10 Latin American Environmental Activists
Other than César Chávez, it’s not common to learn much about another Latin American activist in school. Who is the César Chávez of Puerto Rico? Or the Martin Luther King of Mexico?
The inspiring Latinx you’re about to meet prove what a huge difference you can make no matter where you’re from. Young Latin American activists are getting more and more involved so that Latin America can evolve in the present and future. Whether you’re into the environment or not, this is a topic that affects us all.
Read this article to learn about the most influential Latin American activists, from human rights activists to civil rights defenders. Get inspired to not only expand your Spanish skills but also learn about people who’ve made an impact in Latin America.
10 Inspiring Latin American Environmental Activists
Some of these Latin American activists you might have heard of while other names might be brand new to you. Each one of them is making an impact; read on to learn how.
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1. Xiye Bastida
Xiye Bastida is a Latin American activist from Mexico. She has an indigenous background, and her mission is to increase diversity in the climate activism community.
She works for the People’s Climate Movement and co-founded the Re-Earth Initiative. In 2018, Xiye spoke to the United Nations World Urban Forum.
Quotes: “Earth is our home, it gives you air, water and shelter. Everything we need. All it asks is that we protect it.”
“Wherever you are, the climate crisis is affecting everyone, everywhere; I felt like I needed to do something.”
2. Yessenia Funes
Yessenia Funes is a Salvadoran-American journalist who covers the intersection of the climate crisis and race. When she wrote for Earther, she covered important topics such as Colorlines for those fighting climate crises. Recently, she has focused on protecting natural reserves and the ocean.
Funes is a talented communicator who seeks justice. It’s essential to follow and learn from journalists such as Funes who educate people through their work.
Quote: “There’s also an inherent racism in the things that drive climate change, like greenhouse gas emissions that come from these power plants—these pollutants that are detrimental to human health, and the people who are most likely to live near these power plants—people of color, poor people—this is something that research has shown and so we’re seeing these communities face this injustice.”
3. Bertha Zúñiga
Bertha Zuñiga is a Latin American environmental activist who advocates for indigenous rights in Honduras. She is the daughter of award-winning environmentalist Berta Cáceres. Berta was tragically assassinated for her activism but her mission lives on in Bertha.
Zuñiga is now the leader of an organization in Honduras fighting for civil rights and indigenous equality. They’re working hard to defend the culture, health, educational, and environmental rights of the Lenca people. Bertha’s organization COPINH has stopped 50+ logging projects and hydroelectric dams.
Quote: “If I could tell my mother anything now, it would be, ‘Don’t worry: your fight lives on in me, in my brothers and sisters, and in our community.’”
4. Rodrigo Tot
Rodrigo Tot is an indigenous activist in Guatemala who has led his Mayan Q’eqchi community to fight for their land and obtain land titles so that they’re not driven out of their home.
At age 19, he followed a community of Mayas to help and protect them. In the departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal, he helped legalize locals’ rights to their land and take back what belongs to them.
Tot played an essential role in supporting the indigenous communities including legal support and the involvement of a human rights organization in Guatemala so that they could see results. They had a legal victory in 2012, but two of Tot’s sons were subsequently shot.
The government has to enforce the court’s ruling and land ownership continues to be a major problem in Guatemala. Tot has helped immensely in making a change in a country where it’s very challenging.
Quote: “Seeing that there was no work here, nowhere to sow crops, people had to look for where to plant, on national lands.”
5. Máxima Acuña de Chaupe
Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is a Latin American activist who joined the world of environmentalism by chance. Acuña stood against the Peruvian government that was looking to mine two lakes for copper and gold and to drain two more lakes to use as dumps.
Máxima experienced death threats, intimidation, court proceedings, and alleged beatings for doing this, but she refused to sell her plot of land so that the government could do what it wanted with the land.
In spite of all the challenges Máxima faced, she refused to give up on her land even when corporations sued her and tried to kick her out. She was sentenced to prison, but Acuña was eventually able to prove that the land they wanted did in fact belong to her family.
Quote: “I will never give up my land.”
