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EPA's Region 6 Office

Serving: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 66 Tribal Nations

Beyond Translation...
Cultivating Hispanic Community Involvement

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Executive Summary

Since 2000, Hispanics have accounted for more than half (50.5%) of the overall population growth in the United States—a significant new milestone for the nation’s largest minority group.  As of mid-2007, they comprised 15.1% of the total U.S. population.  In a reversal of past trends, Latino population growth in the new century has been more a product of the natural increase of the existing population, i.e., births minus deaths, than a result of new international migration.  Despite their growing numbers, Hispanics remain significantly disadvantaged in comparison to the broader U.S. population, particularly with respect to income, education, and participation in the political process. 

The disproportionate burden of environmental risk and attendant health impacts borne by Hispanics in the U.S. also has been well documented for many years.  Substantial anecdotal evidence from member agencies of the National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Services Organizations and others in the southwestern United States supports the long held view that hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial operations pose threats to the health and well-being of Hispanics living within close proximity to those facilities.  

In 2005, EPA’s Region 6 office recognized the importance of the Latino population to the agency’s efforts to address critical environmental and public health problems and the need to go beyond the mere translation of documents from English into Spanish.  With the launch of its “Beyond Translation”   initiative, Region 6 began reaching out to Hispanics using a grassroots, community-based approach to the agency’s agenda and priority-setting process.  

Through a series of forums in key Hispanic population centers Region 6 succeeded in bringing to the environmental table a critical component of the U.S. population to help develop strategies of direct benefit to local communities. 

The Beyond Translation initiative focused on establishing a transparent, interactive dialogue with community organizations and their leaders about their communities’ most pressing environmental concerns.  This process elucidated a number of priority issues shared by several Hispanic communities, including the need to:

  • Identify environmental and public health challenges in the Hispanic Community and translate them into mutually beneficial partnerships
  • Make environmental and public health information culturally relevant
  • Involve the community in the agency’s decision making process
  • Partner with educational institutions and organizations to encourage students to pursue careers in science technology engineering and math (STEM) fields
  • Enhance communication networks between EPA programs and the Hispanic community to address environmental priorities and foster environmental stewardship

The initiative has proven an effective tool for building meaningful collaborations between EPA and the growing Hispanic population.  By focusing on tangible results, this grassroots approach to policy development and implementation has been a useful vehicle for addressing key environmental and related health problems in a manner that directly benefits local communities, maximizes the use of limited EPA, state, and local resources, and promotes environmental stewardship among the Hispanic population.  Importantly, the new program has recently been adopted as a template in other regions of the country experiencing similar, rapid growth in the numbers of Hispanics and/or other ethnic/racial minorities.

What is Beyond Translation?

A proactive approach to increase Hispanic community involvement leading to collaborative environmental solutions

What do we strive to achieve?

  • Identify environmental and public health challenges in the Hispanic Community and translate them into mutually beneficial partnerships
  • Make environmental and public health information culturally relevant
  • Involve the community in the agency’s decision making process
  • Partner with educational institutions and organizations to encourage students to pursue careers in science technology engineering and math (STEM) fields
  • Enhance communication networks between EPA programs and the Hispanic community to address environmental priorities and foster environmental stewardship

Ethnic/racial minorities represent an estimated 35% of the U.S. population living in the five states that comprise Region 6, with Hispanics representing the largest and fastest-growing group. Texas is second only to California in its total number of Hispanic residents.  But despite their growing numbers, Hispanics have remained disenfranchised from the public discourse on problems related to environmental pollution, its attendant health concerns, and potential solutions that affect their daily lives.    

Whether urban or rural, young or old, recent immigrants or citizens whose ancestors were living in the U.S. before the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, Hispanics are impacted by their environment just as anyone else in the broader U.S. population.  Unlike the greater percentage of their countrymen, however, many Latinos lack direct access to mainstream information outlets, including academic and government institutions that provide vital information regarding environmental problems and potential effects on public health.  This has presented EPA with a significant challenge in carrying out its public mandate to develop and implement effective strategies to curb pollution and its adverse health effects.  

In 2005, EPA Region 6, followed by RTP, Region 3, and Headquarters recognized that a change in direction was imperative if the agency hoped to address long-standing environmental challenges and become relevant to Hispanic communities in the region.  This desire to make a difference in the lives of the estimated eight million Hispanics living and working in Region 6 while advancing EPA’s mission led to the design and implementation of the Beyond Translation initiative.  The primary objective of this new effort has been to encourage Hispanics to become active participants in the dialogue on the environmental challenges facing the U.S. and to become part of the solution, especially with respect to those issues that most impact their communities.
Through the Beyond Translation initiative, EPA Region 6, RTP, and Headquarters have begun the process of breaking the pattern of isolation of Hispanic communities.  Through the establishment of new partnerships among EPA, federal, state and local government organizations, academia, and non-governmental organizations at the community level, EPA has begun to promote meaningful collaboration with community leaders in setting priorities and developing effective strategies to tackle a list of the most pressing environmental problems in Hispanic communities. 

