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Q&A: Erandi Treviño Joins Public Citizen in Houston

Erandi Treviño has joined Public Citizen as the second member of the Texas office’s Houston-based organizing team. Erandi grew up in Houston, which she credits as influencing her decision to become an organizer in her community.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I wear many hats. I’m a Houston resident, a Mexican immigrant, a small business owner and a community organizer with Public Citizen. My love for mother earth and passion for equity and justice drive my work. I fight because of this love and because I know change is possible. 

How did growing up in Houston influence your decision to become an organizer in your home city?

As a young child in Mexico, I understood that pollution was harmful to Earth. Especially the type of pollution I could see, like the dark-colored clouds coming out of heavy-duty trucks and the trash left on the side of the road. But when I first moved to Houston at the age of seven, I was shocked and disturbed by the large plumes coming out of refineries along the Ship Channel. Their size and speed bothered me so much that I fantasized about capturing them before they could spread. What I understood then about the effects of pollution was limited, but I knew that things needed to change. Fast forward over twenty years later, and the problems I first experienced as a girl continue to plague the communities along Houston’s Ship Channel. While some parts of Houston have seen massive investments and changes in real estate and infrastructure, others have not received much attention. The neighborhoods composed primarily of people of color keep facing the same issues that threatened their health twenty-plus years ago. Growing up in Houston influenced my decision to become an organizer in my hometown for many reasons. The simple reason is that this is a personal fight for my family and me. When I organize in my hometown, I connect with my neighbors and friends, fighting with them for each other and our city. 

You have lived in other parts of the world. How have those experiences influenced how you approach your work?

The opportunity to live in different places has allowed me to understand other perspectives and recognize the values that unite us. This experience has led me to approach my job with love for the community and a sense of responsibility. I lived away from family for about a decade, and I learned the importance of community during that time. I use my love for my community to fuel my work since I know the power and strength it provides me.

You have a background in environmental advocacy. Are there any memories of experiences that are dear to you from your past work?

Environmental advocacy is tied to issues of race and equality. There are groups of people in this country that feel that their voice is not heard. Because of this, some of the most memorable experiences from my work in environmental advocacy have been of community members expressing feeling validated and empowered by our conversations. They confirm what they already suspected; the chemicals they smell in their neighborhoods are toxic, and their families are getting sick because of where they live. The information is grim but for communities that have learned that putting on a brave face is more important than asking for change, being told that their voice matters provides a particular type of relief. 

What are some of the most urgent environmental issues communities in Houston and Harris County face?

More than 136,000 people live within one-half mile of the Houston Ship Channel. On days when Houston has inadequate air quality stemming from industry in the Ship Channel, people around the city might feel uneasy and have headaches, allergies, or asthma flare-ups. Unfortunately, some people live across the street or within two miles. Residents in these communities are generally low-income people of color. They are most vulnerable to the burden of pollution stemming from various sources, including the petrochemical industry, freight transportation, traffic from heavy-duty vehicles, and chemical disasters. 

What is one thing you want to tell everyone reading this about the work you have done and will be doing?

I love the type of work I do because it allows me to connect with community members and leaders and to help identify environmental priorities. Parts of my current job are specific to my educational background and career. However, there is space for people with many backgrounds in community organizing. Those interested and passionate about this work should feel encouraged to pursue it. There are volunteer, part-time and full-time opportunities available. I hope to see more people from communities affected by the industry as active participants in this fight. 

Anything else you would like to add?

I often fight for a balance between enraged, saddened, and optimistic. Over the years, we have seen improvements in the overall environmental quality of our country. Sadly, too many communities continue to be left behind and sacrificed for the industry’s benefit. That needs to change. It is up to us to make sure that we correct the course we are on and that the communities most affected get the help they need and deserve.