and nationally. When you take a step back, it is pretty clear that there is a larger system that allows environmental injustice to propagate in working class, people of color communities.”
Written by Jan Victor Andasan, EYCEJ Community Organizer
At the beginning of this month, many activists in the greater L.A. region watched in horror as we saw the removal of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Executive Officer, Dr. Barry Wallerstein. You should be horrified too.
AQMD is the regional body tasked with protecting public health by regulating pollution from stationary sources in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside.
What we witnessed was a coup by the new Republican majority board members, backed by fossil fuel industry. That their first order of business was to not only dismiss the agency’s director, but also uphold a vote to support a plan that allows businesses to pollute rather than reduce their toxic emissions is incredibly dangerous. Health shouldn’t be a matter of partisan politics, but unfortunately we’ve come to expect this wherever money is involved.
However, let’s not be fooled; some Democrats on the AQMD Board are pro-polluter too. We don’t have to look too far back to see Councilmember Joe Buscaino rejecting the AQMD staff plan (RECLAIM) to reduce air pollution in favor of a weak plan proposed by oil refineries, power plants, and other industries, allowing them to continue to pollute the air we breathe (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-aqmd-reclaim-20151210-story.html). And if we go back three years ago, we saw Joe Buscaino prematurely supporting the Southern California International Gateway rail yard project (SCIG), which not only threatens the health of the region, but has the largest negative impacts on West Long Beach. Instead of recusing himself for coming out in favor of the project before the environmental and health impacts were known, Buscaino supported the project by voting in favor of it when it went to the Los Angeles City Council. AQMD, along with a slew of other parties, joined us in suing the City of Los Angeles, with Buscaino’s bias being one of the grounds for the lawsuit (the project being the very definition of environmental racism is one of the other grounds for the lawsuit). How can we trust AQMD Board members, Republican or Democrat, who support environmental racism? Will this new Republican majority provide cover for Buscaino to move a pro-polluter agenda while publicly presenting himself otherwise, knowing how the votes will play out? Will AQMD pull out of the SCIG lawsuit, representing another act of war on our health?
With the assassination of Berta Caceres, an indigenous Lenca Honduran woman and activist against environmental injustices against her people, we are sadly reminded that there is a global sickness we must rid ourselves of – putting profits above people. This is a system that murdered Berta in her home for asserting her rights and the rights of her people to live peacefully on their native land; a system that can only thrive on exploitation; a system that is fueled by violence against human bodies.
What else should we expect when we’ve become so accustomed and desensitized to violence? And does the poisoning of our bodies not constitute an act of violence? Much like the travesty of injustice in Flint, Michigan where politicians were complicit in the system that poisoned poor Black people, most of whom were children, our local politicians who sat idly by as Exide Technologies rained invisible bullets of lead into the bodies of thousands of people.
A slow and painful death from cancer is no less violent than the blood drawn from a bullet fired from a gun. Unless we stand up to this violence, our communities will continue to see sick and dying bodies.
We are constantly reminded that many elected officials do not act in the best interest of their constituents – regardless of their party affiliation. From the hateful rhetoric of Trump, to the decisions of the AQMD board, we are witnessing an era where virulent politics are brazenly displayed. We must fight back.
This is your call to action. Join the movement. Start a movement. Build the movement!
Written By: Taylor Thomas
EYCEJ member Isella Ramirez responds to Governor Jerry Brown proposal of a $176.6 million Exide Clean Up Plan and the impact Exide’s lead contamination has on her mothers health and the long struggle yet to come, ‘….organizing works! In any case, la lucha sigue’.
“From the time I was a pre-teen to the time I began my Masters program, my momma was a proud wrap-packer for Neimen Marcus. She packaged gifts, celebrity outfits, and everything in between with care. When she lost signifcant sight, she felt purposeless. That quickly changed when she became part of East Yard’s Cosecha Colectiva. I’m convinced she fed tomatoes to the entire Bandini Neighborhood some summers. Continue reading
#ReclaimingTheLARiver was a film and photography exhibit presented by EYCEJ youth focused on reclaiming the dignity and respect of the LA river for the South LA river communities.The exhibit took place under the 105 fwy on the LA River Bike Path. To make this amazing event happen, Youth members participated in summer long workshops dealing with the LA River story, bike toxic tour, photography, film, and poetry workshops. Through these workshop, EYCEJ Youth began the process of forming stories highlighting the role that the LA River has taken in communities of color living along it. The photography and films highlight the many faces and stories that form part of the LA River in an effort to bring attention to the needs of our communities to see improvements and facilitate the use of the LA River as a source of transportation, exercise, creative space, green space, and shelter connecting communities along the 710 fwy. Additionally, films will be used as a public comment tool to push forward in supporting LA River and Bike Improvements of our communities through Community Alternative 7 (CA 7) for the 710 Fwy project. For more info on Community Alternative 7 click here CA 7. We want to thank all of the 70+ participants who attend the event. Together we reclaimed part of the LA River Bike Path with life, joy and art. For more pictures visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EYCEJ Videos produced by our youth members:
Reclaiming the LA River by Jorge & Amando
To continue to support our work, donate to our efforts: https://eycej.nationbuilder.com/donate
Check out media coverage of our event below!
Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition: http://lacbc.nationbuilder.com/los_angeles_river_connections_move_forward
Special thanks to for making this event possible: Comida No Bombas Los Angeles, Cruzita’s Deli and Cafe, Calo Youth Build Boyle Heights, #BarriosDeLosRios, Giovanni Solis, Pam Avila, Ana Garcia, Cuauhtemotzin Hache
Photograph Credit: Beatriz Jaramillo
We would like to thank all of the EYCEJ members, staff, allies, family and friends that made our 1st LA River Bike Toxic Tour possible and to the 100+ cyclist that joined us despite reaching 100+ degree temperature!
The ride started at the East LA Civic Center, with supporters joining along the way in Bell Gardens, Maywood, Bell, Lynwood, Paramount and Long Beach! We toured the LA River, Sleepy Lagoon, 710 Freeway (formerly known as the Los Angeles River Freeway), rail yards, and discussed its historical significance to communities of color.As a group we also visited locations highlighting the improvements that have been made and what the community could look like if we continue to push with community voice and participation.
We then closed with a BBQ and music by LA Hip Hop band Inner City Dwellers, cumbia band Buyepongo and Carlos Se rocking at Cesar Chavez Park in Long Beach. Overall, a beautiful day being able to witness hundreds of riders reclaim the streets. To view more pictures visit our Facebook page: LA River Bike Toxic Tour 2015 (album)
Thank you all for your support throughout the years — we do this because we believe everyone deserves the right to live in a safe and healthy environment. Help us continue our programming like the LA River Bike Toxic Tour by making a donation today!
We ride together, we fight together, we build community together, we win together! #FightingForLife
Also, join us for our upcoming event:
September 26, 2015 6:00-9:00PM @ Maywood River Front, Walker Ave, Maywood, CA 90270
EYCEJ youth will be presenting photography and film exhibit focused on reclaiming the dignity and respect of the LA river for the South LA river communities. For more information visit our FaceBook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1386580138307385/