Wednesday, April 1, 2009

“Living is for Everyone” is Giovanna Di Chiro’s account of her research trip along the US-Mexico border to explore the social and environmental impacts of NAFTA, its neoliberal policies and the subsequent transnational community responses. On her journey, Chiro follows activist transnational community activist Theresa Leal who regularly travels from Nogales, Arizona to Nogales, Sonora studying the relationship between the industrial pollution and deteriorating health of people in the surrounding community.
As part of an economic development strategy in the mid 1960s, Nogales, Sonora was transformed to house a hundred maquiladoras. In these factories, commodities such as cell phones and clothing are produced by the women who are in constant contact with hazardous materials and toxic waste, inside and outside of the facilities. The toxic waste contaminates the Santa Cruz River, a watershed that extends from Nogales, Sonora to Phoenix, Arizona. This has a cross-national effect on the health of people who live in the areas surrounding the river and experience the same ecological health defects. These problems are transferred as the south to north flow carries pollutants into the homes and bodies of Arizona residents. Theresa Leal has worked hard to form a working coalition composed of local residents and various environmental organizations against the actions of the corporations at fault to hold them accountable and responsible for change. She educates local residents about the environmental and health impacts of maquilarodas and engages in binational health studies that blend science with local observation.

In the 1990s Theresa and her team joined forces with Living is for Everyone (LIFE), a binational community-based organization founded by latino residents of Nogales, Arizona who, after experiencing wide-spread disease, launched health studies that convinced them the pollution coming from Nogales, Sonora was the source of their sickness. These studies received national media attention and Theresa agrees that both governments began to pay more attention to the rising health and environmental problems, but that is where it stops. They are aware of the consequences, but NAFTA provides no protections or provisions for environmental clean-up. And so their fight continues, building cross-border community alliances and using an extroverted sense of place to connect the local to the global, hoping that one day their persistence will overpower the most powerful.

It is not an easy fight as environmental management and regulation officials are merely illusionary protectors. It is not about shutting down the factories, Theresa says, because they will just relocate and do the same thing to another community and their people will be left without jobs. That is why the coalition seeks to build nontraditional partnerships between the community and corporations to discover environmentally friendly alternatives. It is not enough to simply accept the hazards of industry as ‘part of the job’, the technology for sustainable solutions exists but is denied because efficiency does not profit unless it is in the case of the production process and not the actual profit. Their motives are shaped by their connection to the community and their ‘global sense of place’. The land, the water and air is theirs and it is being destroyed at the cost of the health of their children and their families. They have the right to be protected and not exploited.


  1. This article covers a very important issue with environmental politics. If people raise too much trouble about a company's effects on the environment and community, the company may decide it is easier or cheaper to just close down and move to a different city. When there, they would return to their same harmful practices and people would still get sick, and people at the previous site would be out of jobs.
    It is important to convince the companies that it is worth it to be more environmentally friendly, either through incentives or adverse responses if they do not. It is necessary to convince them that it is in their own best interests to run the company in a less harmful way.

  2. What struck me most about this article was its focus on previous successes while simultaneously presenting current problems. Presenting the problems in this manner makes solving them seem like a more attainable goal. Rather than a sob story, it is an "ethnography of hope" (p. 4), as the author puts it. In particular, I was struck by the activism to remove the land fill near the elementary school. The movement involved not only environmentalists, but everyday people--students, parents, teachers. Their strategies, such as washing the mayor's steps with the contaminated water and physically blocking the dump trucks on their way to the land fill, were ingenious, and even more importantly, effective. In addition, the activists came from both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Quite amazing.

    On the flip side, it was discouraging that officials often avoided culpability by blaming "genes or lifestyle or God or fate" (p. 13) and ignoring the evidence presented to them, such as the data Teresa Leal collected at San Antonio Spring. Yet another example of people in power choosing to ignore evidence that goes against their agenda.

  3. One thing I thought was important and needed more attention in the other responses was that the author mentions that many different environmental groups need to come together to fight environmental injustices. She says we need to “come out of our little trenches" and "join forces with other environmentalist groups, with the turtle people, the whale people, with the monks from Tibet, with the Raging Grannies.” It really made me think of all that could be accomplished by working together. We all have common goals. Everyone wants clean air to breathe, water to drink, and a safe place to live. Just like we talked about at the beginning of class, everyone is an environmentalist if they care about these issues. I was also amazed at how Teresa Leal, was able to bring everyone together to fight these injustices.