Mexican-American Parents Using Critical Literacy to Address Climate Change

Mexican-American Parents Using Critical Literacy to Address Climate Change

Rosa RiVera Furumoto (California State University – Northridge, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3943-8.ch010
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This chapter is an in-depth examination of a critical literacy project implemented by immigrant Mexican-American parent leaders that employed culturally relevant Latina/o and Native American children's literature to create dialogue and promote social action focused on environmental concerns. The Good Heart Chicana/o and Native Science after-school enrichment project was held weekly in elementary schools in the San Fernando Valley. Critical pedagogy served as the conceptual framework and informed the critical literacy strategies. Creative dialogue questions based on the children's literature promoted social action among children and families. Hands-on activities deepened the families' connection to environmental science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (E-STEAM) content and careers. Children's interest in science and nature increased. Parent leaders grew in their leadership and ability to address environmental issues in communities.
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Essential Questions

  • What were the key processes that Parent Pioneers/Padres Pioneros parent leaders employed to address environmental concerns in their school community?

  • How did these processes relate to the mission of educating children for the future?

  • What is our individual and collective role and responsibility in regards to the environment?

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. -Frederick Douglass



Es bien importante que la comunidad sepa lo que esta pasando sobre el medio ambiente, que la comunidad tome conciencia verdad. (It is very important that the community knows what is happening with the environment, that the community becomes conscious.)

Esperanza (pseudonym), a grandparent, was naming a concern that was on her mind and that of many other people about the environment. The exact translation of “tome conciencia” is much more active than its English translation, as the literal translation is “to take consciousness.” It suggests the person as actor in the world taking responsibility for acquiring social awareness about the environment. This suggests a radical notion of people as actors in the world and as makers of history. This fundamental concern to understand what is happening to the environment and to become socially conscious is, I assert, part of our humanity and our social responsibility as inhabitants of planet earth. Part of the process of “concientización” (becoming socially conscious) is the choice of how to act on what we have learned. This chapter serves then as a documentation of the parent leaders’ process of awakening and taking action to address climate change and environmental issues in their communities.

This narrative shares the process, struggles, hope, and spirit of Mexican American immigrant mothers and grandmothers as they worked together to use culturally relevant children’s literature to educate, inspire, and promote social action among 3-5th grade children and their families to address climate change and environmental issues in their communities. The Good Heart Chicana/o and Native Science Project was funded in part by the California Teachers Association (CTA) union to serve elementary students and their families at local public school sites. Whereas the project focus was on education and parent participation, it is important to note that the project schools’ location and conditions reflected serious environmental issues.

Two of the local schools we worked with were located in school communities with very high CalEnviroScreen 2.0 scores with a pollution burden index of 91-95% meaning that 91-95% of the rest of California’s population had less of a pollution burden. These scores identified high levels of ozone, diesel, drinking water and ground water pollution; clean up sites, and hazardous waste sites as part of the pollution burden. One of the schools had water that was not drinkable. The people including the children in these two school communities suffer from higher levels of asthma and other lung diseases, as well as autoimmune diseases, and cancer due to the pollution in their school community. These children also happen to be 95% Latina/o and low-income. The conditions in these school communities are an example of environmental racism-meaning that people are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues based on their social class, race, nationality, or where they live.

In addition to this, poor communities of color may be the least able to respond effectively to climate change and may be disproportionately impacted due to lack of resources and lack of adequate response by government agencies. A community’s ability to respond to shifting climate conditions and events while continuing to function effectively is called “climate resilience” (Henstra, 2012). Consider Hurricane Katrina and the mostly African American and poor people who were not able to evacuate and left trapped in very difficult conditions due to government neglect and inaction (Bullard & Wright, 2009; Dyson 2007; Pastor, Bullard, Boyce, et al, 2006).

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