Latino/a Advocacy Day 2022
Hundreds gathered to support climate action and environmental justice
“We know our gente, we know our communities. We solve problems, and we must lead in that effort, because if not we will be left behind once again.”
– Beatriz Soto, Protégete Director
Protégete, along with our partners COLOR and Voces Unidas de las Montañas, is proud to be a co-convener of Latino/a Advocacy Day. The two-day event offers a unique chance to build community power among some of the people most impacted by many of our priority issues, from water contamination to toxic air pollution.
This year, we were able to host Latino/a Advocacy Day in person on March 13th and 14th. Over 300 Latinos and Latinas from around Colorado, including over 70 people from the Western Slope, gathered in Denver to advocate for their communities. Attendees came from many walks of life, ranging from students to families to veterans of the Chicano movement of the 1970s; from young people finding their voice to seasoned advocates preparing to run for office. Holding up the themes of Unity, Salud, and Resiliency, participants heard from inspiring speakers; learned about issues like immigration, economic and reproductive justice; and got the chance to bring their stories and policy demands directly to their legislators.
Throughout the weekend, participants sent a clear message on the environment: Latinos of Colorado need and deserve clean air, clean water, and climate action to protect our health and our futures.
Protégete Leadership Development Manager Patricia Ferrero opened the Environmental Training training we hosted with an activity. She asked each participant to find little white, blue, and brown scraps of paper that had been scattered on the floor around the room. Each color represented a different resource: air, water, and earth.
As the participants opened their papers, many found to their dismay that one or more of their resources was contaminated with toxic pollutants. Patricia asked how many people got three clean resources. Of the 35 people gathered, only a few hands went up.
Patricia explained that in reality, those who have the privilege of clean air, water, and earth are more likely to be people who already have power and insider knowledge of how to participate in systems of government. Latino communities in Colorado, on the other hand, face barriers to participation like historical discrimination and language access, and are more likely to live in communities with greater pollution and contamination.
“Environmental justice is manufactured,” Conservation Colorado Communities and Justice Advocate Jared Bynum explained. “The air is not already toxic, the water is not already polluted, the soil is not already contaminated. It’s a choice that industry made to make it that way, and to a large degree for communities of color.” But, he continued, Latino/a Advocacy Day is a chance to fight against these disparities. By telling their stories to legislators, advocates begin to shift power away from industry and to their communities.
“If we don’t share our stories, we allow them to erase us. When I was growing up in LA, I did not have the vocabulary to understand why my environment was making me sick and killing my family. It seemed normal because so many people in my life had the same experiences. When you share your story, you create space for other people to join this movement.”
– Patricia Ferrero, Protégete Leadership Development Manager
On Monday, Latino/a Advocacy Day participants organized into lobby groups according to their legislative district. After discussing their priority issues and practicing their personal stories, they marched east on Colfax Avenue to the Capitol, chanting “El pueblo/unido/nunca será vencido” (“The people/united/will never be defeated”) and “¡Se ve! Se siente ¡El pueblo esta presente!” (“We see! We feel! The people are here!”)
Gathered on the West Steps of the Capitol, Latino/a Advocacy Day activists heard from members of Colorado’s Latino Caucus, including Rep. Sonya Jacquez Lewis, Rep. Mandy Lindsay, Rep. Yadira Caraveo, and Senator Julie Gonzales. They all echoed the message that it is the job of legislators like themselves to listen to community members.
“Latino Advocacy Day is about ensuring that the folks out in community feel safe and feel comfortable holding us in power accountable inside the building. Way way back, in 2009, I was in the crowd. I was an activist. I spent more time outside protesting on these west steps on the Capitol than I spent inside. And now I stand before y’all as the State Senator for the Northwest and downtown part of Denver.”
– Senator Julie Gonzales
Latino/a Advocacy Day participants then went into the Capitol to find their own legislators. In numerous meetings, advocates emphasized the importance of protecting the environment and asked their legislators to support legislation to monitor and reduce toxic air pollution, PFAS contamination, and more.
Promotoras with Cultivando, a grassroots health equity nonprofit based in Adams County, spoke with their representative, House Majority Leader Dominick Moreno. Maria Zubiate told Sen. Moreno why clean air is so important to her, and why we need to pass HB22-1244, Health-Based Regulations of Toxic Air Emissions, to protect community members like herself who are exposed to high amounts of air toxics. Reyna Soria asked Moreno to support legislation that improves water quality in Commerce City, particularly when it comes to poisonous PFAS chemicals.
“Latino Advocacy Day was really amazing because we were all there together. The message was repeated, again and again, that the state Capitol is our house. Those representatives are there for us. And I thought that was really empowering, because we shouldn’t be scared to step foot into the Capitol. These institutions should empower and uplift our communities rather than intimidate them.”
– Yurixhi Toro, 2022 LAD participant from Greeley
After wrapping up another successful Latino/a Advocacy Day, Protégete and Conservation Colorado will continue to work with communities to elevate their own solutions to environmental injustice and other challenges.
Thank you to our partners, our staff who supported this event, and most importantly, everyone who participated! We can’t wait to see you at Latino/a Advocacy Day 2023.
“We have a voice, and the young people are carrying our voice now. 51 years ago, I was in the movimiento chicano. We marched down here with Corky Gonzalez, and here we are again. I always had the dream that my people would become lawyers, doctors, and protestors. And it’s come true.”
– Gloria Martinez, 2022 LAD participant from Colorado Springs