Environmental Issues in Latinx Studies

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2022


Introduction: To expand the lens of what is considered an environmental issue in Latinx studies, this overview includes a hemispheric approach even if the focus remains on US Latinx populations, primarily because Latinx and Indigenous peoples across the Americas draw on centuries of knowledge tied to caretaking of the land and that environmental ethic continues to be evidenced in many ways. We can measure high Latinx participation in mainstream environmentalism, look to the many grassroots movements that respond to local, national, and transnational environmental justice concerns, and recognize how Latinxs have redefined the very ideas of “nature” and what counts as an environmental issue. We also read across disciplines, including ecocritical scholarship that shows how writers contribute to the development of a sense of place and connect readers to an environmental ethic; research on politics and policymaking reveals both the negative impacts of environmental and economic policies on Latinx groups as well as the consistently pro-environmental attitudes Latinxs demonstrate in surveys. Revisionist and recuperative histories bring our attention to activists and actions that broaden our awareness of what counts as an environmental issue, such as the reckoning the Alianza Federal de Mercedes brought in the 1960s for the restoration of land grants in New Mexico. Gender studies approaches show that women are leading environmental movements in Latinx communities (as they do around the world). We see that, for many Latinxs, displacement and place-making play a large role in mediating relationships with nature—this is evident as much through literary analysis as it is through critical geography studies. Finally, we look at the topic of environmental justice, which is large enough that we pulled themes such as food justice and green space access out for development in their own sections while attending to different notions of environmental justice and the different kinds of environmental harms experienced by activists and environmental defenders in the United States and throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. In the United States, Latinx environmental activism was highly visible in the 1960s when the United Farm Workers campaigns gained national prominence; however, a land-based and environmental ethic among people of Mexican descent is evident much earlier than even the 19th century when Mexican territory was ceded to the United States. While much has been written about Mexican Americans’ relationships to the environment, emerging research seeks to uncover environmental attitudes and issues that impact other Latinx groups. Puerto Ricans, for example, are the second-largest Latinx group in the United States, and Puerto Ricans on the island developed a robust environmental movement though anti-colonial mobilizations in the 1960s. Further, recent migrants to the US mainland bring an awareness of the impacts of neoliberal globalization, extraction economies, and development driven environmental degradation that is especially acute, from hurricanes that displace people from their homes in the Caribbean to droughts, floods, and rising sea levels that impact Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and other countries across Latin America. For many, those very issues, including increased violence as a result of environmental and economic conflicts, drove their migration. This work serves as a starting point for researchers interested in environmental issues in Latinx studies, and more comparative research on environmental issues across the hemisphere remains to be done.