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Paulina López moved to Seattle from Ecuador, where she was involved in community organizing with indigenous people on issues such as health and education. She is the mother of three boys in elementary school and has contributed her time for a decade as the volunteer president for South Park Information Resource Center, a grassroots community organization that supports the civic engagement of recent immigrants, with special focus on women. She is passionate about advocating for underrepresented communities, and has been concerned with environmental justice issues uniquely affecting South Park’s recent immigrant communities, such as the clean-up of the Duwamish River.
Paulina was interviewed by Dionne Foster, who was a Policy Analyst at Puget Sound Sage at the time of the interview (and now works for the city of Seattle), 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.
PAULINE LOPEZ: A long time ago, when I moved here to South Park, I realized the need we had to get people more involved in civic engagement, civic process – just people more involved in how to build a community.
Big decisions were being (made) and the neighbors were not being part of the decisions. For example, in 2005 there was a big document that the city was writing on how to make South Park a better community, and the participation from Latinos was zero. So I started to wonder, “Why are the voices of the main population that exists in South Park not at the table?” … and that’s how the South Park Information Resource Center came up.
Unfortunately the environment is very poor … I love my neighborhood, I love South Park, but it does make you wonder if you’re doing the right thing by having your little ones here.
One of the things that struck me once – I was talking to a teenager, and we were explaining about the asthma rates being so high in South Park, and she was saying, “You know I always grew up with asthma but I thought it was a normal thing because all my classmates in school have it.” And I thought, “What?!” It can be so big that they think it’s a normal part of life to have asthma.
South Park has a lot of needs, but I always concentrate on the assets. We have a very strong community of advocates … We have a very large immigrant and refugee population here … The Vietnamese population is closer to the highway so they were very concerned about emissions from the trucks. They have been very active on what can we do to improve. They’ve been giving us ideas. So I think it’s been important to hear from everyone.
Sometimes words like “environmental justice” doesn’t really read to them until you explain: “health” for you. “Oh, health, yes, health, I’m very worried about the health of my kids.” So I hope whatever we can do together will benefit the grassroots level of our community in ways that will be meaningful to them.
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