By Joshua Low, Sierra Club Organizing Representative
I sat down a couple weeks ago with Ramon Leon, Executive Director of the Latino Economic Development Center of Minnesota to talk about how climate disruption is impacting Latino businesses, the changes he is seeing in our climate, and what the Latino Economic Development Center is doing to lessen the impact of businesses they work with on climate. We profiled that work in a previous blog post. Ramon comes from a family of business people, and he immigrated to California in 1987, and then to Minnesota in 1991.
How did the Latino Economic Development Center start?
We know that a person that is perceived to be successful in business is seen differently and is treated differently. We were talking about social justices are difficult to overcome as newcomers, as immigrants, if we are not recognized as a contribution to the recipient, the community, so we needed to prove first that we are a contribution to the community and be seen as a part of the economic system before we start talking about other issues. Newcomers can struggle to incorporate into society, and this is our chance to create employment when and where it is needed, not only for Latinos, but for everyone else living in the community.
The organization itself was formally formed in 2003. Before that, it was a program within an existing organization since 2000. … A group of Latino immigrants in Minnesota here, in the Twin Cities particularly, that were interested in economic involvement activities. Before the formation of Latino Economic Development Center, I was the founding president of a Mercado Central which was a project that originated back in 1996; but the original idea of having a Mercado was born in 1992, when we had the capacity and talent inventories within our churches, from a Catholic and faith-based social justice movement.
How did the Latino Economic Development Center and you get involved in environmental issues?
It was a natural thing for us. A part of our culture is native—native, indigenous—and we have a big respect for Mother Earth; we know that we should not be taking more than we need.
And we come from countries where recycling is the norm. We don’t replace, we fix the stuff. Why? Probably because of economics—we don’t have a lot of money to replace. If a refrigerator breaks down, we don’t replace it, we fix it!
When I was little, when I was a kid, I mean, I didn’t always think about it, but we saw pollution all around us. I was born in Mexico City, which is a really high city. I remember when the smog is really bad because it had mountains surrounding it, and in the morning if it is too cold, the pollution doesn’t blow away, it remains low and people get health problems. You can’t breathe; you have a lot of health problems. So, as soon as the heat started warming up, the sun started warming up the city, and the air, the smoke finally went up and disappeared, but that… And then they wonder when we… And that’s because of the heavy usage of automobiles and because they were old and because whatever the reason was, we weren’t paying proper attention to that. Then, I saw the rivers. Everything went down to the river, but someone, I mean, if you throw some garbage on the street that polluted it and someone down the river was drinking that water.
And it makes sense in the business community to pay attention to environmental issues, too, because from the big perspective, I mean, we waste a lot. We waste a lot, and it is causing problems to the climate and to the environment. Something could be done and new economic opportunities might be created. In terms of, for example, saving energy, I mean, it makes sense. I want to be saving 200, 300 dollars a year, I mean it is not a lot, but it is something.
And when I came to the states, I started my own business in California, then I came here and did the same, and then I started getting involved in social justice issues and I realized that the Latino community needed to, first to be of power, to be of economic power, then political power, then incorporate, in a positive manner, into the society. And the people that were trying to organize us around that, I was one of those… But most of them didn’t have an idea, or didn’t realize that economic power is associated with the rest of the issues that we’re facing. Otherwise, we are just a group of people making noise, and that’s it.
How are you seeing climate disruption?
You know, I remember when my daughter was born in 1994—it was a really cold year, 1994; minus 37, and then wind chill was minus 70, and… We don’t have that any longer.
When I see those movies… I remember last Friday I was watching a documentary a piece of ice the size of Manhattan, you know, just disappeared in a matter of minutes [in Greenland]. Other ice spent hundreds of thousands of years—forming, uninterrupted, now those ice sheets are disappearing.
What role would you want to have in the larger discussion?
Business opportunities. We are business, really. We are about economic justice. And again, we don’t want to become the expert on climate change, no, we focus on business. What businesses could be created, you know, and we bring them to the membership [of LEDC].