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Tere Almaguer is the Environmental Justice Organizer for PODER, a San Francisco based organization that focuses on locally based, community led, and environmentally just improvements in Latinx immigrant communities. Tere has a personal connection to this mission, since her family was undocumented and felt the impacts of racist policies that focused pollution in her neighborhood.

Getting Started

Growing up in an immigrant community, Tere saw firsthand the scapegoating and backlash against Latinx immigrants. She noticed how black and brown communities were forced into industrial zones and could see that city-run development favored highways and factories in these communities, rather than green spaces. It was apparent how this impacted health, with asthma, cancer, and heart disease all prevalent among people she knew. Her mother worked in a factory and faced health issues that came from poor working conditions and the diet of processed foods that was what her family could afford. This environment left a strong impression on Tere, who was dissatisfied with the exploitation of her community. When Proposition 187 in California was introduced in 1994, Tere began to get involved with organizing. Proposition 187 was essentially an attempt by California to make the lives of undocumented immigrants as unappealing and difficult as possible, in some truly horrible ways. A few key elements of the law included (Britannica; Library of Congress): -People could not receive healthcare from any publicly funded heath care facilities until verified as a US citizen or legal resident. -Public schools must verify the legal status of each child before enrolling them and, prior to 1996, would be required to also verify the statuses of each student’s parents. -Anyone who was arrested or applied for social services and was suspected of being illegal immigrants must be investigated and reported. -Local authorities were prohibited from doing anything to limit the fulfillment of these requirements. Thankfully, though the proposition passed, it was plagued with legal challenges and most of the more controversial clauses were not enforced after 1999. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that these clauses were finally scrubbed from the education, health, and welfare codes for California. Through organizing in her community, Tere connected with multiple groups, including some from Mexico. She began to reconnect with her heritage through Aztec dancing and other ancestral traditions and began to see environmental activism through that lens. She explained that there were four elemental differences between her ancestors and the way her community lived now that really stood out to her. These were less access to the earth, polluted water and air, unhealthy and processed food, and a lack of control over their community spaces and education. “We should honor these elements and their degradation falls hardest on POC communities,” she explained. Through another organization in New Mexico that sadly no longer exists, Tere began to learn about Environmental Justice and how it can be used to help communities recover from outdated racist policies that forced black and brown communities into polluted areas. For example, green spaces in San Francisco have been shown to be inequitably distributed based on wealth and race, with non-white residents have 44% less access to parks compared to white residents (Mission Local). Tere wanted a job that would allow her to lift her community and help them transform their environment.

The Work

Today, Tere is working on urban farming in San Francisco. She wants to bring traditional plants back into the community, both for food and traditional medicine. Not only does this help communities reclaim their ancestral traditions, it also improves health by increasing green space, cleaning air, and providing affordable or free produce. Tere organized a campaign to build an urban farm that could provide healthy produce for her community in San Francisco. In 2017, the Hummingbird Farm opened on 6 acres of city land and now provides hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to communities in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco. Tere’s vision for the farm was one of honoring the original people of San Francisco and educating all ages in sustainable food production and water conservation. The farm does outreach with schools and elder members of the community alike. The farm also provides a public place for cultural celebrations. Tere also hopes the farm will help the community reclaim a sense of shared ownership over their land and food. She encourages young people to cook traditional recipes with food they helped grow, both to encourage healthy diets and to grow a sense of cultural solidarity.

“Nobody can speak for you more than yourself.”

Environmental Justice

“We are entering times where there is a lot of imbalance in the world and vulnerable communities will feel that imbalance more than anyone else,” said Tere. Outside of San Francisco, Tere is worried about the impact of climate change on all vulnerable communities. The wildfires in California are of particular concern, with the smoke occasionally blocking out the sun near her home. She wants her belief in honoring indigenous people and practices to be utilized in climate solutions, such as fire management. Traditional methods of fire control included controlled burns, which have an excellent track record (less than 0.2% of controlled burns get out of hand; NOVA). Controlled burns have a long history of preventing giant, uncontrollable wildfires and help decrease the proliferation of invasive species. These methods are not isolated to California. She notes that everywhere there is largely uncontrolled development that prioritizes economic growth over our relationship with the land. “We need a balance between economics and the environment.” Tere believes that the only way to restore this balance is to get rid of our unsustainable fossil fuel economy, increase carbon sequestration, and develop an economy that prioritizes both growth and health.


Tere is adamant that communities need to speak for themselves. They are the ones who know what they need; however, all members of the community need to be involved. This includes people of all ages, all genders, all identities. Everyone has leadership potential and investing in people within the community will pay off more than just throwing money at an idea that someone outside the community thinks will work. “Nobody can speak for you more than yourself.”

Relevant Links

Sources Cited

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