Tampa Bay Hispanics and Latin Americans are 'finally' being heard in a recent climate change study
“The government hasn’t done anything to protect Tampa’s water sources,” said a Chispa Florida study participant from Tampa.
Hispanics and Latin Americans in Florida were surveyed in 2021 to determine their attitudes about environmental issues that are affecting their communities.
Members of Chispa Florida, a community organizing program, surveyed more than 1,000 Floridians who identified as Hispanic or Latin American.
They also held focus groups, including one at Tampa's Braulio Alonso High School in August, where about 60 students between the ages of 17 and 18 participated.
Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri, Chispa Florida’s regional community organizer in the Tampa Bay area, said the main concern among the teenagers was global warming and sea level rise.
"They understand that they're going to have to live in that reality, and they don't see the adults doing anything about it either because they're too busy with work, or the day-to-day, the rat race. So, that's where that frustration and despair is coming from," he said.
But Gonzalez-Mulattieri said the teens’ whole mentality shifted when he explained their role in a democracy.
“The only way that we can move these policies forward is if you participate in the democratic process. That doesn't mean just showing up to vote every four years or two years,” he said. “That means going to the to the city council meetings, going to the school board meetings and demanding sustainable policies.”
Brianna Gonzalez, 18, is student at Hillsborough Community College, majoring in biology on a pre-med track. She filled out the Chispa Florida survey, and is also mainly concerned about rising seas because she moved to Florida from the island of Puerto Rico when she was 11 years old.
“It's scary to think that certain parts of where you live can be an underwater,” she said. “The lack of urgency that a lot of people feel is just extremely concerning for me, especially around hurricane season there's floods and all of that,” she said. “I'm no stranger to hurricanes, that's for sure.”
Gonzalez said the opinions of Hispanics and Latin Americans were “finally” being heard through this study.
Related: Political climate, housing costs outpace environmental concerns among Hispanics, study says
“I think that there are a lot of people, not just Latinos, but I like in my personal experience within the Latino community, that tend to almost ignore the bigger issue and not see it as urgently,” she said. “For example, when Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, basically, a lot of people kind of woke up.”
During another summer focus group in Tampa, Maria Elena Villar, a research consultant for this project, learned that some who were immigrants had a different perspective on the issues. She said some respondents felt that people in the United States take clean water for granted.
“They don't know what it's like to be in a place where suddenly the water doesn't come or the water isn't drinkable. And that's something that they really worry about… and that a lot of people don't seem to be aware of," she said.
Villar quoted one person in Tampa who said, “The government hasn’t done anything to protect Tampa’s water sources.”
The project slideshow presented key findings from the study:
"Although most participants (93%) identified as environmentally conscious, the polarized political climate and economic threats (jobs, wages, housing costs) were identified as pressing issues above environmental issues."
Also, "participants are concerned about all potential impacts of climate change, and identified diseases and epidemics as well as loss of wildlife as their primary concerns, closely followed by pollution, mega-hurricanes, and flooding."
Maria Revelles, director of Chispa Florida, said they plan to use their collection of first-hand accounts by identifying the kind of language that Hispanics and Latin Americans are going to use.
She questioned: “How do they perceive climate change? How do they perceive climate justice? Do they even use those terms, or are they foreign to them?”
Another way to utilize this information, Revelles said, is as a roadmap if they meet with county commissioners, city councilors, or school board members. And for future legislative priorities.
“I'm not talking about what I think, about perception or my opinion. Now, I have 1,000 conversations to prove it,” she said.