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El Centro activists hold third Environmental Health Leadership Summit

May 23, 2010|By ROMAN FLORES, Staff Writer
  • ROMAN FLORES PHOTO El Centro resident Erica Vargas (left) and other displaced residents of the Imperial Valley speak to those gathered for the Environmental Health Leadership Summit in El Centro on Saturday.
ROMAN FLORES PHOTO
El Centro resident Erica Vargas (left) and other displaced residents of the Imperial Valley speak to those gathered for the Environmental Health Leadership Summit in El Centro on Saturday.

Close to 200 people convened at the Old Eucalyptus Schoolhouse in El Centro for the third annual Environmental Health Leadership Summit on Saturday.

Local dignitaries as well as state government and California Environmental Protection Agency representatives came from Sacramento, Los Angeles, the Central Valley and San Diego to “address important environmental health concerns in local rural communities,” according to the event’s Web site. The event featured various speakers, most of whom touched on the three main topics — local air quality, water quality and disaster preparedness — while promoting action and leadership among locals.

“Our goal is not just to raise problems. We want to propose solutions because we know it is possible to end the suffering,” Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez, research director of the National Latino Research Center, said.

“There are a lot of environmental impacts that no one knows outside of this committee,” she said. “No one addresses the human impact.”

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The part of the human impact and suffering she was referring to is the disenfranchised in the Imperial Valley, particularly the residents displaced by the magnitude-7.2 earthquake of April 4. Their suffering and need for representation was finally heard as a small group voiced their anguish.

“We have been told to be patient and we have been disrespected,” El Centro resident Erica Vargas said of the treatment of displaced residents by city and county officials.

“A lot of people have looked at us and said (to deal with it ourselves through work). They don’t seem to understand that we are already stretched to our limit from the extra expenses from the earthquake,” Vargas said, stating that the only local help available is in the form of a loan with 30 percent interest from the city of El Centro.

Another speaker, Jane Williams of the California Committee Against Toxins, touched on the need for social change by highlighting various examples she has witnessed as the CCAT executive director.

“The outcome of these stories,” she said, “is that when people take a stand they have an amazing power to get other people to stand with them. The ability to have clean air in the Imperial Valley — it can exist; it will.”

Other calls to activist action for social change rang on throughout the summit.

“The purpose of this event is we will no longer stand on the sidelines,” Luis Olmedo of the local Comite Civico Del Valle Inc. said. “We will be part of the process for the future of Imperial County.”

Williams agreed with Olmedo’s statement but also stressed the importance of recruiting help and having fun in the process.

“Find a way to create family, a network,” she said. “And have fun with it because that’s how you’ll sustain it and that’s how social change will happen.”

>> Staff Writer Roman Flores can be reached at 760-337-3439 or rflores@ivpressonline.com

ROMAN FLORES PHOTO
El Centro resident Erica Vargas (left) and other displaced residents of the Imperial Valley speak to those gathered for the Environmental Health Leadership Summit in El Centro on Saturday.
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