ALEF is the art & culture based environmental campaign of Americas for Conservation + the Arts (501c3) (AFC+A), aiming to strengthen the voice of the Latino community on issues relating to climate change and environmental justice. The annual event showcases celebrities, experts in the arts and sciences, and community and public policy leaders, as they propose solutions to inspire our communities to take an active role in claiming leadership in the browning of the conservation movement.
OUR PRIVATE HISTORY
In 2006 & 2007 I (Irene Vilar, founder of AFC+A) became the Puerto Rican mother of two Latina girls from Colorado. At the same time the reality of climate change was finally making it to mainstream media. Worried sick about their lives and future in ways I had not cared about my own, I grew utterly conscious of the 73% Latinos across my adopted state living in counties that fell below federal air quality safety standards. I also came to understand that the immediate quality of my daughters' lives rested at the tipping point of ecological demise and that the work at hand was not only about improving the air my daughters breathe, the water they drink, the public lands they may have access to or not, but it was also about the moral imperative of every woman to model for our children the ways our voices can be heard.
I grew up in the most polluted region of Puerto Rico and in one of the most environmentally battered areas in the Americas. My coastal town of Barceloneta looked out at the Atlantic Ocean. Yet, set against that pristine view, the largest pharmaceutical industrial complex in the world surrounded the agricultural lands of my hometown and damned the town with polluted water and toxic chemicals: PAH'sm TBT, and POP pesticides such as DDT, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, and plenty more. A mile from my backyard swing, Pfizer leaked out methylene chloride gas, violating - time after time - the Clean Air Act. Right next to Pfizer, Upjohn leaked, right into our aquifers, thousands of gallons each year of waste material containing poisonous carbon tetrachloride. Fourteen industries determined the quality of the air I breathed and the water I drank. I know in my body what deregulation and corporate greed can do to communities. When my girls were born in Colorado I was grateful they were not born in Barceloneta. But that was before I knew all the facts of what shameful decades of deregulation have also done to Colorado and this country of the north. My family is not safe here either.
As a seasoned cultural activist, author, and publisher nursing all the Spanish possible into them, I realized there was not much time left to act. But where to begin? We urgently needed to nurture a powerful Latino environmental movement that would shatter stereotypes that had shaped prejudiced perceptions of Latin Americans and pave the way for my children's generation to lead a sustainable future.
I founded AFC+A in 2010 hoping to build a bold nonprofit that could showcase - through an annual festival of ideas and call to actions - the potential roles of artists, scientists, academics, and committed citizens in facilitating landscapes of sustainability.
As a Latina I believe that diversity is the most important conservation strategy we can pursue and that the richness of our Latino American culture is an asset in the work ahead. Our cultura is grounded in shared values embedded in reverence for mother earth. Twenty thousand plus years of indigenous genes still drive the cultures of the Americas of the South and reverberate for generations in the families migrating to the North. Preservationist and protectionist values resonate in our religions, our social structures, our agricultural practices, and our arts and crafts; especially in our arts.
But when I first launched ALEF in 2012 few brand managers would consider supoorting an event that had the words Latino & Environment in the same sentence and donors were quick to doubt our social capital and the viability of our vision. The common questions were: Where is the market? Where are the Latino environmental leaders? Where is your funding?
The first year of 2013, frustrated, defiant, and almost reckless, I second-mortgaged my home to launch ALEF, leveraged my publishing high-end profile friends to donate their fees, and recruited 65 green Latino leaders to speak. The mission of ALEF, in part, entailed shattering stereotypes of Latinos as they relate to the environment and so the need to create a precedent no matter the odds was a mandate.
We made it happen. But I and the nonprofit were in debt.
As if facing stereotypes and disbelievers was not enough, our 1st ALEF’s adversities were made more acute by the catastrophic September Colorado floods. Many events were cancelled. For us, the floods resulted in the disappearance of two of the sponsorships we had been able to secure despite the odds. This loss was a result from funds being redirected to flood relief. Many advised me to cancel though our programming was in place and we were less than two months from the festival. It was my conviction that there was no better moment to testify to resilience and Latino leadership than in the context of such adversity. And so here we are today launching our 4th edition, continuing to give testimonio to the umbilical cord that so tightly connects us to our cultures of origin and to each other, across cultures and historical divides.
Sí Se Puede!
Founder AFC+A & ALEF
To promote environmental awareness and create a platform for dialogue and mobilization for a just society to ensure that everyone has access to a healthy environment.