From the Fields to Congress: Latinos Are Environmental Champions

As we celebrate Cesar Chavez Day on March 31st, it's important to honor the legacy of this farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who lived by the mantra of ¡Si Se Puede!

Many of the gains made by the farmworker movement, particularly those aimed at protecting our health, were steadily attacked in the U.S. Congress last year. But a recent analysis by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) shows that the vast majority of the Latino members of Congress are standing up for our communities' health and future.

For more than 30 years Chavez devoted himself to building the voice and power of some of the most exploited workers in this nation's history. Through his passion, determination and non-violent efforts, he and the farmworker movement were able to improve the health and working conditions of farmworkers across Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and other states.

The farmworker movement is often thought of in terms of organizing for workers rights; in fact, many of the rights fought and won were directly related to the health of not only the workers and their families, but also of our food supply, air and water. Their organized efforts resulted in access to clean drinking water on the job, protections against pesticide exposure, prohibitions on pesticide spraying while workers are in the fields, and outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides.

Unfortunately, the struggle for the health and dignity of Latino farmworkers and their families did not end with the farmworkers victories. Attacks on water pollution limits, weaker protections from pesticides, and assaults on restrictions on air pollution dominated Congressional debates in recent years.

Every year since 1970, LCV has produced a National Environmental Scorecard that provides detailed information about the votes by senators and representatives on the most important environmental legislation. Last month, LCV released its 2014 Scorecard in English and Spanish, as well as an analysis of how the Latino members of Congress scored.
• Nineteen of 25 Latino Democrats scored 80% or better.
• Eight of 10 Latino Republicans scored less than 5%.
• The average score of Latino Democrats is 83%.
• The average score of Latino Republicans is 3%.

Among the top Latino scorers in 2014 were Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, each with a 97 percent voting record. The high score among Republican Latino members of Congress was Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state with 11 percent. Four members received 0%, including Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey, as well as Texas Representative Bill Flores.

This nation has a strong tradition of Latino leaders being environmental champions and the Latino Democrats in Congress reflected that tradition in 2014. However, the partisan divide between Latino members of Congress is stark and reflects an enormous disconnect between Republicans members of Congress and the Latino community overall.

Poll after poll, spanning decades, have shown that Latinos, regardless of party affiliation, are some of the strongest environmental advocates in the U.S. A 2014 study conducted by Latino Decisions for NRDC showed that 9 in 10 Latinos want the government to take action against the dangers of climate change. Of those, 68 percent of Republican Latinos say that it is important--including 46 percent of Republicans who say it is very or extremely important--for our government to tackle climate change.

As Cesar Chavez and farmworkers' decades of struggle shows, change doesn't happen overnight. The forces against us are the dirty polluting industries that profit from the contamination of our communities. Strong Congressional champions and every day families, from Albuquerque to Denver to Phoenix to Baltimore, are standing up for our health and future. As Cesar Chavez would say: ¡Si Se Puede!

You can get more information about environmental and public health issues impacting Latino communities by visiting