"The call themselves promotoras, and they’re starting to see results."
"One warm spring day a year ago, Griselda Barrera, a Mexican-born mother of three, went to a middle school auditorium in Thermal, California, an unincorporated community in the desert east of Los Angeles, to square off against a panel of regulators. Barrera, who is just 5 feet tall, wore a black pencil skirt and platform pumps, the kind of shoes she favors now that she no longer works in the fields. She was flanked by mothers like herself, there to give public comment to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
At issue was persistent air pollution. Since 2010, the agency had responded to over 215 complaints about unpleasant odors in the nearby community of Mecca — smells that at times were so sickening that teachers and students called paramedics. Barrera waited patiently, microphone in hand, as regulators laid out their plans to help the school districts replace their old diesel school buses and install air filtration systems in the classrooms. When her turn came, she addressed the panel confidently in Spanish through an interpreter.
'There are so many needs in this community, it’s hard to know where to even begin,' she said. 'Kids out here have to play on the street because there aren’t enough playgrounds. We have working-class families paying as much as $650 a month for water, gas and garbage pickup because we have no municipal services.' Instead of investing in cleaner school buses, said Barrera, the county and state regulators should be doing more for local communities right where they live, too."