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40 Soc. Probs. 108 (1993)
The Garden and the Sea: U.S. Latino Environmental Discourses and Mainstream Environmentalism

handle is hein.journals/socprob40 and id is 118 raw text is: The Garden and the Sea: U.S. Latino
Environmental Discourses and
Mainstream Environmentalism*
BARBARA DEUTSCH LYNCH, Latin American and Caribbean
Programs, The Ford Foundation
The environment is a cultural construct which is shaped by shared life experiences and which differs
with ethnicity. Environmental justice requires attention to divergent environmental constructions. US. Latino
environmental discourse differs from mainstream discourses, but is rarely heard. This paper sheds light on U.S.
Latino environmental discourses by examining ideal landscapes, explanations for decline, and the relationship of
the environment to ethnic identity. Latino discourses suggest the need to reexamine the environment/technology
relationship, the importance of social class in shaping environmental consciousness, and the limits of impact
assessment as a tool for achieving social justice. Sociological tools for retrieving Latino environmental discourse
include literary criticism and analysis of Latino environmental social movements. The former helps to identify
the cultural content of different environmentalisms and to clarify relationships between culture and environ-
ment; the latter indicates the political potency of different elements of Latino environmental discourse.
Dominican immigrant Daniel Perez recently brought joy to New York City by planting
corn.' He thought he might get into trouble for his act; in fact, a parks employee did object,
but the general sentiment was favorable. On no-man's-land, a median strip on Broadway at
153rd Street, Perez had sown a useful and, in his eyes, beautiful crop. It was part of his
individual beautification project.
All I saw was bottles, old newspapers, garbage and weeds. I took a large garbage bag and cleared the
land. I planted with the idea that this is my own little contribution, my own little Cibao [the ver-
dant agricultural heartland of the Dominican Republic] (Myers 1991:B5).
Remarkably, while a few ears disappeared, the crop was treated with respect by neighbors
and passers by. Corn was not Perez' first or only crop. In 1990, he cultivated garlic and
tomatoes with the corn; the year before he grew black beans and shared the harvest with
neighbors. But these crops were neither as visible nor as fraught with symbolic significance as
corn-the crop of America's indigenous civilizations.
Perez' act constitutes one of numerous steps, however tentative, taken by Latinos to
reconquer New York City's hostile environment. There have been other steps as well, some
* This research was supported by a grant from the Cornell University Center for the Environment and a
postdoctoral fellowship at the Cornell University Society for the Humanities. It builds upon the collective insights of an
interdisciplinary reading group at Cornell on this topic; of the students in my seminar on Landscapes of Domination,
Landscapes of Imagination; and of the participants in a 1992 conference on Environment and Latino Imaginations
sponsored by the Hispanic American Studies Program at Cornell. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the support
of co-conspirator Debra Castillo, Romance Studies, Cornell University. Elizabeth Davey, Marisabel Rodriguez, and Ana
Echevarria helped to inform this essay by keeping me in touch with the movement. An earlier version of this paper was
presented in the Special Session on Environment and the Grassroots: The Dynamics of Race, Class, and Gender, at the
86th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 23-27, 1991. The views
expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect Ford Foundation policy. Correspondence to:
Barbara Deutsch Lynch, Latin American and Caribbean Programs, The Ford Foundation, 320 East 43rd Street, New York,
NY 10017.
1. Accounts of Perez' achievement appeared in the New York Times (Myers 1991a, 1991b). National Public Radio's
News Program, All Things Considered, covered the story 14 August, 1991.

108      SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 1993

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