Why reducing energy usage is important to Latino residents in the District

Today’s blog post features Jackie Reyes-Yanes, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs. Director Reyes-Yanes advocates for and makes sure the Latino community is considered as an integral part of the District of Columbia’s policy design and budget allocation.

Director Reyes-Yanes is a key member of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration’s efforts on creating pathways to the middle class, and today, we are lucky to hear from her. She will be discussing why MOLA joined our REUDC pledge, how MOLA’s work impacts the local DC community, and the effects of climate change. 

Why was it important for the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs to join the REUDC pledge?
All of us are a key piece of the puzzle in combating climate change, and we are proud to join the REUDC pledge. We are well aware that climate change has a significant impact on all of us but especially on the Latino community. Many of our occupations expose us to environmental hazards; many Latinos work in services such as construction, cleaning services, manufacturing, and other jobs where they have to be in contact with chemicals and air pollution. Our construction workers are exposed to high temperatures and contamination, which can lead to health problems. Many Latino families use public transportation every day, which also exposes them to pollution. And, of course, we cannot help to think about how beneficial it can be for the budget of Latino families to reduce energy use and save some money to be used for other important expenses.

How does your work, and the work of MOLA, impact the local DC Latino community?
The Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs is the link between DC government and the Latino community. We address the needs of our constituents through three main areas of work:
1) Our Language Access program works hand in hand with DC government agencies to ensure that Latinos who don’t speak English have equal access to public services; one of those agencies is the Department of Energy & Environment. Our language access team is in regular communication with that agency to ensure that environmental and energy information and resources are available to the Spanish-speaking public.
2) Through our Outreach department, we conduct an important effort in informing and educating Latinos about updated government resources. We also provide activities geared towards improving the well-being of Latino families. Just to mention a few examples, our office organizes weekly food distributions of fresh and healthy foods, and we also use that space to educate attendees about relevant services and resources; more recently, we have been focusing a lot of our efforts in ensuring that Latinos have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines; only in the last couple of weeks, we have been able to support with the vaccination of more than 1,000 Latinos.
3) Through our grants department, we provide funding and technical assistance in grants management to more than 80 non-profit organizations serving Latinos, including organizations working on environmental issues such as City Blossoms. Our grants team also leads the implementation of community-based programming such as our annual Summer Youth Employment Program and our Rayo de Esperanza program, which provides income-generation opportunities to Latino women. We also support Latinos with immigration legal assistance through the Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant (IJLS) and the National Immigration Forum’s citizenship assistance program.

The mission of MOLA is to improve the quality of life of the District’s Latino residents. How do you see climate change impacting your work, and how is MOLA engaging on climate change?
Our office serves many immigrant families from Latin America, a region that is being especially hit by climate change. Many of our constituents come from countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where droughts driven by climate change are economically impacting families in our countries and, in turn, imposing a larger financial burden on their relatives living in the USA. Our role then becomes crucial in making sure that we are ready to support these families with the necessary resources to stay afloat, especially during this pandemic that has impacted Latinos especially hard.
Furthermore, the risks that I mentioned earlier regarding exposure of Latinos to heat, chemicals, air pollution, and others means that we have to be more ready than ever to provide our constituents with resources and support in areas such as health, environmental education and awareness, community engagement, and energy management. MOLA will continue supporting and educating our constituents and non-profit organizations dealing with environmental issues to ensure that Latinos do not stay behind in helping DC meet its climate change goals.

What is your favorite energy-reducing tip you like to share with family and friends?
Use nature to your advantage! Turn off your lights and use natural light in your home as much as you can. I would also like to encourage everyone to walk or bike to your workplace, school, church, grocery store, etc. You are doing some beneficial exercise, but you're also contributing to the reduction of vehicle emissions.