Michigan sustainability case: a tale of two (polluted) cities

Source: School for Environment and Sustainability

Dolores Migdalia Perales (MS/MURP ’22)

While graduate students at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), dual-degree classmates Cecilia Garibay (MS/MPP ’22) and Dolores Migdalia Perales (MS/MURP ’22) teamed up to develop the Michigan sustainability case, “A tale of two (polluted) cities: Latinx communities and their allies face air pollution in Southwest Detroit and Southwest Los Angeles.” 

Garibay, a first-generation Latina from California, and Perales, a Latina and vocal advocate for low-income communities in Detroit, researched the contrasts—and commonalities—of these distinct communities through an environmental justice (EJ) lens. Their case, which focuses on air quality, asks how EJ issues affect different communities in different ways, and how Latinx members voice their concerns. Critically, the case asks how those concerns may feed into advocacy and real action.

“Working on this case honestly made me realize how much air quality is affecting Detroit residents—particularly minority residents such as Latinxs and African-Americans that live within the southwest side of the city,” wrote Perales. “We’re definitely affected disproportionately compared to our counterparts. So, in researching this case, it was interesting to see what is going on, what can be done, and what are the potential things that we as residents and allies can do to mitigate these issues, not only within Detroit, but as in Cecilia’s case, Southwest Los Angeles.”

Garibay, who grew up in San Diego, emphasized the social activism of LA’s Latinx population—and the scope of environmental conditions that impact their communities.

“Fighting for civil rights has historically been ingrained in the history of Los Angeles,” wrote Garibay. “Ranked as the worst region for ozone pollution by the American Lung Association, the industrious city contains ports and highways as well as oil and natural gas development institutions that contribute to the poor air quality. The population most vulnerable to the health impacts of air quality are the local communities composed mainly of people from the global majority.”

Also contributing to the case was Kiana Lindsay (MS ’21), who shared her perspective as an ally. In her piece, “Allyship and Activism: What Can You Do?,” she suggested steps that anyone can take towards becoming an ally to Latinx communities and other marginalized groups.

SEAS Professor Rebecca Hardin, who teaches in the EJ specialization and is now the faculty director of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI), is the director of the Michigan Sustainability Cases. In that role, she oversees the open-access platform, learngala.com, where students, faculty and professionals from around the world can collaborate on creating and using multimedia cases about sustainability science.

Hardin hosted a video webinar discussion with Garibay and Perales about their work on “A Tale of Two (Polluted) Cities.” They were joined by EJ advocate and leader Theresa Landrum of Detroit, who spoke about her experiences as a lifelong resident in the neighborhood—known by its 48217 ZIP code—as the most polluted area in the state of Michigan.

“I would not have been attending to air quality in my teaching without the leadership of Alejandro Colsa Perez (MS ’14), a previous Fulbright student from Spain who came here to learn about U.S. grassroots environmental justice movements and who is now heading air quality work for the City of London under Mayor Sadiq Khan,” said Hardin. “Wayne State graduate Theresa’s work with Dolores (and Cecilia and Kiana) reveals the expanding possibilities for ways we need to work together to acknowledge and address these disparities. This open-access case study enables different cohorts of SEAS graduates and their community partners to teach and work not only across a pair of U.S. cities, or even our country, but around our world.”

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