6. Carlos Russell
Dr. Carlos Russell was an Afro-Latino activist from Panama who saw beyond language and borders. His mission was to empower Africans in the Americas and to protest against the intense repression that black people have to face in America. Thanks to Dr. Russell, the first Black Solidarity Day was held in the 60s.
As a writer, scholar, ambassador, poet, and activist, Carlos focused his work in Panama and in the U.S on equality. He was also one of the first reporters to interview Malcolm X. Carlos Russell was a visionary who pushed equality forward for African Americans in Panama and other countries.
Quote: “It has been my honor and privilege to have known Dr. Carlos E. Russell as a personal friend for over 30 years. Dr. Russell is a brilliant, noble and brave scholar committed to the love of Black people and expresses this love in every aspect of his life. He is bold, dynamic and inspiring. His creation of Black Solidarity Day represents a source of pride for the vast number of Black people. We love you Dr. Russell and thank God for all you have done to enrich our lives as people of African Ancestry.” -Cliff Frazier, President, International Communications Association, Dwyer Center; Executive Director, NY Metropolitan Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolence; and Co-Founder of the Harriett Tubman Charter School.
7. Elizabeth Yeampierre
Elizabeth Yeampierre is a Latin American activist from Puerto Rico. She is a climate leader and a co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance. She’s also the Executive Director of UPROSE, a Latin American that promotes climate change and sustainability. She’s a member of the Sustainability Advisory Board.
Elizabeth is a national leader in the climate justice movement with a vision for multicultural, intergenerational, and community-led organizations. She’s a force of nature who has helped in sustainable development and climate change issues across the United States. She’s a lawyer with an unstoppable mission.
Quotes: “Literally, people are going to have to get used to the idea that we’re going to have to learn to live with what we need and not with what we want.”
“The truth is that learning happens across the table, and power is built across the table from each other.”
8. Francia Márquez
Francia Marquez is an Afro-Colombian activist looking to help the environment. She was the 2018 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. She seeks to improve the intersection of environmental activist and human rights. She’s passionate about her mission because, as an Afro-Colombian, she’s confronted injustice.
She has also held campaigns against miners looking for gold illegally and disrespecting the locals. When they refused to cease operations, Márquez organized a march from the Cauca Mountains to Bogota to make them stop. She protested for 20 days and, thanks to her efforts, officials agreed to stop illegal mining.
Quote: “I went to Cuba myself as a fifth delegation of victims even though I do not consider myself a victim. I am a political activist who has been victimized which I think is different than being an actual victim.”
9. Bianca Jagger
Bianca is a Latin American activist from Nicaragua. She is a lifelong human rights advocate who believes in her mission. Bianca was raised by a struggling single mom and this was a major part of why she wanted to help the less privileged and those who are taken advantage of.
She studied at the Paris Institute of Political Studies with a scholarship and became an intersectional activist. She has opposed US interventions in Central America to protect the locals, championed women’s rights, and proposed abolishing the death penalty around the world.
Quotes: “I am not just a celebrity, I’m a human-rights advocate for the last 20 years.”
“In Nicaragua, liberty, equality and the rule of law were the stuff of dreams. But in Paris I discovered the value of those words.”
10. Samarys Seguinot-Medina
Samarys Seguinot-Medina is a Latin American activist who has implemented the environmental health program for the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT). Samarys is from Puerto Rico and founded the Sierra Club to bring awareness about the environment to the community.
She has planned and implemented ACAT’s community-based field research institutes and works as a researcher in collaboration with the local communities in St. Lawrence Island. Seguinot-Medina is a world traveler who continues to further her education on climate change and the environment.
Quote: “My mom comes from a very humble community of my town, with many communities of color and people living in poverty.”
Who Inspires You to Speak Spanish?
Each of these powerful environmentalists contributes to society in impactful ways. Having role models to look up is an ideal way to explore what we’re passionate about. Do you dream of becoming bilingual? Learning Spanish is a unique way to enhance your life. It has many proven benefits that will further your career. Learning Spanish isn’t just fascinating—it also improves your resume greatly.
Environmental change is something that affects all of us. Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy to practice your Spanish skills and discuss fascinating topics including the environment. Check out our programs, prices, and testimonials to find out more.
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