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

Share Juan and Yudith’s conversation and support the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign.

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


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.

Young Artists Imagine a World with Zero Pollution

Summer is a time for children to enjoy the freedom of playing outside, but some communities in our country are so overburdened by air pollution that it’s healthier to stay indoors. There are communities near our ports and highways where the rates of asthma, cancer and heart disease are soaring. This is the case in the Imperial Valley in Southern California, where one in five children has asthma and Onyx Bazulto keeps her young daughter inside to protect her from the exhaust spewing from the line of diesel trucks idling outside her window.


Young people who’ve grown up in these conditions are engaging in a campaign calling for an end to the toxic diesel pollution poisoning their communities. This summer they’ve launched a multi-media art contest that asks children to imagine a world without pollution.


youth multi media contest

Yudith Nieto, one of the organizers of the contest, grew up with asthma in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, which is surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of polluting industries. Addressing the environmental issues impacting her community soon led her to engage with national organizations, including the Moving Forward Network and its Zero Emissions Now campaign. She explains, “It’s important for youth to be part of the zero emissions campaign because they are the ones who will inherit a future with deregulated extractive industries, unjust policies, toxic pollution, and the legacy of disproportionate health impacts.”


Dr. Bruce Strouble has been working with Yudith and other young leaders from across the country to find ways to engage their generation in the fight for clean air. He sees the art contest as a way to invite children in his Tallahassee community to think deeply about the reality they are living with and imagine alternatives: “The children are the future. If we are ever going to have a world with zero pollution, it is going to be youth that will make it happen.”


Artwork can be submitted until August 31st. All participants must email their art submissions to Along with the submission, participants must provide their name, age, and city of residence.