The next generation of environmental justice leadership: Juan Parras talks with Yudith Nieto

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Yudith Neito was born in Mexico and grew up in Manchester, an east Houston neighborhood surrounded by oil refineries and other heavy industry. She first became involved with environmental justice organizing when she attended public meetings to translate for her grandmother. She learned about environmental causes for the asthma, heart disease and other ailments that plagued her family and community. The more she learned, the more deeply committed she became to improving the quality of life in Manchester and addressing the larger systemic problems at the root of her community’s suffering.

Yudith was interviewed by her mentor and friend Juan Parras, Director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, about what motivated her activism and what hopes she has for the future. Here are excerpts from their conversation, which you can hear on StoryCorps.me.

 

YUDITH NIETO: We first got here in 1995 or ’96. We emigrated from Mexico. So Manchester is one of the cheapest places in Houston to settle, to live, actually for newcomers or immigrants or low-income people.

 

The best of my community is that it’s a very tight-knit community. I grew up with a lot of my friends, and a lot of their families still live there. We are very connected in the sense that my whole family is there. The worst part of it, of course, is all the pollution that surrounds it. We’re surrounded on all sides — from petroleum refineries to metal-crushing facilities, to water treatment plants. So that’s the worst of it. We get a lot of the contamination and the pollution in our air, and even our soil, our water is polluted. So the worst is also being pushed to the margins, where a lot of political people do not come in to do anything or talk about the issues in our communities.

 

In our community people get used to certain things. They often say that you get used to the smells. But that apathy that I was confronted with sometimes, when I asked questions, sort of inspired me to do something about it.

 

One of the big things we’re working on right now is the Zero Emissions campaign, where we’re talking about eliminating emissions from certain facilities and adopting zero emission technology to help communities deal with the pollution and take a step into a better way of making energy. So that’s one of the things that our communities are a part of right now. I’m actively working on getting more people involved – more young people. So that we can have a strong, youth-based organization that can lead the way in finding better solutions.

PLEASE JOIN Juan Parras and Yudith Nieto in the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign to reduce diesel emissions in our communities. Share their conversation and show your support.

LEARN MORE about the work Juan Parras and Yudith Nieto are doing to improve the quality of life in Houston by following T.E.J.A.S.

LISTEN to other conversations in our StoryCorps project, with people who are fighting for #ZeroEmissionsNow in their communities across the United States.