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In 2004 & 2006 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 on 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 Latino Americans and pave the way for my children's generation to lead a sustainable future.

I founded AFC+A in 2008 hoping to build a bold nonprofit that could showcase 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.

Sí Se Puede!

Irene Vilar

Founder AFC+A & ALEF

Guggenheim Fellow

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To promote BIPOC led environmental stewardship, an inclusive and diverse conservation workspace, and advance dialogue and mobilization for a just society to ensure that everyone has access to a healthy environment.


ALEF is the art & culture based environmental campaign of Americas for Conservation + the Arts (501c3) (AFC+A). 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.

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