Seeds of Change  
The Beyond Translation team has been successful in creating partnerships with other federal agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, as well as with state governments and universities which seek to enhance their outreach efforts to multilingual communities.  Since the Beyond Translation initiative’s official launch in Region 6 in 2006, over 800 Hispanic and Asian leaders throughout the country have actively participated in the Beyond Translation forums. Through the networks established, millions of Hispanic and Asian Americans are being reached with EPA’s environmental stewardship message nationwide.

  • Through its Office of Environmental Justice, Children’s Health Program, the U.S.-Mexico Border Program, and the Water, Air, Enforcement, Pesticides and Toxics Programs, EPA has assisted a number of Hispanic communities in their efforts to address local environmental challenges.  In addition, EPA has been able to use its Beyond Translation network to increase hurricane assistance to multilingual communities in Texas and Louisiana.
  • EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Texas at El Paso, nationally recognized for graduating the largest number of Hispanic engineers in the country.  The MOU provides a framework to facilitate joint educational, research, and recruitment activities to strengthen the university’s capabilities to educate students in EPA-related academic disciplines, while providing EPA with a pool of potential, future applicants in support of the Region’s goal to meet the challenges of the future with a more highly diverse workforce.
  • Beyond Translation student forums were held in El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas to increase awareness among 2,000 middle and high school Hispanic students of the importance of the STEM fields to EPA’s mission.  The “Student Extravaganza” held at the University of Texas-Pan American on November 2008 reached out to 1,500 students and their parents as part of the Beyond Translation outreach effort in McAllen, Texas.  The student forum in El Paso’s Chamizal National Memorial on November 2009, provided opportunities to for STEM hands-on activities for 100 students.
  • EPA and twelve community organizations began partnering to increase awareness among farm workers in Texas and North Carolina about health risks from pesticides.  A theater production, “Teatro Mirasol”, currently in the planning stage, will use the traditional storytelling platform to enhance farm workers’ understanding of risks associated with pesticides and increase their understanding of public health safeguards.
  • The forum in McAllen, Texas increased awareness of U.S.-Mexico Border 2012 Environmental Program priorities, and added layers to the programs’ public participating strategies.  Extensive media coverage throughout reinforced the need to continue to work together to foster healthier communities.
  • A partnership with Walmart resulted in the company’s decision to print and distribute 100,000 copies of EPA’s DVD, “Chucho Salva el Día(“Chucho Saves the Day”) to Hispanic markets throughout the U.S. pro bono.  In addition, over 2,000 copies of EPA’s video, “Tres Amigos al Rescate”  (“Three Friends to the Rescue”) were distributed to schools and other organizations in the BT network.
  • EPA has experienced an increase in the Hispanic applicant pool for environmental health-related grants and contracts.  In addition, RTP has noted a greater Hispanic involvement in EPA rulemaking and policy issues.
  • “El Moscas y los Pesticidas” (Nephtali De Leon) packet was completed and is now being distributed.  This Project is a comical interactive play created to increase safety awareness for individuals who work in areas that are treated with pesticides and the “take home” risks they may bring home to their families.  While this information may be viewed as technical or dull, “El Moscas” and his friends deliver a dialogue that is clever, funny and most important gets the key messages across to the audience.
  • EPA developed the “Colonia Resource Guide.”  This funding guidance provides colonia residents, local government and utility officials from the State of Texas with a starting point for locating potential funding programs. 

Need to Continue
U.S. census projections reveal a continuing growth of the Hispanic population, making this segment of the U.S. population the largest minority group in the nation.  Statistics also reveal that an estimated 19.7 % of the population ages 5 and over across the United States mainland do not speak English at home, that nearly three fourths of Hispanics remain isolated for their lack of mastery of the English language, and that a significant percentage still lives below the poverty level.

In addition to the language barrier and high levels of poverty, Hispanics in the U.S. continue to experience a disproportionate burden of environmental risk and health impacts from pollution sources.  EPA’s past attempts to reach out to Spanish-speaking communities have focused primarily on translating written information regarding the Agency’s programs and posting it on the Agency’s website.  More recently, EPA has come to realize that in addition to translating documents into Spanish to inform the Hispanic community of the Agency’s activities, it is important to ensure that EPA is addressing the needs of the community. 

Through the Beyond Translation initiative, EPA has taken an important step toward engaging this significant component of the U.S. population in a meaningful, productive dialogue to help identify and address environmental and health problems of priority concern to Spanish-speaking communities and to include Hispanics in developing solutions to those challenges.  It is imperative that this initiative continues. 

Paula Flores-Gregg
Beyond Translation Coordinator
EPA Region 6
(214) 665-8123

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